Are we so superficial that even foods have to look a certain way to be sold?

How many of you have heard of the wonky food controversy in 2008? No? Well neither have I, until a couple of days ago. It seems that The European Commission had a certain set of rules that were launched in 1989 regarding standardizing the quality of our fruits and vegetables. However, years and years down the road, these rules have now been distorted, resulting in tons of food wastage. Today, it seems like our never ending quest to acquire beauty has involved even the foods we eat.

Supermarkets, or rather, companies running these supermarkets, refuse to accept fruits and vegetables from farmers that do not meet their standard requirements of how they look, and this can be measured in terms of texture, height and length of it, and the size of it. Their reason is that consumers do not want weird looking foods, even when consumers say this is not the case. While it seems to be an excuse rather than a reason, I start to see a vicious cycle in that statement.

For the longest time since the late 80s, people have been used to seeing fruits and vegetables in their ‘standard’, ‘fresh’ looking states, and would probably think a product is abnormal or spoilt when faced with an odd looking one. What makes this quest of beautifying our food terrible is that these odd looking ones are perfectly edible and no different from the normal looking ones. In fact, many of these ‘defected’ fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by supermarkets, are not even spoilt or unfit for consumption, they are rejected solely by the way they look. Talk about solving world hunger issues!

After the news got wind of this situation, there have been efforts in many places attempting to do right by these fruits and vegetables by demanding they put the wonky looking ones back in the shelves. And in 1st of July, 2009, The European Commission has lifted the ban of food standardization law on 26 fruits and vegetables. This list includes:

26 items (restrictions on shape and size repealed without qualification) – apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, watermelons, and witloof/chicory.

There is another list of 10 items that the ban has not lifted entirely but restrictions lifted subject to labeling to distinguish them from ‘class 1’ or ‘class 2’ produce. These 10 includes:

Apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches/nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.

I think it is a start with these bans being lifted, but we still have a long way to go. As far as these reports are concerned, i believe it applies mainly to the U.K. Because guidelines for foods deem fit for our supermarkets are different from theirs, this ban that has been lifted may or may not have been applied to us. I have been trying to access the website of Singapore’s AVA site but hadn’t been successful, and will do an update of this post the moment I can access it.

On an end note, when was the last time you saw a wonky looking fruit or vegetable on sale in a supermarket in Singapore? Could mother nature really have been consistent in her works that none of the wonky ones ever appear in Singapore?


4 thoughts on “Are we so superficial that even foods have to look a certain way to be sold?

  1. Weird enough, I’m actually more attracted to “wonky-looking” veggies and fruits. I guess it’s because it makes me feel they haven’t been adulterated as much. If you notice, a lot of organic veggies and fruits don’t look as pretty. They look pretty “raw”.

    But I guess here in Singapore, since there aren’t many farmers’ market (or none that I’m currently aware of although I know there are actually small farms here that practice organic farming), we’re mostly exposed to urbanized supermarkets so these disfigured goods are a very rare sight. From a marketing perspective, the shoes should match the shoebox.

    • Exactly. 😦 But even for organic veggies and fruits, I sometimes hesitate buying them ’cause they are flown from all over the world. It’s not too environmentally friendly after all the marketing about being good to earth. How about the produce in wet markets? Do you know if their sources are directly from farms themselves?

      • I’m not sure. But there are small organic farms here in SG and they do home deliveries of veggies that are cheaper than those sold in Supermarkets. 🙂 They aren’t certified, though, since there isn’t any legal body here in SG that does organic certifications.
        It’s a chicken and egg problem — if we don’t buy, the stocks will rot and will most likely be just thrown away. 😦 Usually, my top reason for not buying organic produce is the price. Half an organic broccoli costs double the big one from the non-organic basket in NTUC.

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