Reflecting on the price of perfection
I have many interesting conversations at the various markets I attend, and often spend time reflecting on the questions asked, tips offered and comments received. At a recent market, a family including mum, dad and two teenage boys began looking through my heirloom seed offerings. They flicked through various packets, before the mum asked one of her sons if he wanted to try to grow anything. He indicated he would like to try growing carrots. As new growers, they asked me various questions about growing carrots, and I happily gave them my tips.
Their next decision was which variety – the son indicated he thought purple dragon looked interesting. Being my favourite carrot, I was excited to speak further about its rich history and its incredible colour and flavour.
Their final question was “how big will it grow?” Always a difficult question to answer with heirlooms, as they are definitely not “one size fits all” and may be harvested at any stage from baby through to large chopping size, which again I explained.
Whilst the son was very enthusiastic, the mother looked at her son and said (and I quote) “Are you sure you want to grow that one? It won’t be perfect like the ones we buy from Coles.”
The comment led me to wonder - what price we are willing to pay for so called perfection? In terms of money, not a lot when it comes to supermarket vegetables. Produced by industrial agriculture, utilising hybrid or perhaps even genetically modified seed to produce a uniform, large, orange, tasteless carrot that can be harvested, washed and packed by machines, thrown into large crates to be transported across the country and stored under refrigeration for months on end. Are we really that willing to sacrifice taste and nutrition for so called perfection?
Similar comments occur for other heirloom vegetables I grow. I know what people are really saying is “I have never seen that before in the supermarket, so not only are you are challenging my view of what vegetables should look like, but also how I can use with them in my kitchen”. Comments ranging from “that is the weirdest / evil / wrong looking vegetable I have ever seen” (black Spanish radish) to “that looks so ugly I would not even consider eating it” (Galeux D’Eysines pumpkin). Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for every "ugly" comment, I receive 10 fold comments expressing admiration and wonder.
But what I, and perhaps you know, is that in limiting our tastes and habits to mass produced, supermarket hybrids, we are missing out on a world of colours; textures; flavours and heritage. Not only that, we are inadvertently reinforcing the acceptable image of perfection that social media, corporations and supermarkets would have us, and our children believe.
Vegetables, like humans, come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and are all the richer for it. Here’s to wholesome, real food eaten by wholesome, real people.