My daughters were so excited to see a carrot in the shape of a woman’s legs that my husband dug out a couple of weeks ago. They began to fight over it, arguing which of them was going to eat it.
This was not an uncommon occurrence: our garden often produces strangely shaped vegetables. But this has never turned us down from eating them. On the contrary, we take pride in the fact that they are completely organic and natural since we do not use any chemicals in their production whatsoever.
Unfortunately, a lot of customers in our country do not seem to share this enthusiasm.
How We Waste Our Edible Food and Resources
Isn’t it a tragic fact that around 40 % of perfectly fresh and edible fruits and vegetables, worth 15 billion dollars, do not reach the supermarkets’ shelves only because somebody considers them unappealing to the eye? This percentage equals almost 900 million tons of products that are being thrown away and wasted each year because the farmers are unable to sell them.
Another issue to consider is how much energy and water is used each year to produce this food, not to mention the fertilizers. It has been estimated that 250 cubic kilometers of water are used up each year to produce all this food that never makes it to the store.
If every person in the country wasted their water supplies for 38 whole years, we would get the amount that equals 250 cubic kilometers. And to millions of people in the developing countries, even one drop of water is a precious commodity.
Last year, Wal-Mart was urged to began selling ugly products through an online petition signed by 143, 000 people.
This initiated the largest grocer in the U.S to begin testing the sales of curiously-shaped potatoes in Texas.
The brand of potatoes was called “Spuglies” and achieved popularity among customers, according to the company’s spokesman John Forrest Ales. He has also said that the company is exploring other possibilities to broaden the range of misshapen products and that the real challenge is to improve the infrastructure so that large amounts of fresh products can be distributed to the stores on time.
Wal-Mart has stayed true to the mission of attracting the customers’ attention to ugly fruits and vegetables. This July, Shawn Baldwin, a senior vice president for produce in Walmart stores, introduced a new brand of imperfect looking apples from Washington.
The brand is being sold in 2 and 5 pound bags that are labeled “The Perfect”. He shared that the company took pride in being the first to introduce this brand of apples on the market.
Wal-Mart’s campaign is supported by the “UglyFruitAndVegCampaign”, which endeavors to draw people’s attention to these products through humor.
This largest retail company owns more than 4000 stores in the U.S., so it is powerful enough to change people’s perception of products that are not aesthetically pleasing.
Wal-Mart is also making contribution to this field by using imperfect products for baked and canned foods.
It is encouraging to know that other retail firms, such as Giant Eagle and Whole Foods, are beginning to follow their example.
What About Europe?
In Europe, some big retail companies are also making it possible for weather-dented and bumpy products to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Last year, one of the largest supermarket chains in France, Intermarche, launched a global campaign that celebrates oddly-shaped fruits and vegetables called “ The Inglorious”.
They offered a discount of 30 % for these products, giving them unique names such as “The ridiculous potato”, “The ugly carrot”, The grotesque apple”. The campaign was a success in every way: the store gained huge popularity, the store traffic was increased by 24 % and amazing 1. 2 tons of products were sold per store during the first two days.
Their French competitors have begun to make similar offers. In the United Kingdom, numerous supermarkets are also beginning to stock unattractive looking products.
What Do Scientists Say About Strangely Shaped Vegetables?
Thinking that the real cause for the curious shapes lies in genetic mutation, some consumers can be put off by this kind of fruit and vegetables. Are their worries justified? “These aren’t genetic mutants, says Irwin Goldman, a professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While he admits that a small number of misshapen produce may be caused by alterations in the genes, he says that “most of the time it’s just an environmental effect.”
“They’re totally edible and in some cases, quite beautiful,” Goldman concludes.
Regarding the carrots, Goldman explains that the tip of the baby carrot’s root sometimes comes across an obstacle underground while it is growing. It can be blocked by a rock or an insect, for example. That sometimes results in the sprouting of a second tip on the root, which is how you get a two – legged carrot. Multiple tips can even grow, resulting in octopus-like carrots and other funny versions.
What about the apples that look like they are smiling and peering at you? Small winged insects called thrips are drawn to apple blooms and they can harm the baby fruit. “A tiny scar by thrips on an ovary can result in a happy face on an apple or orange,” says Joe Nunez, from the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University in California.
True Value Lies in Inner Beauty
Just like we tent to attribute more value to physically appealing people, we do the same with products of nature. Dented and scarred vegetables and fruits are just as delicious and nutritious as their perfectly-looking counterparts. Their perfect appearance can mean that they have been treated with harmful chemicals or that they have been genetically modified. This in itself should cause a lot of concern.
Every product is a gift from Nature. It is our perception that needs to change.