Cosmetically-Challenged Crops

I sometimes stop and wonder, what will be the next big thing in the food movement?  We’ve seen fads and trends swoop in, and certain things linger while other things fade away.  There’s been intense nutritionism, focusing our desires on key chemical and nutritional components of our food (have you eaten enough vitamin B6 today? get enough iron on that vegan diet?), the no-carb, the low-carb, the low-fat, the high-protein, and every other weight loss restriction you can imagine.  We’ve gone through the Canada Food Guide recommendations in school, the glycemic index standards for blood sugar consistency, the superfoods crazes (chia, hemp, and wild blueberries, oh my!), the natural and whole foods phenomena, and today, ethical standards (fair trade, local, and organic) tend to dominate the attention of foodies in the know.  But, as I look around me, and read the food news, and talk to others who eat, I can’t help but think perhaps the next wave is going to be healthy and whole, but quite frankly, unconventionally beautiful.  Like this photo display (taken at Berlin Farmers’ Markets) suggests, there’s a whole lot of beautiful, delicious food to be had, that would just never make it through the sorting machine in an agro-industrial food system.


The Mutato-Archive is a collection of non-standard fruits, roots and vegetables, displaying a dazzling variety of forms, colors and textures. 

The complete absence of botanical anomalies in our supermarkets has caused us to regard the consistency of produce presented there as natural. Produce has become a highly designed, monotonous product. Today we have a clearly defined image of how, for example, an apple or a tomato should look like, and we regard anything that deviates from this norm with mistrust, at times even disgust. Be-cause these “ideals of beauty” have become so established, massive amounts of fruit and vegetables have to be discarded, even though they are perfectly edible. Only those that are visually flawless can reach the market. 

It is not only the natural occurrence of morphological irregularities in the growth of single plants that is being suppressed and filtered out by our food system. Even though there are literally thousands of varieties of any domesticated fruit or vegetable, only a tiny fraction is being grown and distributed today. A few high yielding, “good looking” varieties are displacing the once rich and diverse repertoire of agricultural cultivars. A vast majority of our crop varieties have become extinct within the last 50 years. The detachment of the people from the land, from the processes of food production has allowed this extinction to happen behind the scenes, without public awareness. The ever increasing amount of processed foods and food imports have also contributed to the illusion that the diversity of our food supply is increasing, not declining. 

We have forgotten, and in many cases never experienced the way fruits, roots, and vegetables can actually look (and taste). The Mutato-Project serves to document the rich spectrum of colors and shapes of agricultural cultivars and to win back public demand and acceptance of visual and culinary diversity. 

Visit the full gallery, in all its wonky glory.  What do you think?

Not long after writing this post, I bought a box of local strawberries, at the bottom of which I discovered this gem:

Luckily, it soon became part of this strapplebarber (strawberry-apple-rhubarb-ginger) crisp, and no one was any the wiser:

Have you discovered/grown/eaten any aesthetically-displeasing produce lately?  Care to share an image?  What do you think – is this the next big food craze?

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