The price of ugly

Ugliness now has a price it seems. The upmarket supermarket Waitrose (still conspicuous by its absence from almost every high street in Greater Manchester) has decided this week to put fruit without obvious beauty on its shelves – for the jam makers, preserve hoarders and smoothy munchers rather than bargain hunters.
There’s nothing wrong with this fruit other than coming in nature-provided packages that may be mishapen, oversize, undersize or just plain odd in some way from the plastic ideal we now all expect offered up in their clingfilm shrouds.
The fact that huge amounts of food is wasted, both in this country and abroad, due to the exacting and rigid standards of the big supermarkets, won’t be news to anyone and it’s been going on for years.
I’m sure I’m not alone in doing potato-picking as a summer job as a student many years ago and being shocked to see the amount of spuds which would be rejected because they weren’t the exact size that the buyer required. That process goes on with every crop we are offered and while no-one wants food with blight or pests, the idea of shelf appeal now seems to rule the purchasing process.
Ignoring the fact that Waitrose’s target customers are seemingly so affluent that the idea of cheap(er) food won’t be a selling point, why aren’t all supermarkets allowing their customers to decide what’s acceptable to offer for sale? Let the market decide the price for ugly.
Does the modern, urban shopper feel so affronted by a double-legged carrot (the staple diet of the That’s Life television programme not so long ago) that they could never bring themselves to peel it or perhaps an oversize potato could lead to an explosion in the obesity problem that the authorities just couldn’t risk?
Does this attitude show an ignorance of agricultuire and a further removal of ourselves from the land which sustains us?
Maybe its also part of a nostaligia about rural affairs which seems to sweep around supermarket shelves with promises of “free-range” and “organic” still packaged in the same uniform sets of four, contained in the same Russion-doll layers of packaging.
The National Farmers’ Union and some environmental groups have welcomed this move by Waitrose as a step in the right direction as far as the war on waste goes, but surely until metropolitan purchasers accept that food can be imperfect in appearence it will be nothing more than a gimmick.
None of these issues will concern the amazing 89-year-old subject of Chris Evans’ Radio 2 drivetime show on Monday.
Interviewee Christine revealed how she has NEVER purcahsed any fruit or vegetables from a shop. Throughout her life she has fed her family from food grown in her allotment.This life’s work has meant she (and her daughter) have never been on holiday but has left her healthy and contented. I bet she’s seen her share of ugly fruit – and throroughly enjoyed it in all its strangeness!
Do the supermarkets standardise things too much? Do you insist on “pretty” fruit and veg? Let me know below.
Picture by devilboy from America where ugliness is cheap.


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