Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Perfectly Daft?

Posted by Rosie

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?

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29 comments :

  1. I hate that this is what we have become, I much prefer flavour over looks and this is why I prefer to buy from farm shops as usually it is whatever they have produced and is as it comes. However I am sure it is still manufactured to look better, I would prefer local or English produce that is imperfect to having to buy from abroad that is perfect if you see what I mean. Everyone thinks I am a snob, no I just prefer good tasting food!

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    1. We need a campaign to change food snobbery from perfect looking food to perfect tasting food no matter what it looks like.

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  2. I think there is a swing back in the UK as people turn to local markets, veg boxes etc and learn not to expect perfect produce, and one year when we had a poor apple harvest, supermarkets sold less than perfect apples and put up signs explaining why. Perhaps that swing back will come to France too?
    I understand a lot of the misshapen fruit and veg make their way into other products - such as soups and juices.And we are part of it.. how many would reach past the perfect apple in a basket for a less attractive one?
    I find myself part of the sort for perfect party - I sell eggs. Any chicken keeper will know you get the occasional odd shaped egg - lumps of extra shell, mis-colouring, double eggs, tiny eggs, or just plain wonky. I keep these for ourselves - we eat our eggs too after all, and they are the same inside. The majority of the eggs are perfect and the reason people come to my door to buy them is because they are so nice, inside and out, that and chicken welfare. Why would I deliberately bring down the quality of the eggs I offer for sale by including the odd ones?
    Nothing is wasted.

    And that's the key I think, there is nothing wrong with perfection, so long as taste and welfare, are not sacrificed and food is not wasted.
    It would be interesting to know what percentage of food is wasted at source compared to how much by the consumer.

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    1. I'd like to know some more figures too - we certainly saw a lot of waste when we lived in Kent as I am not sure what reject spring onions or lettuces could be easily or cheaply processed into.

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    2. I thought of you today, as I was buying spring onions, British grown, from the Co-op. In the pack there were all shapes and sizes, some bulbs some skinnes.

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    3. Excellent - maybe slowly the message is getting through. Apparently Waitrose are now also selling bags of tomatoes of a mix of varieties and sizes, some of which may have fallen from the plant.

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  3. A lot of this comes from Brussels - bureaucrats wasting their time deciding that bananas must have a precise curve of x degrees and cucumbers be a certain length etc. It makes me soooo cross I can't tell you. Both that there's so much waste of perfectly good food and that people are paid to come up with these rules! The world has gone mad. I also think supermarkets like the perfectly shaped produce because you can fit more into a box and sell more. Give me ugly fruit and veg anytime.

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    1. It definitely does have a lot to do with packaging and transporting plus thick skinned produce will often stay "fresh" longer which suits shoppers who often only buy fresh stuff once a week.

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  4. It's funny as I love the look of 'mishapen' fruit and vegetables. The problem is, unless I decide to grow my own, I'll have to pay through the teeth at a fancy overpriced farmer's market (maybe Borough Market in London Bridge?) to get some authentic looking and tasty produce!
    Would be lovely if the supermarkets sold more varieties, shapes and sizes of food!

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    1. Isn't it sad that we now have to pay more for the traditional local produce that would be rejected by the supermarkets who pile it high to sell it cheap but at the expense of true quality.

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  5. Great post and really something to think about. I must admit I inspect my fruit and veg carefully before buying, but that's more to check for damage than to check the shape (there's nothing worse than bruised fruit!), but I guess the shape is all pretty uniform anyway!

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    1. There's a big difference between checking for damage and rummaging through to find the most perfect looking pieces.

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  6. Oh totally agree with you ... most of our radishes are very ugly but super tasty. Luckily we have a greengrocer who keeps stocking the ugly stuff and the little bit wrinkled peppers which always taste soo much nicer - Alice @ Mums Make Lists

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    1. I know that the more misshapen the strawberries are the sweeter they taste .. and these are the ones that rarely get to the kitchen as I eat them when picking them!

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  7. I couldn't agree more Rosie, this level of food waste is disgusting when half the world are *still* starving to death. I'm loving your tomatoes, they look much tastier than anything you will find in the supermarket.

    I think the only way to go is finding suitable alternatives to the big supermarkets. I'm lucky with an array of farmers markets on my doorstep. There are fab veg box companies out there who will deliver to your door. Can't say fairer than that! #PoCoLo

    PS. Perfection of any kind is a complete myth in my opinion...

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    1. "PS. Perfection of any kind is a complete myth in my opinion..."

      I TOTALLY agree - beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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  8. A really great post and goes to motivate me more to grow my own.

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  9. Fab post! I like food to taste good....I don't care what it looks like....

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  10. I worked in the packing sheds on a farm in Australia and the amount thrown away was simply astonishing - probably more than went to the shops. Anything mis-shapen but also any that weren't quite the right colour. I also worked on a fruit farm packing apples in Oz that were put into cold storage for several months before they were sent to a certain high end supermarket in the UK! #pocolo

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    1. That is just so wrong - I know some rejects go into sauces etc but far too much is just thrown away. Wrong wrong wrong :(

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  11. I'd much rather have the quirky looking fruit and veg rather than the almost cloned versions available in supermarkets nowadays. I don't have an allotment anymore but I can't wait till my garden is done and I can grow my own again! #PoCoLo

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  12. This is really interesting. We're growing strawberries this year and a few have already ripened. Naturally me and Daddy didn't get the chance to sample them as Lucas treats the strawberry plant as his personal outside snack bar! They were quite misformed but Lucas said they tasted nicer than "those ones we buy from the shop!". Great posy #pocolo

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    1. I find the more misshapen the strawberry the sweeter it tastes and any home grown strawberry tastes better than a shop one!

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  13. Lucas says - I like a funny looking fruit or vegetable - they make me giggle!!!!! #pocolo

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  14. It's ridiculous how vain we've got about good-looking food! Just this week though I noticed one local supermarket selling cheaper "mis-shapen" tomatoes, so they weren't perfectly round or the perfect shade of red...they looked like tomatoes, smelled like tomates, and, most importantly, tasted like tomatoes! :) #pocolo

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