Tuesday, March 17, 2015

We humans are ugly and imperfect. So, we take it out on fruits and veggies?

I was no different from the kids I knew--we didn't want bananas with blemishes on them.  We wanted only the perfect looking ones.  The elders tried convincing us that the ones with dark spots were really the tastier ones, but we said "no, thanks." Well, we never said "no, thanks" because the old culture did not have a place for "thanks" in everyday conversation.

Banana with blemishes. 
Cauliflower with worms
Carrots that were bent. (Thankfully, that led to the baby carrots!)
A never ending list, it now seems like.

As if the "fair skin" weren't enough of a discriminatory practice, we were highly superficial in judging even vegetables and fruits simply based on how they looked!

Yes, a real tomato. Misshapen. Not perfect. But, a tomato. Source

Now, with more fruits and vegetables than we can ever possibly eat, we consumers are even worse--we demand nothing but perfection in the fruits and vegetables that we purchase.  But, it doesn't take even half a brain to figure out that nature always does not turn out perfections.  I am a living proof of that ;)

So, whatever happens to the imperfect produce?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that high cosmetic standards in the retail industry exclude 20 to 40 percent of fresh produce from the market. Sometimes farmers can sell those unwanteds to processors making jam or cider or pickles, but as those systems rely increasingly on mechanization, they become less flexible when it comes to shape and size. Tons of food — 800 to 900 million tons globally each year, the weight of 9,000 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers — rot in storage or don’t make it out of the fields because farmers can’t find a market.
Aha, you didn't think about this, eh!
Cucumbers should be straight, cauliflower florets should be tightly held, and rhubarb stalks should be ruby red. If not, retailers tell farmers, consumers won’t buy them.
A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a couple of cucumbers harvested from her own garden. They were misshapen. I would never have bought that kind of cuke at the store.  But, because it was from my friend's garden, and it was a friendly gift, I ate those cukes.  Boy they were tasty!
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food wastage, about half of which occurs during production and post-harvest handling and storage, was responsible for 3.6 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available; that’s more CO2 than Brazil, Japan and Australia together emitted in 2011. Wasted food also takes 250 cubic kilometers of water to produce every year, which is 38 times the amount used by all households in the United States combined.
By now, are you also feeling guilty like I am?  No?  Ok, there's more then:
By insisting on perfect-looking produce, customers also cheat themselves of taste and variety. Apple breeders used to select specifically for russetting because it was associated with longer shelf life. That’s how we got Hudson’s Golden Gem, a delicious variety that’s a favorite among my farmer friends. But you’ll never find a Gem in a standard grocery store today, precisely because of that russetting. We’ve decided that apples should be shiny, not rough; large, not small; and red or green, but definitely not brown; so now what we find in stores are piles of uniform Red Delicious apples with latex-like skin, mealy flesh and no complexity of flavor. Customers are missing out on the pleasures of a russetted apple: the coarse texture against the tongue and the concentrated flavor of the dense flesh that accompanies it.
Are you thinking what I am thinking?  What the heck is a russetted apple, right?  Hey, I can't tell you everything--do some work on your own, at least some time! ;)

If only we can learn from the French, who have made a fashion campaign out of this issue:

Source

What is the deal?
One French grocer, Intermarché, began buying “ugly” produce in 2014 and selling it at slightly reduced prices at several locations; the success prompted the company to expand the initiative to all of its stores.
That's the deal, dear reader: charge more for the "perfect" ones and less for the "imperfect" ones.  The market system works, even if we cannot access the inner morals!

Now, you know what to do the next time you are in the grocery store.  Yep, search for the imperfections--you won't find them because they never even make it to the store!


5 comments:

Anne in Salem said...

A bit of trivia - Astaire was quite a task master when filming. He insisted on the rehearsing and filming repeatedly until the take was perfect. You can see it in the length of the dance before a cut - more than 1.5 minutes. The only cut happens after they skate toward the camera with hands outstretched. It takes remarkable skill and control to perform such a dance in just two segments. You don't see it often now.

Everyone knows imperfect fruits and vegetables taste better. A little character improves everything. You should see - then taste - some of the oddballs I've grown!

Shachi said...

More reason to shop at farmers markets and buy local produce....better yet, grow some of your own!

Sriram Khé said...

Cool, I will look forward to receiving fresh, but twisted and odd shaped, produce from the Anne and Shachi farms ;)

I didn't know that about Fred Astaire, but can easily imagine that he was a taskmaster ...

Ramesh said...

You live in a strange world. In the poor world I live in, charging differential for "perfect" vs "not so perfect" product has been going on for a long time. The vegetable vendor pushing his cart has that as standard business practice.

But the point about post harvest wastage is a big issue in my poor corner of the world. Not because of tomatoes looking like in your photo, but simply poor infrastructure and logistics.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, this is not only a strange corner of the world but one that is horribly disconnected from reality. To me, traveling to India or Ecuador or any place outside the rich world is one hell of a reality check.

The post-harvest wastage in India, especially with rice and wheat, is legendary. Rats consume those grains more than humans do, it sometimes seems like ...

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