Embrace ‘Ugly Food’ fruits and vegetables that are imperfect in appearance but are perfectly delicious and nutritious
Customers have been conditioned by supermarkets to buy produce that is "standard" in shape and "perfect" in appearance. On 15th December 2019, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) conducted a public workshop and cookery demonstration at the Central Farmers’ Market at the Central Star Ferry Pier 7 to explain why redefining how we judge the beauty of produce is a big step to help solve the food waste problem and building healthier food system.
Responsible food producers and traders should always exercise control to assure the quality of products that they sell to the consumers. While poor quality produce may look unpleasant, there far more produce that fail aesthetic standards but good in freshness and nutritious.
‘Ugly fruits and vegetables that do not meet the ‘standards’ in shape, colour and size, are likely screened out throughout the supply chain on farms, during processing, distribution, storage, in retail stores and food service operations even though they are perfectly delicious and nutritious,’ said Queenie SHUM, KFBG Agriculture Officer. ‘There are many natural factors contribute to the variations in appearance, flavor and texture of produces. Customers wider acceptance of produce in non-standard forms can help reduce food waste down the supply chain.’
Added, chasing perfection is one of the driving forces to the excessive application of synthetic inputs such as pesticides and preservatives. ‘If consumers have zero tolerance on imperfection of produce’s appearance, operators of various check-points along the food supply chain would try every mean to meet the customers’ expectation. That’s why excessive use of pesticides, packaging, synthetic colorings and preservatives have become the norm today to ‘guarantee’ compliance to the strict cosmetic standards of grocery stores,’ said YIP Tsz Lam, KFBG Senior Agriculture Officer.
The following are recommendations from KFBG for redefining how we judge beauty of produce in order to help solve the food waste problem and build a healthier food system:
- The most beautiful produces are those that are grown in season
Growing crops at their favorable seasons is the most beautiful way to produce healthy food. Under appropriate weather conditions, crops grow faster and stronger, and therefore they are more resistant to pest and disease. Scheduling planting to avoid the high season of pest and disease outbreak is another natural strategy for crop protection.
For example, the best time to enjoy locally grown white cabbage and other Cruciferous leafy greens is October to December when yellow-striped beetle, a common pest of and flowering cabbage, is less active. In another words, a higher application of pesticide may lie behind the beauty of off-season white cabbage.
- Embrace variations
There are many natural factors contributing to the variations in appearance, flavor and texture of produces. In most situations, the dinged, scratched, crooked and distorted produces just look different but remain equally tasty and nutritious. Deformities may reflect how strong plants response and recover from a small scratch or bug stink. Better understanding about the reasons behind the variations make us realize how we think about produce can make an impact on food-waste landscape.
For example, we may perceive carrot, a winter crop in Hong Kong, should always have a characteristic long-pointed edible root. However, stunted and split carrots are common when they force their way through compacted soil. In fact, many of the baby carrots are just whittled down deformed carrots.
- Embrace true beauty without make-up
It is natural to age and the shelf span of most fruits is relatively short. Stay alert to fresh produces, especially fruits, which have their appearance stayed good for unreasonably long time. We should also be cautious about the packaging waste, energy consumption and preservatives that are involved to bring food from field to table, for which the longer traveling distance the worst the problems are. In fact, produces that ripen quickly, such as the banana, papaya, strawberry which ripen quickly, should be consumed near where they are produced when they are in season.
- Talk to the food producers
The last but not the least, we should not judge produce as ugly if only because it fails the ‘standards’ and vice versa. Farmers Market is the best place to communicate directly with farmers to learn more about how and why some produces may look different from the typical ones that are sold at supermarkets. Enriching our understanding about how food is produced will make us smarter consumers.
About the Central Famers Market:
Date: Every Sunday
Time: 11am – 5pm
Venue: Central Ferry Pier No.7
Organiser: Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, in collaboration with a group of organic farmers in Hong Kong
Public enquiry: email@example.com
Website: Central Farmers Market.aspx
Ms. Sit Man, Sophia
Tel: 2483 7279