toss your salad

I’m missing my daily reading slot now that I’ve started driving to work instead of taking the tram. However, Radio 4 is providing an adequate substitute as I drive along the M6 hoping not to get stuck in a jam.

This week’s Start the Week program had some fascinating guests on it. Two of which have sent me scuttling off to my Amazon Wish List to add a couple of books.

The most interesting is perhaps Not On The Label by Felicity Lawrence. It’s a piece of investigative journalism about the behind the scenes processes that deliver food to our supermarkets. It has some sobering and stomach churning facts to share, such as the pre-packed salads that are packaged by cheap (exploited) migrant labour and then washed in Chlorine twenty times the strength of a swimming pool. It’s done merely to maintain the visual appearance and extend the shelf life.

Out of season the market moves to Almeria in Spain. Where a collossal farming program has transformed the landscape. I was there myself in October but in my naivety I never realised that the mile upon mile of covered greenhouses were producing goods destined for the UK. Those that make it to the UK have been put through rigorous visual tests before they’re allowed to be shown to the consumer. The actual taste and nutrition of the food is secondary.

In the supermarket beauty parade, an apple must look good in front of the camera or risk rejection. A Dutch firm provides packhouses with machines, which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, to measure cosmetic perfection. The ‘Greefa Intelligent Quality Sorter’ takes up to 70 colour pictures of every apple on the conveyor belt to determine the ‘blush of non-equally coloured fruit’, and to grade it by size. It can detect deviations of as little as 1mm2. So if the supermarket specification says that an apple of a particular variety must be, say, 15-17% blush red on green, it can ‘grade out’ or reject any that are 18% red on green or a miserable 14% red on green. The beauty parade often means the difference between profit and loss for the farmer. Anything ‘graded out’ ends up, if the farmer is lucky, as fruit for juice at giveaway prices of 3-5p per pound, but as often as not it will just go to waste.

This was taken from a section of the book published by the Guardian.

I hope you enjoy your next trip to the supermarket.

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