Usually, I try not to use social media to personally insult another commoner. Famous people, maybe–their name or promise becomes more than the person who wakes up in the middle of the night to use the toilet and finds out there’s no paper on the roll. But someone else like me, just grinding through their day, seems unnecessarily mean.
At the same time, some people are just so striking that it’s hard to want to do anything else but share them with the world. I think that’s the entire premise of People of Walmart, or more abstractedly, the long-running Rate My Poo.
And I thought that was going to be the case with the Le Baron Barbie. That’s why I went out of my way in the ggrocery store parking lot to take the photo.
Was it planted, some kind of performance art in the Real Canadian Superstore parking lot? Or had Barbie skipped California or New Hampshire or wherever she’s from and was now holing up in Alberta? A woman on the lam would need groceries, too. In her forties now, divorced from Ken, possibly with custody of children and strapped for cash flow ever since Ken was busted for tax evasion and insider trading. Her Le Baron her lifeline, hauling groceries and bustling her to work, day care, the liquor store.
I never found the owner of the Le Baron Barbie. It was too cold to wait outside. It didn’t matter that much. I would’ve forgotten about the photo altogether (to be deleted en masse, with the other stupid throw-aways).
But inside the grocery store, right past the sliding doors, there was a display of carrots in yellow bags, huge and heaped. We didn’t need carrots. There were blueberries in the neighbouring display, and when I went to check them out, I saw the carrots were more than just bargain produce.
President’s Choice first decided to introduce off-spec produce into their stores in 2015 (and recently expanded in July 2017). I was surprised to actually see it in our local store. And it was interesting to see it packaged as no name, the anonymous, no-frills branch of President’s Choice. The brand’s already somewhat imperfect. The chunky vegetable soup is acceptable, but it’s certainly not a perfect soup. With that said, they do routine things properly and inexpensively. (Full disclosure: my pantry has a fairly yellow palette.)
When I heard that PC was releasing cosmetically-unacceptable produce, I imagined it bagged in brown bags or in mesh and up-marketed to hipsters in Toronto and Vancouver. It was nice to see it offered invitingly under the no name Naturally Imperfect label. But it makes me wonder why they didn’t bridge the label gap with people already put off by the visual imperfection?
Most consumers aren’t told how their food gets to them. However, I think most people understand that bad produce is weeded out before it gets to the customer. The end user doesn’t have to sort through things that didn’t ripen or rotted or are potentially diseased. There has been the expectation set that what is in stores will be the best of the best.
This selection process also rejects products for cosmetic reasons. If a carrot doesn’t look like a carrot, or a cucumber looks like a squash, or lettuce doesn’t look like it could appear in a fast food advertisement, it might not end up in stores.
For anyone who gardens, imperfections are inherent with the outcome. Sometimes the tomatoes are too small. Sometimes the bell peppers mysteriously cross with the jalapeños and become spicy. I’ve been growing carrots for eight years, and usually about a third of my crop turn into octopuses.
Every household can’t handle its own waste. But we have a bit of space and it wouldn’t make sense to me to do not use some of that area for our detritus. We compost most of our food waste. That goes into the garden. The garden produces food which we eat. Any waste goes back to become energy for the next round of food. It seems frivolous to yay-or-nay the outcome of that cycle because it looks a little different. There are enough real reasons why fruit & vegetables can be spoilt.
National Geographic featured food waste in America in their March 2016 issue (and previously reported in October 2014). (The National Resources Defense Council also has a decent overview that’s five years old but probably not all that outdated). It became easier to see why fresh food goes through so much selection. Consumers are fickle. Litigation always looms. Business are typically conservative, especially with the razor-thin profit margins of grocery stores.
But stores, restaurants, and chefs had been pushing against food waste. It has to be hard for someone peddling food to turn away food from their stores. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s all inventory, measurable merchandise to increase cash flow. I don’t know. I just eat the stuff because if I don’t, I’ll eventually die.
Back outside, I noticed Le Baron Barbie hadn’t moved. I had forgotten about her. Now I saw the little desperate corvette overlaid by the neon yellow and orange of the no name bag of twisted carrots. And I wondered if I was any different than the countless people so removed from where their food comes from that they raise eyebrows at the sight of sinuous carrots. Maybe I’m so removed from where happiness comes from that I can’t even see how Le Baron Barbie is just looking for the root of her happiness in her own dirt pile, just a few parking stalls down from my own.