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Wendy Zhou is the brains behind a new food-waste minimisation initiative that’s getting high quality food and veges into the hands of Aucklanders at a much lower price. In an Instagram-obsessed world, we all like our food to look perfect as well as taste good. But Wendy Zhou, believes this obsession with pretty produce is costing us as a society, and she’s on a mission to make us understand that ‘ugly is delicious’ through her social enterprise Perfectly Imperfect.

An idea inspired by lockdown 
Wendy’s journey with waste minimisation came in the first lockdown of 2020 when she witnessed first-hand what happened to her sister, a vegetable grower. “When lockdown hit, growers could only sell to supermarkets because small fruit and veggie shops and restaurants were all closed. My sister ended up having 200 kg of tomatoes left over with nowhere to sell it. The packhouses were closed too. And most growers were the same. The whole system closed down, and most growers didn’t have proper storage so it was a disaster for the industry.”

Wendy was appalled by what she was seeing. “What lots of people don’t know is that growers constantly have to overproduce because supermarkets set impossible beauty standards. Between eight and 20 percent of food is rejected as it’s not pretty enough for the shelves. In lockdown, this became an even bigger issue – because there were only supermarkets to sell to, tonnes and tonnes of produce had to be dumped. I felt like I had to do something.”

Taking action to reduce waste
And being a woman of action she did, launching Perfectly Imperfect, an online shop where people could purchase small, medium or large boxes of second-class fruit and veggies that were still totally fine to eat, for reasonable prices. It was a success and brought Wendy a lot of joy to feel she was at least doing something to stop food going to waste. “I took my kids every Saturday – we drove from Browns Bay to Pukekohe as a family to help with the gleaning (collecting leftover produce). It was important to me that they understood that everyone needs to do their bit to help reduce waste.”

Experimenting with physical stores
Last year Wendy decided she’d like to try expanding Perfectly Imperfect into a physical store, with the hope of opening more over time. When she called Auckland Council to see if they had a space she could use, they said Kāinga Ora had a place available at the Ōwairaka Community Hub. She started selling fruit and vegetables, too big, too small or not ‘perfect’ enough for supermarket shelves on a pay-as-you-feel basis from the hub.

“It’s been so amazing – I love talking to the customers. With the cost of living going up so fast they are really grateful to have something affordable that helps reduce waste at the same time. It’s great talking to them about the different ways to use produce.” 

Wendy moved on late last year when the Ōwairaka Community Hub closed, and is now based in three new locations in north, central and west Auckland (see below). 

Sharing the love
Any excess produce that Perfectly Imperfect can’t sell goes to food banks, churches or organisations making community meals. They also have a relationship with Everybody Eats where they donate extra fruit and veggies to their restaurants for use in meals. 

“There are so many groups out there working towards the same goals. We also work with Citizen Collective who produce beer, cider, bread, tomato sauce, mushroom sauce and mayo from rescued food.” 

Wendy admits there’s a long way to go in the bigger scheme of things. “The problem is huge and involves changing people’s mindset on how produce should look, so growers don’t have to create the waste in the first place.” 

But for now, she’s doing what she can, with hopes for more stores and a bigger movement of people who understand that ‘ugly’ can truly be wonderful, not only for your taste buds, but for the country, and the planet too.

Order from Perfectly Imperfect online or shop at one their Auckland stores. Don't forget to check their websites or Facebook pages to find out when Perfectly Imperfect is open.

Website: perfectlyimperfect.org.nz
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/perfectlyimperfectsnz
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/perfectlyimperfectsnz/

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