Tomorrow (Shabbat 11th February) we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for trees. It is a time when we celebrate the natural world, when we take time to contemplate all that God has provided for us – the trees, flowers, fruit, rivers, seas.
But in such times of celebration we must also spare a thought for those less fortunate. Those subject to rejection because their physical form isn’t perfect. Those who find themselves dismissed from lack of beauty. That is, those fruits and vegetables excluded from the supermarket shelves due to blemishes or bulges. Wonky celery, knobbly apples, asymmetric pears tossed out because of their unpopular appearances. Those lopsided lettuces that are never given the opportunity to be eaten and thus fulfil the purpose for which they were created.
In Australia, where $10 billion of food is wasted each year, approximately 30% of fresh produce is discarded before reaching the supermarket shelves based on ugliness. Fruit and veg which is edible, tasty even. Wasted produce represents waste on many levels – it is was of water, waste of energy (to grow and to transport it) and waste of opportunity to feed a growing population in an affordable, sustainable manner. Are we really so shallow, so unimaginative that we can’t bear to eat an apple that doesn’t perfectly conform to ‘apple’ shape? The market for organic produce is growing but it seems that organic is only popular if it looks manufactured. Has our obsession with beauty reached such ridiculous heights?
Apparently not. This is probably just another example of supermarkets misunderstanding customers’ preferences. Entrepreneurs marketing funny fruit are sprouting up all over the place (excuse the pun) and such businesses are growing in popularity. “Naked and fresh”, “Eat me chutneys” and “Imperfect picks” are just some of the examples I found in a two minute google search of Australian businesses who are reclaiming the crooked carrot and irregular radishes.
So this Tu Bishvat remember all fruit and veg are Hashem’s creations, and should be valued as such, regardless of their external appearance.
Shabbat Shalom and Tu Bishvat Sameach.