Fruits and vegetables from Imperfect Produce displayed on kitchen island.
Fruits and vegetable from Imperfect Foods

When California’s stay-at-home orders were implemented in March, it seemed like we were at peak no-contact, coronavirus vigilance: All but essential businesses like grocery stores and hospitals were permitted to stay open, while everything else–restaurants, gyms, salons, malls–were ordered closed. In response to limiting my (and risking others’) exposure in grocery stores, I thought it would be practical to sign up for a produce delivery service. This is particularly relevant today, several days into California’s latest modified stay-at-home order. 

While I have access to a number of worthy produce delivery options in San Diego, I chose Imperfect Foods for their mission to “rescue” misshapen and discolored, or excess fruits and veggies otherwise earmarked for the dumpster. Unfortunately (and rather ironically), as food insecure as the U.S. is, including in San Diego, Americans create a comparable amount of food waste. 

And since receiving my first produce box in May, I’ve learned a few things about their goods, and their delivery process that I both enjoy and am more mindful of when I’m meal planning for the week—which doesn’t always happen because I live an obscenely short walk to a Mexican restaurant that makes a tasty California burrito, and easy no-cook dinner option. If you’re considering replacing or supplementing your in-person grocery trips with a grocery delivery service like Imperfect Foods for social distancing reasons or otherwise, I’ve gleaned the following takeaways after shopping and cooking with Imperfect Foods produce for six months that might prove insightful. 

How It Works

In brief: Choose from a weekly box template of conventional or organic produce, which is made up of surplus inventory and completely edible, yet “imperfect” fruit and veg. Then, receive an email indicating when it will be time to make your produce selection. Typically, you have several days to edit and confirm your order. Each week, you’ll be able to view what Imperfect Foods has filled your box with, though you can totally remove items from your box, increase the number of existing items; or add new items, including meat (ground beef to pork chops), seafood (like lump crab and trout or salmon fillets), grains (I’ve added wild rice once), and dairy products (including eggs). You can also choose to skip a week as needed, as well as donate a box of produce on occasion, like I did during Thanksgiving week.

Things To Know When You Sign Up for Imperfect Foods

  • Customization: When available, you can choose to always have certain items delivered (in my case, that’s shallots, avocados, garlic, lemon, and limes). On the other hand, you also have the option to never have a certain item included in your box. Regarding the delivery schedule itself, you do have the option of skipping a week (or weeks) if necessary, which I opt for when I know I won’t be cooking as often. This was the case during summer, when San Diego County reopened some semblance of restaurant dining. 
  • Shelf Life: I’ve learned that produce tends to spoil quicker than produce purchased at the typical grocery store, so I’ve found it helpful to have a plan for them in the several days immediately following my box delivery. Or if I don’t plan to use produce up right away, I’ll chop it up and throw it in the freezer for another time. Conversely, I was surprised that some fruits (such as the red pears, and blueberries when available) lasted a bit longer than expected.
  • (Free?!) Extra Produce: Occasionally I’ll receive a few extra shallots, avocados, and squash from what I originally ordered. Is it a mistake? Or are they trying to move inventory? Whatever it is, I’m not complaining; though this means I sometimes end up dumping the additional produce because I didn’t have enough time to work it into my weekly meal plan before they spoiled. One week, I unexpectedly received a bunch of slightly withered kale that I did not use because I picked up greens from the grocery store just days before. As efficient as I try to be with the food I bring into the house, sometimes waste does happen.

Edible Things I’ve Made So Far With Imperfect Foods:

  • Bon Appetit’s carrots with avocado and mint as a side dish to baked chicken
  • Pears with peanut butter and cinnamon snack
  • Green goddess (shallot) kale salad with sweet potato, avocado, pepitas
  • Hot chocolate with oat milk and cacao powder
  • I doctored store-bought marinara with summer squash, shallots, mushrooms
  • Guacamole using limes + avocados (which were smaller than what the grocery stores usually stock)
  • Sinigang, a tangy Filipino stew traditionally flavored with tamarind, using kabocha squash

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“If there was a definitive end date to all of this, I can at least wrap my head around it,” I told my Dad last weekend, taking a swig of Ballast Point’s pale ale. We were in my parent’s backyard, sitting six feet apart. That weekend in April, the San Diego sky dried up after days of rain. The sun warmed my skin, and the sensation felt restorative––a simple pleasure that, when coupled with a brief, socially distanced visit to my family after only brief (masked and gloved) human encounters at the grocery store, I know is critical to maintain my optimism and sense of order right now. Lately, I’ve felt unmoored; like I’ve been holding my breath for a month, waiting to exhale. It’s uncomfortable, daunting, and I don’t like it.

Beyond the tangible harm coronavirus has caused, experts agree that the root of our collective anxiety is grounded in the unknown. “This is an invisible threat: We don’t know who is infected, and anyone could infect us. This is an ambiguous threat: We don’t know how bad it will get … we don’t know how long it will last. And this is a global threat: No community is safe,” Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychological science, medicine and public health at the University of California, Irvine, told Mother Jones in an interview.

As we enter another week of self-isolation and social distancing, and wait for health and government officials to signal a phased return to the way we moved through the world before coronavirus, I’ve turned to consuming media offering different, more positive ways to think about universal themes of change and uncertainty. It’s just one of many ways I’ve been trying to exert control during a time when I feel like I have none. Here’s what I found:

Reinvention episode, TED Radio Hour

In 2020, Manoush Zomorodi takes over hosting duties of the TED Radio Hour from Guy Raz. She’s the author of Bored and Brilliant, which is all about how boredom and idleness helps creativity—I’ve read it twice. This TED Radio Hour episode is Zomorodi’s inaugural show, and through a number of thought leaders like the former UCLA Women’s Gymnastics coach and the mayor of Stockton, California, listeners are asked to consider themes of collaboration and empathy in order to reframe how we think about success and transformation.

Is That Nostalgia You’re Feeling? by The Atlantic

Reading about how and why we miss our pre-pandemic lives as a form of nostalgia, even though the past wasn’t that long ago immediately made me think of the Portuguese concept of saudade. In simplistic terms, I’ve come to learn that saudade probably feels like nostalgia—a longing for something (a person, a place, a moment) that may or may not happen again. 

A particularly encouraging thought in The Atlantic piece reads that nostalgia “…can help you remember that there are people in your life who care about you, that you have felt better than you do now, and that you will be able to feel good again in the future.”

Finding Connection and Resilience During the Coronavirus Pandemic, The New Yorker 

Nothing beats in-person connection (I’ll take a socially distanced coffee date in my parent’s garage over a phone call any day), but if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s underscored humanity’s need to be with, and live for each other. Even though the end of this New Yorker article is unsettling, I love this quote from Agustín Fuentes, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, “One of the amazing things about the human species—once harmless critters not much more than monkeys running around—is that, over time, we have become very creative. We’ve adapted to survive. That’s what people will rely on now—coming up with incredibly imaginative ways to find connections even when they’re not in the same physical space together.”

What about you: Have you read, listened to, or watched anything lately that has offered an uplifting perspective on making sense of the coronavirus pandemic? Let me know in the comments.

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If you’ve been following the daily White House press briefings, you may have caught Dr. Deborah Birx’s earnest call to non-action. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe,” she said over the weekend. And while grocery stores and pharmacies remain open as essential businesses, the point experts at all levels of governments have emphasized these last several weeks is to limit contact with people who aren’t our family members, or members of the same household to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

With this in mind, if you’re looking for a way to get fresh, local produce and products, a number of established companies and newly formed offerings are selling farm boxes for delivery or pick-up across San Diego County. I signed up for Imperfect Produce a few weeks ago myself. They are––understandably––running a few weeks behind schedule, so I appreciate that I am still in a position (at the moment) to support local farms while minimizing exposure to others.

Elsewhere, check out these other food boxes available for delivery or pick-up around San Diego:

Behneman Farm

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that this Valley Center-based farm recently began offering farm boxes for delivery. While it appears they don’t have a website, their Instagram page shows that they’ve been delivering everything from avocados, oranges, to salad mix.  

Craft Box SD

Also through Instagram, I learned about Craft Box SD via fellow food writer Michelle Stansbury. For $50, you can get a box of local products delivered to your door. Products include: Maestoso Roman pinsa crust, cassava flour tortillas from Coyotas, Surf’s Up salsa, coffee from Seven Seas Roasting, tempeh from San Diego Tempeh, and more.

Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest farm boxes are packed with fruits and vegetables from a number of small local farms, like Sundial and Stehly farms. Delivery within San Diego County is free with a $25 order. Choose a one-time delivery, or sign up for a weekly or bi-weekly subscription, which also includes options to add eggs and cheeses, pasture-fed beef, bread and tortillas, and snacks.

Imperfect Foods

Misshapen produce need love too. Sign up for a conventional or organic delivery box from Imperfect Foods, which works with local farms. You can shop for your box several days before scheduled delivery, and add or remove items each time.

Market Box

In addition to selling produce online a la carte, Market Box’s weekly harvest box includes 11 items of the week for $40. Organic produce from JR Organics range from kale to apples, cilantro to broccolini. Local photographer and friend Alina Mendoza captured a gorgeous look at one of the boxes below:

Schaner Farms 

Pre-packaged weekly produce boxes from Schaner Farms are sold on a first come, first served basis at Prager Bros. in Carlsbad, or by pre-order via Instagram DM or emailing annemarie@thefishery at The Fishery in Pacific Beach. 

Specialty Produce

Pre-order a $20 Farmers Market box from Specialty Produce for pick-up Thursday–Saturday at their front desk. Add ons include eggs, honey, jams, and cheese.

Yasukochi Farms

Weekly CSA farm box deliveries from Yasukochi Family Farm are available throughout San Diego County (except Temecula, Jamul, Alpine, and Valley Center, according to its website) in two sizes. Boxes begin at $25 and $35, and delivery dates are grouped by zipcode. For example, Oceanside and Carlsbad receive boxes on Mondays; San Marcos, Vista, Escondido and Fallbrook receive boxes on Tuesdays, while Wednesday and Thursday are reserved for San Diego and coastal cities deliveries.

If you know of or represent other farm boxes for delivery or pick-up and would like to be included in this list, please email me at: thecuriouspassport (at) gmail (dot) com.

Connect with The Curious Passport

  • Keep up with my real-time travels and eats from San Diego and beyond on Instagram
  • Join me on Facebook
  • Support my immersive, sensorial travel and food journalism: send me a coffee!
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