The other day, I popped downstairs to get a snack while working. I settled on a couple of passionfruit from the fruit bowl, picked from the vine that grows on the garden fence. As I was choosing two, I noticed that one was a bit blemished and, almost subconsciously, ignored it in favour of one of the others. A second later, I realised I’d done this and picked it up and cut it open.
Inside, it still had that gorgeous, tangy, tropical taste that I’ve begun to associate with my afternoons spent writing. I could still stack the skins in a little tower and it still left my mouth watering for more- just like the many others my boyfriend has been growing for years. And yet, accidentally, I’d almost bought into the message of “blemish=bad” and nearly neglected this humble, juicy, cricket-ball sized fruit.
Back upstairs writing, I thought back to the lemon & poppyseed muffins I’d baked on the weekend with lemons from a friend’s garden, and all the banana breads and carrot cakes I’ve made over the years. One of the lemons I used in the muffins is pictured above- it’s undeniably ugly. It’s a strange, pointed shape, mutated and bizarre- and yet the muffins still tasted amazing. Meanwhile the bananas or carrots I use in baking are always ones that, otherwise, are only really good for composting, the bananas the ones that have gone so brown they’re almost black, and the carrots so flexible I can almost tie them in a knot- and yet even during that one time when I forgot to put eggs in, they’ve always been delicious.
Of all waste, food waste is probably the one I hate the most. It’s why I was so intrigued by my own instinctive behaviour, but also why I was horrified to find out that, in the UK, it’s estimated that 2-40% of produce gets wasted before even leaving the farm. Apparently, this is because “consumers” like myself are too picky to eat it.
Now admittedly, many supermarkets are taking steps towards reducing this figure. You can buy so-called “ugly fruit” in concession lines or it’s turned into salads or smoothies. But what confuses me is: why? Why can’t we just have funny-looking fruit and veg as part of mainstream lines? Why are we creating whole new ranges out of produce that’s perfectly good for its original purpose?! Looking at the picture of that lemon now, I remember picking it from our friend’s tree and wanting to use it because of its unusual shape- not discard it.
So, what can consumers do about it, without having to resort to pricey farmers markets? The answer isn’t easy. It lies partly with companies like Oddbox, who deliver boxes of wonky-veg across London, but, mainly, with consumers challenging the status-quo. Write to your supermarket, or even your MP, chat to your friends about it, recommend them recipes that are perfect for misshapen fruit and veg. Start a conversation that demands fruit in all shapes and sizes and an appreciation of what fresh produce should really be all about. And when you pick up a fruit that looks a bit blemished or odd-looking, eat it. You never know how good it’ll taste.