Supermarkets trade in mediocrity and waste


I wish I knew who they were, these supermarket customers who ruin it for everyone. The ones who like to have the aisles rearranged once a fortnight so that they can get in a bit of exercise while hunting for the biscuits. The folk who prefer their avocados rock hard. The guys who, we are now told, refuse to eat a tomato if it is not 100 per cent perfectly spherical. Are they the "hard-working family" out of the Tory party's adverts? Because, like them, we keep hearing that they're the ones for whom policies are made, but I've never met them or anyone like them in my life.

This weekend I am particularly keen to talk to these people, because it's for them that half the world's food is thrown away, according to a new report. Not just into their own bins, because they were so keen to take advantage of a two-bags-of-satsumas-for-the-price-of-one offer that they forgot that they hardly ever eat satsumas, and that satsumas aren't very nice when they've been sitting in a fruit bowl since Christmas. No, it turns out that 30 per cent of vegetable crops in the UK are never even harvested because supermarket shoppers won't like the look of them. Really? How bad can a vegetable look? Surely a bag of potatoes would have to have grown shaped like the faces of the entire Tory cabinet for hard-working shoppers to refuse to buy them, if they were a little bit cheaper than the glamorous spuds down the aisle.

We're told that it's shoppers who are driving supermarkets' policy to let farmers go bankrupt and tons of food rot in the ground, and maybe that's true. In the same way that it's technically true that a portion of chocolate and hazelnut spread "contains two whole hazelnuts, some skimmed milk, and cocoa" (and considerably more sugar and palm oil …). But, as with the chocolate spread, there is more information: a law that seems to prevent us from eating nice food. The Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964 says that any seeds sold must be registered with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which costs £1,000 plus £185 a year (for tomatoes) and means that all the fruits grown from the seeds must be "distinct, uniform and stable". That rules out whole varieties of tomatoes. Mainly, the really tasty ones.

The only people who can afford to register a variety are big growers who sell to supermarkets. And the only varieties they register are the kind that travel well, having thick skins, can sit for days under fluorescent lights, and look uniformly red and round. They don't breed them deliberately to taste of water; they're just not that interested in the taste. And that's how supermarkets get away with charging twice as much for tomatoes that actually have a bit of flavour.

What's frustrating is that the rest of Europe seems to sell tasty, ugly vegetables in all its supermarkets, and their shoppers love them. So do British tourists, when we try Spanish or Italian veg. So, is a secret army of tasteless-tomato lovers really responsible for wasted food and bland dinners? Or could it be that supermarkets, and Defra, are doing something wrong?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager (District Heating)

£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: knitting, why Ed wants to be PM and a colloquium of Indy-pedants

John Rentoul
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn