By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach
I look in the mirror, and compared to 20 years ago I don't love what I see. It's not that I don't like myself, I actually think I have some very good qualities, it's just that on the outside, like most people in their 50's, there's a little wear and tear. Wear and tear is part of life: The longer we live the more stress we're subjected to, which takes its toll on the body. Externally it's the weather which probably takes the greatest toll on our skin, as it is the weather that takes the greatest toll on our fresh produce.
Last weekend I travelled down to the Wingecarribee in the NSW south to deliver a Love Food Hate Waste talk. The subject was on loving leftovers and how easy it is to roll leftovers from one meal into a completely new meal the next day. Having worked on more photographic and video food shoots than I can count, I was amused that for this job, instead of sourcing the most pristine produce, I went in search of produce that was a bit knackered (better described as a little fatigued - like me!)
On the day, I cut around a few cuts in the zucchini, chopped off some black patches inside a capsicum, and sifted out the brown leaves on the parsley.
And I reminded everyone that had we been alive during the 2nd world war when food was rationed, we'd be growing most of our food which would almost certainly be blemished and we'd be grateful for having it!
The point is that there is nothing wrong with produce that's a little weather damaged.
Joe Zappia from Zappia Produce Group is quite passionate about the issue of perfectly good produce going to waste because the public believes it should look perfect.
"Wind and rain can scar fruit and vegetables due to branches and leaves whipping its sides, but it doesn't affect the quality on the inside", says Zappia. "Leafy herbs can also be damaged by the cold causing brown rusty patches on the leaves. Crops of parsley, sage and coriander have all suffered from the sudden cold snap this year but it doesn't mean the entire crops are bad."
Zappia whose main produce lines are tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum also talks about a condition called blossom-end rot which sounds much worse than it actually is. A sudden heatwave can affect how growing crops take up calcium from water in the soil resulting in tiny brown/black scars on the base of the fruit. Other than the little brown patch the fruit is fine. Excess sun can also effect fruit crops by burning the skin and leaving brown patches, however provided the plants have received enough water the fruit will still be sweet and juicy.
The conversation reminded me of one a few months ago when I heard a young man complaining about a regional greengrocer who he'd bought strawberries from which had gone off very quickly. It was after some pretty heavy rainfall and the man hadn't taken into account that rain will damage soft fruit in the same way that washing your strawberries days before you eat them will.
Last week I heard about pear farmers in the Goulburn valley whose entire crops had been damaged by hailstorms early in the crop's growth cycle. The hail damaged pears have a few dents in them and look a bit funny but the quality is still excellent.
Sam Grima, from Horsley Park Fresh Produce in NSW tells me that fog is no growers' friend either. Sam grows root vegetables and while beetroot bulbs are quite hardy regardless of the weather, the leaves develop black spots and mildew with heavy fog. It was welcome news to me as I often buy beetroot guided by how perky the leaves are. Carrots too are effected by heavy rain which packs the soil down firmly and blocks a straight passage down into the soil. Bent, misshaped, or double carrots are all a result of carrots finding a different route through the soil in search for nutrients. Regardless of their shape, there is nothing wrong with the produce.
When the weather is so bad and the produce is spoilt beyond selling, the supply will be less than the demand and it will be more expensive than normal.
To ensure we continue to enjoy Australian produce we must support our farmers during the hard times and extreme weather is much harder on them than it is for the majority of us. For most of us it's an inconvenience and possibly a little additional expense. For then it can be a loss of livelihood.
Understanding that things don't have to be perfect on the outside to be great on the inside is the first step.