• (Brigitte Blättler/Getty Images; Hungry Harvest)
They're more fun - and the creators hope they'll help reduce food waste, too.
Shari Sharpe

11 Oct 2016 - 4:03 PM  UPDATED 11 Oct 2016 - 4:03 PM

From Kim Kardashian’s $1-a-minute-earning Kimoji to the create-your-own cartoon avatars made popular by Bitmoji, there has been a surge of successful apps offering smartphone users extra emojis. Now a group of zero-food-waste activists are jumping on the  bandwagon in the hopes of boosting awareness of the “ugly” fruit and veggie movement.

To that end, Hungry Harvest, a US-based company that collects and redistributes misshapen produce to consumers and charities, has launched a petition asking Apple, Google, and Unicode to create and implement ugly produce emojis. Perfectly shaped and sized apples, strawberries, or tomatoes come standard on our smartphone keyboards. Why don’t we have gnarled, bumpy fruits and veggies “that have more personality, better express our feelings, AND help bring awareness to some of the biggest issues of our time?” asks the petition.

“The concept is trying to bring awareness of the food waste issue to a younger audience, and in a fun way,” Ritesh Gupta, the director of impact at Hungry Harvest, says. The company, which snagged a $US100,000 investment on an episode of Shark Tank this year, has two main values: Food should not go to waste, and people should never go hungry. “The food waste movement, ugly produce, and all of that has definitely been talked about a lot. But sometimes it can feel like we are talking to the same people constantly,” Gupta says.

A major part of why there is so much produce waste is because of “cosmetic standards from large grocers that dictate exactly how fruits and veggies should look,” Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign founder Jordan Figueiredo said in Hungry Harvest’s petition.

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About one-third of all food produced — about 1.7 billion tons — is lost or wasted along the food chain, according to a 2014 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Gupta said supporting emojis that confront what are now standard preconceptions of how fruit and vegetables should look opens the dialogue about food waste in a “very nonaggressive way.”

With a goal of not wasting food, Hungry Harvest is also not wasting time. The company has taken the proactive step of creating a free “Ugly Produce!” app that’s downloadable from iTunes. The emojis allow zero-food-waste activists such as Hungry Harvest and Ugly Fruit and Veg to engage with the “same audience in different ways” while also tackling the challenge of bringing in other audiences who may be younger and “might want to talk about the issue, but not in such a serious context,” Gupta says.

The emojis — such as a slice of watermelon with a smiley face — were designed to convey the same emotions people normally see and are already expressing on their mobile devices. “It had to be cute. It had to be relatable, and that’s why we are so cognisant of using items and emotions that people are already thinking about. I’ve never heard someone think about a watermelon and cry. Watermelons are universally loved,” Gupta says with a laugh.

Hungry Harvest hasn’t heard from Apple, Google, or Unicode about the petition. But the feedback Gupta has received from users about the emojis has been positive, with some commenting that the “ugly” name of the app is contrary to how the digital stickers actually look.

If Google and Apple “are able to give a nod to this idea — ugly produce and food waste — it will just validate the movement even more than it’s already validated,” Gupta says. “I think it’s really a home run for everybody.”

This article originally appeared on takepart.com

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