Psst…hey lady…want to see something AMAZING? Take the regulatory leash off major supermarkets and quickly see how frisky Mother Nature’s feeling! Suddenly that fatwa against women touching bananas, zucchini and cukes makes some sense. Who doesn’t blush when looking at this naturally naughty food?
Larger supermarkets have – for years – refused to stock bruised or misshapen vegetables and fruit, in part because of government regulations, but also to appeal to persnickety consumers. The original ban on “ugly” fruit and vegetables was introduced by the EU, but in 2009, after two decades of strict enforcement, it was lifted in response to public outcry about food waste.
The defunct prohibition was ridiculously specific – garlic missing a single clove could not be sold, cauliflower needed to be plumper than 11 cm in diameter, and a string of onions had to have at least 16 bulbs.
The ban lift put most irregularly shaped produce on discount offers, frequently up to 40% cheaper then their prettier cousins. However, about 75% of fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, citrus fruit, tomatoes, lettuce, grapes and strawberries remained beholden to EU beauty standards. They can be sold as irregular, but must be labeled for “cooking,” not as “fresh produce.”
“Food should be about inner quality, not outer appearance. Fresh, local and seasonal is better than a bland but cosmetically perfect piece of fruit or veg,” the British National Farmers’ Union said in a statement, “Farmers and growers work extremely hard to produce quality food but nature does not always comply with a perfectly rounded sprout and poker-straight carrot.
Fruit and vegetables that can be now be sold as misshapen or irregular are as follows: apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts, cabbage, leeks, melon, onions, peas, plums, celery, spinach, walnuts, watermelons, and chicory.
Fruit that will continue to be graded are apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.
While in London a few weeks ago I grabbed a free commuter newspaper and read a quote from Feeding the 5,000, an organization that campaigns against food waste, that said, “An estimated 20 to 40% of UK fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards.”
Four big UK supermarkets have pledged to relax rules on misshapen fruit and vegetables, after demands from farmers suffering from bad weather and significantly reduced crops. But supermarkets point out that consumers are suspicious that they’re getting sub-standard food.
Do you trawl through the boxes trying to find the smoothest baking potato? Do you pass on carrots with an extra leg, or an apple with a bump? Or, like me – do you grab the craziest examples of double entendre crops for the comic value that come with the nutrition? (The lead image is a tomato I bought at a Lidl in Dublin – that baby prompted a week of belly laughs before ending up in a salad).
About that fatwa? The Times of India ran a story, “Islamic cleric bans women from touching bananas,” and mentioned an Egyptian website called BikyaMasr which reported that a cleric, “said that these fruits and vegetables ‘resemble the male penis’ and hence could arouse women or ‘make them think of sex.”
“If women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve,” the cleric supposedly dictated.
The story of the “cucumber mullah” seems to be short on authenticity, but made for pretty good flame-bait. In fact, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, “eat and drink from what we have granted you.’” That works.