Beauty standards for food? We have a problem with wonkiness…

Standards. Without realising it, we all live our lives according to standards. Some are legislative – there to protect us from harm, such as safety standards. Some are personal – the way we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. But some are imposed upon us without us even realising, creating a ‘normal’ standard when we had no place around the discussion table. There has rightly been a huge revolt against the ‘beauty standards’ being portrayed by the media – with people celebrating individuality, quirks and everything that makes us, us… but we need to think beyond ourselves here. We need to push back against the beauty standards being imposed on not just our bodies, but on our food.

Beauty standards for food? Sounds crazy right? The function of food is to nourish and fuel our bodies, and yet every day, without our input or knowledge, perfectly edible food is being discarded around the world because it does not fulfil an arbitrary standard.

And to be clear, this is not a standard of whether it is edible, it could be that it’s been classified too small, too big, too pitted, blemished… wonky. Sounds familiar right? A standard on aesthetics that is being imposed by invisible faces. We treat our food like we treat out bodies – as items that need to be perfect, blemish free, symmetrical and picture-perfect. This is utter lunacy – and hugely damaging.

Whilst millions struggle to ‘achieve’ a certain beauty standard promoted through fashion and social media, farmers and producers around the world are struggling in a similar way – trying to produce food, yet control nature to fit the box of what others have deemed acceptable. But what happens when nature does not play ball? Whilst food is the most essential element we need to survive and hugely energy (and water) intensive to produce… often it goes to waste. Ploughed back into field, left to rot, fed to animals. All because it doesn’t tick a box somewhere.

A perfect example of this has been seen recently with English asparagus. Already a fleetingly short season, the unseasonably cold months of April and May set back the growth of the crop, then with a sudden hot June… the spears grew quickly and a little wonky. This was nature’s way of adapting to the temperature changes. But according to a standards box, wonky spears are a no no. In usual years this is not so much of an issue, as the wonky spears are few, but in 2021, much of the usually prized English asparagus crop was rejected by suppliers. Too wonky.

This is a photo of such a ‘too wonky’ bunch of asparagus. Now ask yourself – would you have picked this up from a store without so much as a second glance? Of course you would. And even if it was a little more wonky, once cooked, who on earth has a poker straight solid asparagus spear? If you have, people, you haven’t cooked it right.

Fortunately, Oddbox, who work directly with suppliers to redirect their ‘waste’ and ‘wonky’ produce from the bin and into their subscription fruit and veg boxes were able to rescue this asparagus, which is how I have it in my hand. If I went to the local supermarket, a bunch of ‘perfect’ asparagus might have come from Peru (Sainsburys, asparagus spears, accessed on 11th June 21).

Asparagus takes years to mature as a crop, yet faced with a bit of wonky, produce is rejected. This is the lunacy of how we treat our farmers, our supply chains, our food system and quite honestly, how ‘beauty standards’ for our produce need to be reconsidered – and challenged. Subscription boxes such as Oddbox reconnect us with produce as nature has grown it – with all the quirks of the season, yet deliciously edible. We get great produce, the farmers get paid and nothing is wasted under the guise of ‘perfection’.

F**k the industry beauty standards – for our bodies and our food.

carry on the discussion...

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