Why ugly fruit and vegetables need love too

13 August 2012 | 0 Comments

"Recently rejected red head WLTM food lover who can see past my knobbly exterior to the goodness within..."

It’s an age old story. An ugly character struggles to become accepted by the pretty people but secretly hides a beauty within (think Beauty and the Beast or any high school rom-com). Anyone who grows their own fruit and vegetables knows that some carrots have multiple ‘limbs’ and cucumbers are occasionally kinky. They still taste great but they look different from the ‘normal’ fruit and veg we are accustomed to buying in the supermarket.

Outside the norm

“If you are used to the supermarkets vetting everything you become very nervous about something which you consider to be outside of the norm,” says chef, food writer and broadcaster Valentine Warner, who espouses the virtues of seasonal eating. In 2011, Warner supported a campaign led by the National Trust and Delicious magazine to bring back knobbly veg. It's a subject close to his heart.

“If something has been nurtured and grown it is extremely disrespectful to both the farmer and nature to throw it away just because it doesn’t conform to a cosmetic ideal,” he says passionately. “There is nothing wrong with veg with a few lumps and bumps and there is absolutely no reason to waste it. Put the knobbly fruit and veg next to the regular stuff and let people decided what they want to buy.”

EU sees sense

For years, the EU dictated what was deemed acceptable in terms of shape, size and colour for fruit and vegetables. However, in 2008 the EU decided to relax these laws (on certain fruit and vegetables at least) leaving supermarkets free to stock misshapen fruit and vegetables. However, the UK Soil Association estimates 20% to 40% of UK fruit and vegetables are rejected for cosmetic reasons even before they reach the shops.

The supermarkets’ position

courgettesIn his book Waste, Tristram Stuart says that some supermarkets don’t stock misshapen produce as their customers won’t buy them. However, Morrisons and Waitrose have recently announced they will support their fruit and vegetable suppliers by stocking ‘cosmetically imperfect’ specimens in their stores. “British farmers are having a tough time in this weather and it is important that we support them wherever we can,” says Alan Wilson, Waitrose’s Technical Manager.

So are we to blame?

Tom Maynard, a Sussex fruit grower, believes the supermarkets’ quality assurance schemes are harder for farmers to comply with than the EU regulations. “The supermarkets are driven by consumer demand,” says Tom. “People like big and beautiful. Cheap doesn’t make any difference. You think people would have different attitudes in a recession but they don’t.”

Fortunately, some people do still welcome wonky veg and blemished fruit into their homes. Riverford MD Rob Hawath told me their customers are happy to accept odd shaped fruit and veg providing it still tastes good. “Most of our customers use their common sense and know that not everything comes out of the ground cosmetically perfect,” says Rob. “There is an increasing awareness of the need to not waste things, so I think wonky veg is generally welcomed by our customers rather than resisted.”

Let’s blame the weather!

tomatoesThis view was recently echoed by Barcombe Nurseries at Lewes Farmers Market where they proudly displayed bulbous tomatoes and curvy courgettes. Many of the stallholders I spoke to commented that the weather in 2012 has played havoc with the appearance of fruit and vegetable crops this year. So next time you see a lonesome three-legged carrot or a blotchy apple don’t pass it by. Pop it in your basket and give it a home!

Does your homegrown veg turn out a bit wonky? Does appearance matter to you? Let us know in the Comments below.

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