We should be buy­ing fruit and veg no mat­ter what its shape or size

BBC Good Food - - Inside - @joannablyth­man

Why you should buy more wonky veg,

Around 40 per cent of the fruit and veg­eta­bles farm­ers grow doesn’t make it to our shelves. Whether it’s a lump, an ir­reg­u­lar shape, or a vari­a­tion in colour or tex­ture, they don’t con­form to our large food re­tail­ers’ per­nick­ety cos­metic re­quire­ments.

In 2015, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty high­lighted this food waste scan­dal, and last year the chair­man of the gov­ern­ment’s En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Neil Par­ish, took su­per­mar­kets to task for not sell­ing enough ‘wonky veg’, the term now used to de­scribe the four out of ev­ery 10 veg­eta­bles and fruit deemed sub-stan­dard by re­tail­ers be­cause they don’t fit their nit­pick­ing tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions. ‘It’s ridicu­lous that per­fectly good veg­eta­bles are wasted sim­ply be­cause they’re a funny shape. Knob­bly car­rots and parsnips don’t cook or taste any dif­fer­ent,’ he says. Su­per­mar­kets have re­sponded, some more whole­heart­edly than oth­ers, and are now sell­ing a few lim­ited lines of fruit and veg as ‘im­per­fect picks’, ‘per­fectly im­per­fect’ or even ‘beau­ti­ful on the in­side’, for 30-50 per cent less than the immaculately groomed norm that dominates their shelves. It’s crazy that so many peo­ple have to use food banks hand­ing out canned and pack­aged food when so much fresh pro­duce is be­ing wasted. En­vi­ron­men­tally, it’s de­struc­tive, too, be­cause sig­nif­i­cant en­ergy and re­sources are poured into grow­ing fruit and veg, only for them to rot in land­fill where they give off cli­mate-warm­ing gas. But beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the be­holder, and I have trou­ble with the ‘wonky’ tag be­cause it im­plies that the uni­form fruit and veg that su­per­mar­kets pre­fer rep­re­sent the pick of the crop, while ‘wonky’ is sec­ond best. We’ve been en­cour­aged to ex­pect fruit and veg to look like clones with­out hav­ing much un­der­stand­ing of what grow­ers have to do to achieve th­ese beauty pageant re­sults. Any­one who grows their own knows that they rarely look like su­per­mar­ket spec­i­mens, but as ded­i­cated al­lot­ment hold­ers and gar­den­ers fre­quently tes­tify, they usu­ally taste bet­ter. Be­hind the scenes of large-scale, in­ten­sive hor­ti­cul­ture, a num­ber of tech­niques are used to de­liver the pro­duce su­per­mar­kets favour. Th­ese in­clude us­ing chem­i­cal growth reg­u­la­tors, pes­ti­cides that iron out most of the nat­u­ral vari­a­tion in the crop that would oth­er­wise oc­cur – rus­set­ting on ap­ples is one ex­am­ple – and se­lect­ing mod­ern seed va­ri­eties for their abil­ity to pro­duce vis­ually uni­form spec­i­mens that will have a long shelf-life in store, even if their flavour is lack­lus­tre.

It’s time for us to re­cal­i­brate our idea of what nat­u­rally grown pro­duce re­ally looks like. If we want to stop waste, pro­mote bio­di­ver­sity, and eat fruit and veg that’s cul­ti­vated for flavour, not looks, ‘wonky’ must be­come the new nor­mal.

Good Food con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor Joanna is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten about food for 25 years. She is also a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to BBC Ra­dio 4.

Peo­ple have to use food banks hand­ing out pack­aged food when so much fresh pro­duce is wasted

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