By Margherita Castellano*
Some time ago, on the way home, I decided to buy an apple. It was a nice and round and red apple. I didn’t eat it right away and put it on the shelf above my desk. As the days went by, the apple remained as red, round and nice as it was on the first day. In fact, it lasted for an entire month.
When I finally decided to eat it, the apple was as crispy and tasty as ever. I was glad this apple lasted so long, and eating it made me feel less guilty for having left it on the shelf for a whole month. I would certainly not have wanted to eat a rotten, mushy apple.
These days we are used to seeing perfect, nearly identical fruits and vegetables in grocery stores and supermarkets, which sell only attractive produce. But how can fruits and vegetables be so nice-looking in the supermarket while they are much less so in my grandma’s garden?
This perfection has a huge cost on our psychology, health, and environment. “If it looks good, it tastes good” is the common mentality. Constantly seeing perfection, we have become blind to the beauty of imperfection as if nature itself was faultless.
Yet our new standards of beauty in produce have been reached by the use of pesticides and chemical products that prevent crops from interacting with insects, mites or nematodes. Such chemicals have the ability to pollute the tissues of nearly every animal species on earth. They also pollute lakes, rivers and oceans, as well as the fish in them and the birds that feed on them. We, too, consume these chemicals in our food and contaminated water.
Pesticides that make fruits and vegetables faultless are causing numerous deaths and chronic diseases worldwide. Scientific researchers have linked them to health issues such as immune suppression, hormonal disruption, decrease in IQ, reproductive deviations and cancer.
We are harming our health and planet by looking for the best-shaped peach in the supermarket aisle. No part of the population is completely protected from exposure to pesticides and from their potential health effects.
Furthermore, cosmetic blemishes are the main cause of food waste. Globally, about one-third of our food production is wasted. Crops are left unharvested if they do not meet appearance quality standards. Many consumers in the developed world throw away fruits and veggies as soon as they don’t look fresh and pretty anymore.
Food waste has had a huge impact on both the environment and human health. Overproduction causes unnecessary pollution, as well as the unnecessary overconsumption of surface water and groundwater resources. It naturally follows that exposures to pollutants and the depletion of water sources can terribly affect human health and well-being.
We are losing biodiversity. As all crops are grown and cultivated in big quantities to be exported all over the world, fruits and vegetables that can’t be kept for long times in fine condition are just not produced anymore. In an oasis of the Tunisian desert, for example, an autochthonous species of apricot is no longer cultivated as it ripens quickly and thus cannot be kept long enough to be sold at a large market.
This is only one case of a whole process of habitat simplification, which is contributing to our increased vulnerability to environmental problems and human health issues. If nature does not shine as much as we would like, there must be a natural reason. Even if a vegetable does not have a perfectly bright color, it is probably still tasty and healthy.
Food should not be chosen only with our eyes. Let us change the way we see and think so we can change the way we produce.
*About the author: Margherita Castellano is a student at UC Berkeley majoring in applied mathematics who has an interest in sustainability matters and public health.
Source: This article was published by Sustainability Times