Don’t judge a book by its cover, a carrot by its wonky shape or an apple by its skin imperfections.
Santa Clara friends founded Outside2Inside on the conviction that beauty is only skin deep. An imperfect apple is just as flavorful and nutritious as one that looks picture perfect. A misshapen carrot is as good for a horse — or a person — as a perfect one.
The friends are on a mission to reduce food waste and educate people on the value of what they call “wonky” vegetables and fruit. This is the less attractive produce that is odd shaped, cracked, wrong sized, discolored or bug bitten.
“A lot of food is wasted, and yet there are people who don’t have enough food,” said Outside2Inside (O2I) founder Vijay Gurusamy. “We want to reduce hunger and prevent impact on the environment.”
“There’s no demand for imperfect produce, so farmers toss it out,” said O2I Executive Director Sanjai Athi. “We want to create awareness in the community. Forty percent of food is wasted worldwide.”
O2I sponsors classes for kids and programs for corporations and communities to raise awareness of the issue of food waste.
At the Earth Day celebration in Santa Clara in April, O2I had a booth with a display of colorful but imperfect produce. They spoke passionately about the environmental and nutritional virtues of eating wonky-looking produce and gave it away to the kids who stopped by.
The self-funded, nonprofit organization has about 20 volunteers, most who are vegetarians. They volunteer once a month as a group for various projects.
“Volunteering as a group makes it a community project,” said Gurusamy. “We give back to the community as a community.”
The friends go out together to farms and other locations to salvage or purchase wonky produce and distribute it to organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank, Sacred Heart Community Service and Emmanuel House in San Jose. They set up stalls with free wonky produce at local schools.
To date, O2I has recovered more than 150,000 pounds of produce, fed more than 5,500 people and raised the awareness of more than 7,000.
“We have to help each other out. That’s the definition of community,” said Gurusamy. “We have so much technology here in Silicon Valley. Yet we’re forgetting the basics of food, clothing and shelter.
“We take food for granted and waste a lot,” he continued. “Through this organization we’re trying to highlight the problem of food waste to bring awareness.”
“There’s discrimination of produce based on looks. There should be no discrimination against produce — or people,” said Gurusamy. “Don’t look at the skin. Look beneath the skin.”
In the U.S. about $6 billion of food is wasted annually.
“To err is human. Not changing is bad,” said Gurusamy. “We can make change for good.”
Visit www.outside2inside.com to learn more about Outside2Inside and for information on how to “prevent, recover and recycle”(the O2I mantra) food waste individually or as a community. Both vegetarians and nonvegetarians are welcome to volunteer.
O2I hopes to participate in the Santa Clara Art and Wine Festival in Central Park Sept. 14 and 15.