Barbie Brussels: Week #16 – 9/25/19
Amongst the many awesome reasons to support local agriculture, particularly through a CSA membership, is one you may not think of often. You prevent food waste.
First, by participating in a customizable CSA you help reduce waste by being able to choose items you know you’ll use so that nothing rots in your fridge.
A much bigger way you help prevent food waste is more indirect. It’s the acceptance and openness you have to vegetables that aren’t meeting the high bar of the grocery store aesthetic.
Let’s use Brussels Sprouts as an example. The Brussels Sprouts you receive in your CSA box aren’t the prettiest sprouts in existence, however, they are high quality in their denseness and their taste. The sprouts sometimes have yellowing outer leaves. Also, the flea beetles hit them pretty hard this year, so there is some aesthetic bug damage on the outsides of the sprouts. The key word here is aesthetic, meaning they don’t cause harm to the overall freshness and taste of the plant.
You take these Brussels Sprouts. Our restaurant chefs order them too. Why? Because you all know that in the process of cleaning and prepping the Brussels Sprouts anything visually concerning will either be dealt with or won’t affect the taste. These aessthetic imperfections are different than rot.
Willy Street Coop, however, won’t order our Brussels Sprouts. Now, before you go blaming this on Willy Street (and please don’t, because they are our biggest supporters outside of CSA!) let’s step back and look at the customers.
The Willy Street Coops won’t order our Brussels because their customers won’t buy them. Willy requires Barbie Brussels for their shelves. They have to look perfect. And just about any other grocery store in America requires this too.
Americans have remarkably high expectations for the looks of their perishable fruits and vegetables. Most Americans don’t work on farms and have no idea how many fruits and vegetables aren’t perfect-looking.
I see this as sort of a chicken and egg situation, or perhaps an instance where the capitalist strive towards perfection has a down side. As grocery purveyors and distributors competed with each other they offered more and more beautiful produce. What they wanted their customers to see were the Barbies of the available vegetables. The stores with the Barbie Brussels sold more. And so on and so on.
The success of this has been so sweeping that today most Americans expect their vegetables to be Barbie veggies.
What the stores and the purveyors and the distributors keep the customer from seeing is all of the wasted vegetables involved in a system that insists on aesthetic perfection. All the two-legged carrots, all the Brussels Sprouts with tiny outer leaves that have yellowed, all the bell pepper with one tiny sun spot – these perfectly fresh, edible, and healthy items are wasted in many systems because they don’t make the grocery store cut.
At our farm, we don’t let that food go to waste. And one of the main ways we do it is by giving you all every day ordinary vegetables. Yes of course some of the veggies you receive are Barbie-level beautiful, but not all of them. And that’s the key here. We are not scared to give you food that is fresh and edible, but maybe a little funny looking.
Food that isn’t good enough for our CSA members takes its next stop in our bellies. We the farmers and the crew are experts at taking vegetables that might have one little spot that’s starting to go bad and using up or putting it up for winter. I, for example, am an expert cauliflower shaver. I use a vegetable peeler to peel off the little brown spots on the outside of the cauliflower and then enjoy the denseness of what remains underneath. And if we can’t make a home in our bodies for this food, then we donate the rest.
Food that isn’t good enough for the crew or for donation we feed to the pigs. Though I have to say, the pigs on are the smaller side this year, which is proof that we’ve had very little waste this season.
I understand why Willy Street Coop demands Barbie Brussels. But do I want the system to be different? Yes. Do I wish that stores could slowly, gradually help lower the expectation consumers have of their vegetables’ appearances? Yes. Do I wish consumers themselves could become better educated on food waste so that they would be open to more realistic, ordinary looking vegetables? Indeed.
And that’s where you all come in. We give you all beautiful vegetables, but not always Barbie beautiful. And you all are okay with that. And by being okay with that, you are preventing food waste. So pat yourself on the back and add that to your mental list of why your being a CSA member is good for the world!
Thanks for supporting our family farm, local organic agriculture, and two-legged carrots.
Happy cooking, happy eating!