This is not a usual topic for me, but since returning from my summer holidays in Greece has been brought back into focus – it is the issue of perfect and imperfect fruit and vegetables.
In the UK we are used to the supermarkets and shops selling ‘optimal’ fruit and veg, for that matter only placing on display certain carefully selected produce; for example, tomatoes; only those which are as near to perfect get a chance; any that are irregular, blemished, too big or small, not the right colour or hue, or, shine of skin are selected-out and taken somewhere else; I don’t quite know where they go, but I imagine many end-up as tinned tomatoes, ketchup or for the really bad, deformed, disfigured ones, the flavouring in crisps and Pot Noodles.
Is this a good or bad thing?
Well, when recently over in Greece, I noticed that both in the supermarkets, the markets and the roadside stalls, the people don’t seem as hung-up about the perfection of their fruit and vegetables; I imagine for the discerning, the presence of too many ambiguous markings on the skin is taken as a negative, but, for the most the whole process seems to be more about smell, taste, flavour, and, likely texture than just looks.
I know that looks are important – the ‘beautiful people’ tend to get on better in life, also, the colour of food does seem to have an effect on our appetite – something to do with a hormone called Ghrelin, my colleague Kirsty says.
So, clearly, there is a range of what is acceptable for eating and what is for the chickens, the tortoise or the compost heap.
Yet, my sense in the UK is that we are enacting a sort of fruit snobbery – aspiring for perfection that is purely superficial aesthetics; sure, the farmers and technologists spend time working towards the most perfect texture, sweetness or flavour, but it is the outside looks that most likely influence them and us. (In Greece I notice, they try to address this inside/out problem by cutting windows in the watermelons;
And, so what? So what if the shops in the UK obsess with looks? Shouldn’t I be appreciative, grateful even that when I pop into Tesco I don’t have to encounter ugly fruit?
Last year when I was up in Scotland and more recently down here in Yorkshire I have noticed occasional ‘less than perfects’ being sold – from memory, for whatever reason, these tend to be parsnips. Mostly they are short and twisted, occasionally having three or four legs (?) rather than just the one.
When you see these misshapes, it feels to me like the supermarkets are merely making a token effort to be diverse or inclusive, like having a man at a WI party; they seem out of place and, despite their lower price, tend to get left in the corner.
So my call, and I suppose my point, is, can’t we sort ourselves out? Cannot we accept that fruit – apples, pears and plums grow in nature, are influenced by weather, climate and soil conditions that aren’t entirely controllable; let’s have a degree of tolerance for the different, the outsiders, the less than perfectly spherical nectarines; let us bring them into the mix and ease-off the pressure on conformity.
Does this not send a message to our children, and probably society as a whole that just as the celery must be straight and green, so must they adopt the same stance, the postures of what is normal, what everyone else is doing, aspiring to and achieving?
How can we have variety and diversity as an integral part of society when uniformity is central to what we eat? Let’s select for difference, for the unusual, the quirky, the potatoes with extra knobbly bits, carrots with arms and legs, cauliflowers who are less than perfectly fractulose – let tolerance grow from our tummies out.