We seem to be living lives where perfection is the only way to be.
Everywhere adverts and TV screens send out the message that YOU can be perfect. Create your perfect look here; this is the perfect wine to serve at your perfect dinner party where all your guests will look perfect. Perfection everywhere, because when you have perfection then you will be happy.
And then we get to the supermarket to buy our supplies for our perfect dinner party we see row upon row of perfect fruit and veg. Now doesn't that look lovely and won't it all be perfect?
Whoa. No, hang on a minute. Stop, think!
What is a perfect vegetable? One that looks like something from a story book or one that tastes wonderful but may be a bit misshapen. I know which I would rather have but many supermarkets seem to think we want looks over taste. Maybe it is because we shop with our eyes, not our mouths? The supermarkets will argue that they sell perfectly shaped fruit and vegetables because that is what the customer wants ... and it is true that many shoppers will pick through to chose the most perfect looking items, rejecting others as being second rate. We have been conditioned (by the supermarkets and advertising) to believe that looks are more important than taste. However pop into any French market or supermarket and you will see more misshapen produce for sale and more people picking up and smelling the items or being offered a taste from the market stall owner. However it is also true to say that so called perfection is creeping across The Channel too.
The knock on effect of supermarkets only offering so called perfect produce has far greater implications than losing some taste to looks. It is estimated that Europe wastes 89 million tons of food a year, according to a study presented in May by the Dutch and Swedish governments. In England we lived next door to fields growing amongst other things, spring onions. At harvest time any bulbous onions were simply tossed aside to be ploughed back into the field, as UK consumers (apparently) only want straight spring onions? Do they? Who says? How can anyone be sure when the choice has been taken away from the consumer. Oh and hop over here to France again and what will you see on the shelves? Bulbous spring onions but no straight ones!
There is more. Take strawberries for example. To attain the perfect looking strawberry, breeders have developed fruits with thicker skins to prevent damage in transit, but at the expense of flavour. Also this has only been done in one or two varieties greatly reducing choice to the consumer. With tomatoes there are hundreds and hundreds of varieties out there but probably less than 10 available at even the largest supermarket ... and I bet you that all with have thicker skins and much less taste than anything I produce from our polytunnel!
|Tomatoes from Eco-Gites of Lenault|
Surely we cannot afford this level of waste? There are however people fighting back and in Lisbon a handful of volunteers have started a cooperative called Fruta Feia, or Ugly Fruit, selling misshapen and damaged fruit at greatly reduced prices to hard up Portuguese consumers. It has been a great success.
I don't know how we can change this situation. Consumers have been conditioned into thinking good looks equate to good taste and supermarkets will argue that they cannot sell less than perfect produce. For what it's worth I am sure the advertising bods at the big supermarkets could very easily come up with a campaign to make the less than perfect the mainstream. But would they want to? After all they are in the business of making money and perfect produce can be sold at the highest price.
What are your views on this subject? Do you want your produce looking perfect? Can you remember what a slightly odd shaped fresh strawberry with a thin skin actually tastes like?