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3 companies creating shared value from ‘ugly’ produce

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While most of us are taught from a young age that it’s not good to judge a book by its cover, we do it all the time with the fruits and vegetables we choose to buy — or not buy. In the United States, this obsession with blemish-free food causes us to throw away almost as much food as we eat, which deepens hunger and poverty while inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Large amounts of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill because of unrealistic cosmetic standards. Between the farm and our tables, high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection, according to farmers and others on the food distribution chain. One in five fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. never make it off the farm due to tiny cosmetic defects that don’t affect quality, according to Imperfect Produce.

Besides being a social and environmental problem, this practice of throwing away perfectly edible but ugly food also contributes to our massive food waste challenge. Nearly 40 percent of the food we grow in the U.S. goes to waste, which costs businesses as much as $161 billion annually.

Luckily, several innovative companies are stepping up to find ways to make sure even ugly fruits and vegetables make their way into our stomachs rather than our landfills. Here are a couple we think are awesome:

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4 ways mushrooms help nourish the planet

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Mushrooms might not seem so special — something that you put in your soup or grow on your lawn. But the applications for using mushrooms to solve sustainability challenges seem almost magical. While scientists have identified around 75,000 species of fungi, there could be as many as a million fungal species yet to be identified. Given their many uses, innovators around the world are finding exciting new ways to create value from mushrooms, from replacing plastics to creating biofuel.

Here are four of the most interesting:

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