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Nice and ugly

Today we report a breakthrough of note: The Europeans have overcome their bias against physical imperfection.

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They're warming to ugly fruits and vegetables.

For years, a vast population of odd-shaped fruits and vegetables — crooked carrots, lopsided tomatoes, excessively curved bananas — was snubbed by European Union agriculture bureaucrats. They were deemed unfit for sale in supermarkets by the EU produce police, so they were dumped.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. What a waste. So what if there were a few bumps or a gnarl here and there? Ever heard of a knife?

That kind of shape-centric thinking brought us those bright red, impressively round tomatoes, perfect in every way except they taste like Styrofoam.

And jumbo-size strawberries and gargantuan peaches bred to please the eye, not the palate.

Sure, they're beautiful. But that is not the function of fruits and vegetables.

That is why we're pleased to report that the EU has relented. Imperfect fruit and vegetables once again may be sold in markets.

"It makes no sense to throw perfectly good products away, just because they are the 'wrong' shape," the European agriculture commissioner said.

How long did it take the EU to reach this brilliant conclusion? Oh, about 20 years.

This isn't just about aesthetics. An estimated 20 percent of the British harvest has been tossed to comply with EU regulations, according to a British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. The paper noted that those rules have added as much as 40 percent to the price of some vegetables. (Not that the EU cornered the market on fussy standards for fruits and vegetables. U.S. standards for potatoes fill 13 single-spaced pages.)

Now that EU bureaucrats have relented, we hope to see more ugliness in American supermarkets. (And we don't just mean the Ugli fruit, the Jamaican tangelo hybrid with rough, wrinkly skin that impressively lives up to its name.)

There's already precedent, in the tasty form of the UglyRipe tomato (below).

For years, Florida shape-ists argued that the UglyRipe, with its deep ridges and creases, didn't meet standards for export outside the state. Industry insiders sniffed that it had a "cat face" and looked more like a pumpkin.

But in 2007, the United States Department of Agriculture decreed that flavor rules: UglyRipe could be sold outside Florida.

"The UglyRipe gets fan mail," said a company exec. Enough said.

So how about it, American supermarkets? Can we expect a bin or two of ugly but tasty — and cheaper — fruits and veggies on our next visit? We hope so. Because if shoppers save money, ugly will be beautiful.

Nice and ugly 07/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 6:50pm]
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