“One thing I want to be really clear about is that we’re not asking people to eat food that is spoiled or about to go off,” says Youth Food Movement co-founder Joanna Baker.
“Its perfectly good produce – it just looks a little bit different.”
Baker is explaining what CropFest is all about. The event will be taking place this Friday in the square of St. Mary’s Cathedral in the CBD and if one thing is for sure, there will be some odd looking fruit and veg on show. There will also be cooking demonstrations, tastings, talks and workshops from partners including Studio Neon, Oz Harvest and Trolly’d, but the over-riding message will be loud and clear; produce doesn’t have to look physically perfect to be glorious. In fact, when you choose only the physically unblemished, you can miss out on some real gems of flavour.
Through working closely with producers Baker has seen first-hand the waste that comes from farmers only being able to sell the best-looking produce to stores and outlets for consumers.
“I discovered the issue speaking to farmers themselves. I worked for an orchard in Oakdale and I saw the stress that the farmer went through in making sure all the stone fruit looked the same way. I sorted the fruit myself, and it was all perfectly good and being picked in its natural state, but one blemish and I couldn’t pack it because the farmer couldn’t on-sell it. He was resourceful, so he got to use it for the sheep (lucky sheep), but it’s money he can’t recoup from the crop. Our need to have food looking a particular way is at a huge cost to our farmers.”
Baker was surprised by the lack of research and statistics available around the actual quantities of waste that resulted from this standardised view of how food should physically look.
“In Australia our campaign to change attitudes to lumpy, bumpy fruits and vegetables is the first I am aware of. And when we wanted information about the issue there wasn’t much research out there to quantify the waste aspect or individuals’ attitudes. It’s a silent issue.”
And now it’s an issue that the Youth Food Movement – a collective of around 7000 volunteers passionate about food issues in Australia – is taking on by showing the public that ugly food can actually taste really good.
“It’s about trying to reduce food waste – cut it down and prevent it – before it even happens. We also did a survey to understand what the issues and attitudes were. But we’re the supermarket generation and we've lost the skills to understand what good food is unless it looks appealing. So odd bits can be a bit off-putting. There were concerns around the safety of odd-looking food. People would ask ‘what am I going to do with it’ or ‘is it safe to eat’.” says Baker.
“CropFest is an opportunity to show these quirky-looking things to people and help them find out where they can get it. Wonky fruit and vegetables can be hard to find unless you know where to look. So we’re encouraging everyone to grow it themselves or support farmers’ markets. It’s easier at the markets because you can ask the farmer directly about any concerns you have. Or try a vegetable-box scheme, you’ll get some wonky fruit and vegetables in there as well.”
But the best starting point is at CropFest itself. There you’ll be shown by chefs and drink experts just how easy it is to love our food, no matter how it looks, and get a feel for embracing the whole crop.
If nothing else it’ll remind you of the joy you felt when you were a kid and found that one double plum in the fruit bowl, the carrot that looked like a pair of legs, or the lemon that was so lumpy it looked like your nanna.
“If it looks too perfect, I’m suspicious now.” Laughs Baker.
You can even enter your own ugly fruit and veg into a photo competition online, or download the Ugly Matters factsheet to find out more and help spread the word.
CropFest St. Mary’s Cathedral Square
Hours Friday March 28, 2014, from 5.30pm
Entry is via a CropFest bundle, $25 including a drink on arrival, food throughout the event and unlimited access to events and activities.