Do you remember when potatoes had eyes? When did you last have to dig one out?
I recently came across Tristram Stuart’s excellent book: Waste – uncovering the global food scandal. It contains a myriad of fascinating information about food waste, its causes, effects and how different countries have responded to the problem. But I think the chapter that made me think the most, was the one about potatoes.
As a child I remember peeling potatoes from a bowl of water to wash off the dirt. As a supermarket shopper, I get the feeling that my own children would be horrified if they were faced with dirty potatoes and are unlikely to enter adulthood with an appreciation of why potato peelers have a sharp end.
I realise that my reaction to the perfect potato is somewhat delayed, but nonetheless, I am surprised at the lengths taken to deliver an unnecessary convenience to consumers.
Stuart discusses the ruthless shape and size tests that potatoes are subjected to before being judged as fit for supermarket shelves, forcing farmers to lose up to a third of their harvest each year. Whilst the book was published before the EU repealed a number of cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables, Stuart also reports that Supermarkets own standards are often more stringent than statutory standards in any case.
An interesting question is whether demand for the perfect potato is genuine or perceived. Some insight can be gained, Stuart says, from poor UK potato harvest in 2007. Interestingly, imports didn’t increase substantially, despite 40% of the UK harvest being wiped out. This is apparently because retailers relaxed their acceptance criteria; something that consumers didn’t appear to notice.
If the less attractive potatoes were good enough in 2007 why not now?
And don’t even get started on carrots…