Food for thought: what is too picky?

I heard a story the other day on the radio that made me think — again — about the food we buy and how picky we can sometimes be about it.

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story as told by Amanda Carroll on KLOVE radio chronicled a single mother’s quest for Thanksgiving dinner.

As the story goes, the woman appeared in a grocery store asking to speak to the manager. She explained to the manager that she had some small children and herself to feed, but not enough money to buy the traditional dinner. Could the manager please provide her with an “imperfect” turkey? Implied in the request was that a turkey with imperfections would cost less than a “normal” turkey.

I can almost see the look on the manager’s face as the story is told. “We don’t have any ‘imperfect’ turkeys here,” he tells the woman. But that’s not the end of the story. Apparently the manager found it in his heart not only to give the woman a 13-pound turkey for her and her children, he solicited donations from employees in order to provide $70 worth of additional fixings for the dinner.

Learning a lesson

Years ago I saw, first-hand, how fresh fruit is processed for market. As I watched workers select pluots for market I noticed that some of the delicious tree-grown fruit was winding up in what the farmer called “cull bins.” These were four-foot square, wooden boxes that contained fruit unsuitable for market. In some cases it was obvious why some of these pieces of fruit were not going to make it to the grocery store. In other cases, the reasons were not so noticeable to my untrained eye. In many cases, these pluots were just fine to eat as the farmer demonstrated for me, and I found out for myself.

In my opinion the reasons behind the fruit being unsuitable for market seemed rather silly because it had nothing to do with the fruit being tainted or otherwise dangerous to eat. The reason the fruit was destined for the trash bin had only to do with the appearance of the fruit. In other words, it simply wasn’t pretty enough.

Feeding the hungry

Here in America we produce enough food to feed everyone who wants a meal. We also have the ability to produce food for many more people around the world, yet we waste so much, which could in turn feed even more people. The only reason we do this, as I’m told, is that the food (I’m talking perishable products such as fruits and vegetables, but I suppose it could apply to other perishables such as some meat products) simply isn’t cosmetically attractive enough for the store buyers to stock in their cold bins and on the shelves. And so we use various gimmicks to make the food appear nicer, even though it does not necessarily add to the safety or taste of the product.

While I’m not suggesting that we eliminate food safety laws and regulations that protect consumers from food-borne illnesses resulting from truly tainted products, what I am suggesting is maybe we’ve gone a little too far in how “perfect” our food needs to be. The poor, single mother just looking for an inexpensive meal for her children shows that there are still those who are willing to pay an acceptable, albeit reduced, price for products that may not be attractive enough to certain marketers to be prominently displayed, but are nevertheless healthy and safe enough to be consumed.

I read recently that the world’s population is estimated to grow by an additional 2-3 billion in the next several decades. Every one of those people need to eat. We have the ability here in America, with technology and available land space, to provide a safe source of food for all of these people. We can do it. In the process maybe we can help make safe and tasty food available at a reduced price simply by determining that the cosmetic factor isn’t as important as some might want us to believe.

Food for thought…

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