My mother told me she is thinking about taking up painting again. “I need you to find me an interesting vegetable” she said. I interpreted this to mean something a little out of the ordinary. Of course, it might just be an unusual type of vegetable she was after, craggy and convoluted, to test her artistic prowess. But it could equally be that misshapen specimen left behind when the shoppers have gone home that might prompt the urge to take paintbrush in hand.
When it comes to buying food for our plates, perfection appears to be everything. I read this week that almost 40% (yes, over a third!) of the produce grown in the United States is discarded. It doesn’t meet the stringent requirements of the discerning food shopper and never even reaches the store.
One man in America has a plan to stem this tide of waste, by setting up a business dedicated to selling on this produce to those who are willing to accept that nutritious food comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Doug Rauch is hoping that his new store in Boston will channel some of this produce into local shopping baskets instead of to the trash.
Anyone who has grown food at home will know that the oddly shaped strawberry can be just as juicy as the perfect one, and yet when we are in the supermarket, suddenly only the best will do. I am guilty of it myself. After all, I am paying the same price whichever ones I pick. I want the best!
Unless of course, our purpose is art. Would Edward Weston’s peppers have been so compelling if they had been a regular shape? I think not. Much of the appeal of his famous photographs lies in the imperfections of this everyday vegetable, grown, I presume, at a time when irregularities didn’t consign produce to the waste bin. The art is in the innate beauty of the sensuous curves, something a modern-day pepper is frequently too prim to display. I tried it myself with a shop-bought pepper. See for yourself. I need to grow my own!
So, my mother didn’t ask for a nice apple for her painting. No, she wanted something interesting. Perhaps we need to tune into our inner artist when we shop for food as well as when we seek inspiration. Seek out your culinary muse along with your artistic one in the whims and fancies of nature and see what you find. You could surprise yourself.