Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Not Beautiful


My boys and I built our first garden behind the garage of our previous house. We never had a bumper crop of anything there; the corn cobs were tiny, the carrots shrimpy. The best we did is a couple of pumpkins one year in time for Halloween.

This spring I built three beds at our new house. Unlike our last garden, I was less laissez-faire with my investment: I watered and weeded and shooed away deer and squirrels. The results were mixed. While the tomatoes grew more than five feet high, they never produced a viable fruit; friends complained they had worms in theirs, and my pal Christina warned me that birds will eat them during drought — and we’ve been in a drought since June. I have fifty feet of pumpkin vines but no pumpkins. We harvested one solid crop of arugula and basil before the cucumber plants took over the bed and blotted out the sun.

And the cucumber themselves? I never knew cucumber plants grew so large or aggressively. The exclosure fence around the bed became a trellis which they promptly scaled and summited with their tendrils. A little research told me they are distantly related to pumpkins, which explains the similar broad leaves and steroidal growth. The fruits grow like the balloons of a balloon artist, beginning as tiny gherkins on the vine then inflating from one end to the other. We’ve been eating cucumbers in our salads all summer, minus the edible wax of the store-bought variety.

On Monday I clipped the last half-dozen from the withering plants. In each case I had left the fruit attached to mature a little longer as it had some odd disfigurement I hoped would go away: a kink in the hose here, an uninflated finger there. Finally I acknowledged I had to harvest them or they would rot on the ground. They taste as great, warts and all, as the model cukes.

But if I was selling cucumbers commercially, these ugly ducklings would have wound up in the garbage. In the European Union about 30 percent of food grown by farmers is thrown away because it looks weird, even though it is unspoiled and perfectly edible. That percentage is comparable to the amount wasted by the US and other nations around the world. Back in 2014 my friend Baylen Linnekin interviewed Maria Canelhas, a representative of the organization Fruta Feia (“Ugly Fruit”), which fights against food waste. Canelhas explained the EU regulations behind it:

These rules basically group fruits and vegetables into classes, depending on the size, colour and other appearance characteristics (such as stains on the peel). Regarding fruits, you have class “extra,” class I, and class II, and each of these classes have a minimum size, that’s determined by the calibration standards. On another hand, you have classes grouping fruits according to their coloring. Regarding vegetables, you also have classes that group them according to their size (minimum calibration) and colour.

So what happens is that consumers started to prefer fruits and vegetables from the class “extra,” class I, or class II with high calibrations. When noticing this trend, distributors and supermarkets started to buy from the farmers those classes only, leaving the others out. This explains the difficulty that farmers are facing trying to sell these fruits and vegetables, resulting in a huge amount of food waste. Nowadays, distributors and supermarkets aren’t buying the less appreciated classes, so consumers don’t have the choice to buy them, because this food isn’t even arriving on the market.

Not so coincidentally Baylen has a new book out tomorrow about how smarter government regulations would reduce this kind of waste and encourage sustainability.

Biting the Hand That Feeds UsBiting the Hands that Feed Us introduces readers to the perverse consequences of many food rules. Some of these rules constrain the sale of “ugly” fruits and vegetables, relegating bushels of tasty but misshapen carrots and strawberries to food waste. Other rules have threatened to treat manure—the lifeblood of organic fertilization—as a toxin. Still other rules prevent sharing food with the homeless and others in need. There are even rules that prohibit people from growing fruits and vegetables in their own yards.

Blurb writers John Mackey and Joel Salatin can’t both be wrong! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy, which I can’t wait to read while munching a gnarled-cucumber sandwich. Have you? UNSUBTLE HINT: CLICK HERE.

Update: Baylen goes into detail about ugly vegetables and American food waste in an interview with HuffPost, stressing the need for both laws and consumers’ expectations to change:

The regulations the USDA and EPA have established make wasting the “ugly” fruits and vegetables often times easier than actually picking them at the farm and trying to sell them. The government’s at fault there, full stop. But it’s also incumbent upon consumers to change their behavior and recognize that.

The Loss Leader of Life

Seems to be growing well.

Every New Year I vow to attack this blog with great vigor, resolving to update it at least once a week with reports of my adventures and successes which I assure myself are many and sundry. And for a while this goes as planned. Then summer arrives and I am reminded of the projects and endeavors I swore to do as I peered at the yard through rime-laced windows and it all goes out the door. Figuratively. Literally.

Which is how it should be. There are only so many days in a year, only so many of which are warm and pleasant, and I am less grasshopper than ant. Over at UncMo my friend Christina, who is a thousand times more articulate than I am, has recently embraced the freelancer lifestyle in which “every hour has to be accounted for.”

The upshot is, every hour is billable to something. Your livelihood. Your loved ones. Your sanity. Your soul. Remember that’s always true, whether you’re freelance or not: Every hour is billable.

So running and paddleboarding and building and maintaining gardens and manufacturing tiki bars with the sons and performing various minor household upgrades and binge-watching Jessica Jones and working for money and sometimes — sometimes! — actually writing something for submission has not left much time for dear old bloggy. And yet at odd moments I have tightened a few gaskets. I reorganized the Clips page to highlight the good stuff. I truncated my biography on the About page. (True story: more than one venue has identified me as an “archaeologist” even though I haven’t performed practical archaeology in 14 years. I prefer short one- or two-sentence bios to accompany my byline, and always justified my longish About page for those who took the trouble to click over to learn more about me. Alas, this seems to have confused some people who think studying archaeology as an aid to one’s historically themed writing is the same as doing it as a profession — so out went the education along with other superfluous details). I still don’t know what to do with the Genericons in the lower right corner; I don’t like them but haven’t found a substitute.

The garden smells of basil, the arugula is as light and sweet as cotton candy, and the pumpkin vines are already out of control. I PRed a 5K last month. The garage sports a fresh coat of paint. The Sound is warm and perfect for swimming.