The Good, the Delicious, and the Ugly


Word Count: 620

The other day, I took the following photograph of a carrot I bought at Chisinau’s wild and crazy central market:

uglycarrot

If I told you that I paid 3.5 MLD/kg for it, or less than $0.03/lb (0.16 euro/kg), you’d probably just shrug your shoulders and say, “Eh, that’s Moldova for you”. But I’m not posting this picture to talk about prices in Moldova. I am posting this because it’s a great way to highlight a huge problem.

In the United States, about 20% of all planted, farmed, and harvested food gets thrown away before it’s even sold. It’s perfectly edible, but because it’s “ugly”, the supermarkets declare that it “can’t be sold”.

Britain is just as bad, with billions of kilograms of edible food thrown away and wasted. A couple of weeks ago I watched a (UK) Channel 4 production, showing how supermarkets only accept onions that are 8cm in length. Ridiculous!

So why exactly are supermarkets in “advanced” countries so convinced that shoppers will only buy perfect, symmetrical, and beautiful fruits and vegetables? Well, the sad truth is:

“The only thing a customer can know about a piece of produce bought from a supermarket is what they can see,” explains Leonard Pallara, a farming consultant with Organic Sage Consulting who used to grow vegetables at Upper Meadows Farm in New Jersey.

“If they’re really being thoughtful, they may smell it — but most supermarket produce has been refrigerated, which kills the aroma. So the single greatest determinant factor that a person has for picking a piece is appearance.”

I wish I had the capability of making and editing a video of all of the action that goes on in the market here in Moldova. Not only is nothing (no, not even meat) refrigerated, but people smell, squeeze, rub, and taste the fruits and vegetables before they buy them. There’s nothing quite so enjoyable as watching an elderly man complain about how the onions are “too tight” in their skins as he haggles with a seller.

Sheesh, “advanced” countries! I feel so sorry for people there. Refrigerated fruits and vegetables with no aroma whatsoever, and each one grown to some exact bizarre specification just so unhealthy, malnourished customers will buy them instead of jamming another taco down their throats.

And, of course, the whole “customers only buy beautiful” is total bullshit anyway. No, not just in dirty old poverty-stricken Moldova. They do it just fine in France after a law was passed:

Intermarché gave the produce their own aisle in the supermarket, buying the fruit and veg that farmers would usually throw away which saw the goods going for 30 per cent cheaper than others on offer.

The result was a huge success: all stocks of the fruit and vegetables sold out in an initial rush and supermarket traffic overall increased by 24 per cent.

Yes, apparently even coddled Westerners will buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables. Shocker! As for me, I’ve been buying and eating “ugly” food since at least 2012, when I wrote about it in A Millionaire’s Breakfast.

Of course, I do have to confess one thing. I bought the carrot you see above from the market, but the other sellers nearby were selling slightly more expensive and beautiful carrots. So yeah, Moldovans are slightly fussy about their fruits and vegetables too. But after I found the guy selling the ugly carrots, this is what happened (in Romanian):

Me: A kilo and a half of those fine carrots, good sir.

Seller: Let me guess, you’ve got a rabbit, right?

Me:: Uh, actually no. Three cats and a dog.

Seller: Uh, ok, hm, that’s hmm, interesting. Anyway, my carrots are VERY popular with people with rabbits.

Me: Заяц!

And a good time was had by all ;)

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