Less Noise, More Green: Why my carrots are not Barbie dolls.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why my carrots are not Barbie dolls.

ugly vegetables are nutritious, urban farming
My beautiful wobbly carrots.

As a result of having frozen vegetable beds, I had to go to the supermarket this week to buy a bag of carrots. The temperature then rose into the fifties, the ground thawed and not wanting to be caught out again, I dug up the entire carrot bed -all thirteen pounds of them!  As I was digging them up, I started admiring the variations in size and color and the amazing twists and crazy shapes. These looked nothing like the store bought carrots. 

I began to think about those soap commercials that celebrated women in all their various shapes and sizes.  Those ads were aimed at bolstering young women’s self-esteem, to affirm that their value lay not in their outward appearance and that all bodies are beautiful.  None of the women looked like Barbie.


As my carrots lay drying in my kitchen, I pulled out the bag of commercial carrots I had bought.  The difference was staggering.  Lined up in a row, every carrot was the same shape and color with no variation in sight. Here was Barbie perfection. 

Store bought carrots in all their perfection.
Uniformity in produce size and color is essential for supermarkets because as consumers, we have come to see produce as a product.  All the apples or all the tomatoes must be identical because they are priced the same. There is no perceived difference between an apple and a box of Coco Puffs. 

 Any vegetable on a supermarket shelf that looks past peak is taken away and replaced with a shiny fresh one. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that supermarkets lose 15 billion a year in fruit and vegetable “spoilage”. Last year Tesco, a British supermarket, revealed that two thirds of the food in its stores ends up in a dumpster.

Real carrots, real nutrition and flavor.

The price of perfection doesn’t start and end there. The National Resource Defense Council estimates that as much as 30% of crops are disposed of by farmers because they do not meet ‘cosmetic standards’.   To be bought by supermarket agents, farmers have to grow crops based on their ability to produce consistent results. No heirlooms here.  Unfortunately, crops bred for uniform size and color are often without flavor. Crops chosen for their ability to travel vast distances unscathed are devoid of nutrition when they finally reach the supermarket shelf.

Another price of perfection is the amount of chemical pesticides and fungicides used to ‘protect’ the produce. I don’t mind a little nibbling on my lettuce - it lets me know it’s safe to eat. Spray on a little wax coating and the transformation into plastic Barbie produce is complete. Tasty!

My Winter Carrot Salad looks gorgeous, even though it is made with 'ugly' vegetables.

Remember the women in the soap commercials: real bodies, real women?  How about: real vegetables, real nutrition. My wonky carrots once peeled and chopped, grated, boiled, roasted or glazed  are indistinguishable from their perfect counterparts, yet no supermarket chain would buy them. Good thing my carrots don’t have self- esteem.  Apparently, all their value lies in their appearance.

Some stores in Europe are testing customer response to produce that does not meet government standards. This is great but they still label this food ‘seconds’, ‘class 2’, and my favorite, ‘ugly’. Sold at a discount, this idea misses the point, that wobbly, knobbly, twisted, crazy, vaguely pornographic looking fruits and vegetables are just as, and in many cases more, nutritious and flavorful than their ‘perfect’ counterparts. 

One of these things is not like the others.......

It seems we need a body image campaign for fruits and vegetables. It’s not a matter of lowering standards, it’s a matter of embracing nature in its entirety and seeing the perfection in a healthy carrot that is twisted because it happened to hit a rock as it grew into the earth. 

 I’m glad my carrots don’t all look the same.  We get a lot of enjoyment from our “naughty carrot” jokes, where as to my mind, there is nothing particularly funny about a Barbie carrot.

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