Coming right back from a holiday, I always have some difficulty finding my rhythm. After two weeks in Italy, it was especially the culinary transition that took some getting used to. Back at home, my first task was replenishing the fridge. As my habitual visit to the market happened to be no option, I went to the supermarket. I was immediately struck by the appearance of the produce section. The vegetables and fruits were nicely arranged, side by side in shiny crates. Per type, the products had the same size and colour.
How different from what I had seen in the previous weeks. In the Italian supermarket, vegetables of many types were mixed in all colours and sizes. Tomatoes of various varieties but sorted by type: large, small and in a mix of colours. Courgettes of all sizes, sweet peppers in the weirdest shapes, and not a single straight cucumber. The flavour, however, was marvellous. I could taste the sun, the soil, and the full flavour of every product. How different from the Dutch supermarket.
A large bag of carrots with the name ‘Mavericks’ (Buitenbeentjes) printed on the label caught my eye. Two kilos of carrots. Ostensibly, nothing was wrong with these carrots, and yet they had been labelled Mavericks. The price was very low. When I studied the label more carefully, I read: “Mavericks are vegetables that look different from what we are used to, but they taste just as good.” Carrots that are not straight, that are not 15 centimetres long, without any discolouring and tightly packed, look different from what we are used to and are therefore no longer recognised as a carrot!
I welcome the initiative of this supermarket, but it is beyond believe that we are only used to vegetables and fruit that are grown to have identical shapes and to be free of any imperfections. I understand that bent cucumbers are harder to pack in a crate and a hassle for processing in a cutting machine (for we do not cut our vegetables ourselves anymore; we buy them pre-cut in bags), but please let the vegetables growers concentrate on the flavour rather than on the looks.
Today, there are many initiatives to process ‘deformed’ vegetables. Soup is made of bent cucumbers, and various meal producers buy vegetables that are not according to standard and shape. These initiatives are considered ‘sustainable and special’, but what has the world come to when a straight cucumber is the standard and a bent cucumber is special? Nature does not provide any straight cucumbers, and a few decades ago they could not be found in shops either.
Food squandering has become a major theme. More than one third of the food produced is never consumed, so it is good to be critical of what we eat and what we buy. I have an idea: if we all buy ‘mavericks’ exclusively from now on, we will not find any ‘normal’ vegetables in the shops any longer!