Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wonky Carrots
I always remember that when I ate fruit and veg from my grandparents' gardens they never looked perfect like they did at the supermarket. They were always curvy, wonky and weird but always tasted better. We would fight for the baby cucumbers or the funny shaped ones as we were told they were good luck. I also recall Bergy chucking perfectly good eggs into a separate basket for chicken feed if they had any spots or blemishes on them. Thankfully the EU has decided that we can now eat vegetables that are not totally perfect.

Edited from the BBC News Magazine

Regulations that stop strange-shaped fruit and vegetables being sold are being changed by the European Union. But are we willing to eat wonky veg?

When you see a carrot with two prongs, a knobbly potato or a blemished strawberry, does your stomach turn?

If so, you are not going to like what the European Commission (EU) is now doing. "Marketing standards" for 26 vegetables are being repealed.

(wouldn't you love to eat this potato?)

Blemishes and discolourations

Class I cucumbers must "be reasonably well shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber)". Class II "slightly crooked cucumbers may have a maximum height of the arc of 20 mm per 10 cm of length of the cucumber".

These are allowed to have some blemishes and discolourations. Any cucumber more crooked must be packed separately and must be otherwise cosmetically perfect.
Pink Fir Apple (picture courtesy of British Potato Council)
This potato is said to be one of the tastiest, but would you eat it?

So if a cucumber is crooked and has a blemish on it, it cannot be sold in a shop or market. It is allowed to go for processing, but often the cost of transport to a manufacturer is prohibitive and the produce is simply allowed to rot.

Carrots are in the same boat. Commission Regulation (EC) No 730/1999 of 7 April 1999 says they must be "not forked, free from secondary roots".

Commission Regulation (EC) No 85/2004 of 15 January 2004, any apple under 50mm in diameter or 70g in weight cannot be sold.

Every year tonnes of perfectly-edible produce across the EU is thrown away so that when you walk into the supermarket all you see is rank after serried rank of cosmetically perfect fruit and vegetables.

Avoiding waste

If there's anything that can break our conditioning for liking regular-shaped vegetables, it's the current economic climate and the increasing awareness of the environmental cost of food production.

"The idea is to avoid waste," says Mr Mann. "Economic times are hard. Why shouldn't people be allowed to go into supermarkets and get apples that are smaller and cheaper?"

The looming recession could well spark a market for misshapes when the law changes next summer, says Michael Barker, fresh foods correspondent of the Grocer magazine.

"When people are short of money the last thing we want to be doing is to be restricting the amount of fruit and vegetables we can sell. It may be stuff with blemishes, slightly misshapen, not that there's anything wrong with it.

"There is all sorts of anecdotal evidence that people are really much more interested in the authenticity and heritage at the moment."

Cookery shows have started paving the way for wonky veg, with many emphasising taste over presentation, realness over blandness and variety over conformity.

The regulations that are being repealed say nothing about taste. But once prejudices are set to one side, that is probably what most people want from their produce, however knobbly.

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