How do you define fresh fruits and vegetables? Is it by whether it contains high water content and has vibrant colours?
To most consumers, the “freshness” of fruits and vegetables are defined as affordable and perfect in appearance, but from the farmers’ point of view, “freshness” means crops that are grown locally, in-season, and of course, pesticide-free. Sadly, in the commercial world, fruits and vegetables with dull colours and minor imperfection due to pests are discarded even before they reach our supermarkets.
The Singapore Tzu Chi Collegiate Youths, or Tzu Chings, have been actively promoting youth vegetarianism last year by starting a campaign titled VERO, or Veggie Heroes. This time, they hope to bring the youths’ attention to food origin and unravel the behind-the-scenes work that led to our food being laid on our dining table. Based on the theme ‘Simplicity is Beauty’, the VERO organizing committee held an exploration activity during their 27 May VERO gathering at Jing Si Hall.
“This ingredient has a shape of an umbrella and it germinates from spores; it smells a bit pungent and has an earthy taste; it is very chewy and juicy.”
“Is it a mushroom?”
“Bingo! Well, mushrooms grow in moist environments and they do not produce flowers. It’s rich in fibre and can be made into mushroom soup, mushroom powder and even vegetarian oyster sauce.”
Through the ‘Fruit-guessing’ game, group participants were asked to close their eyes and rely on their sense of touch, smell and taste to describe a mystery fruit or vegetable placed on their table to their group members. After which, the last member of the group is required to guess what the mystery ingredient is.
Next, participants will have to go through a brainstorming session to find out where that particular fruit or vegetable comes from, its cultivation process and other fun facts regarding the ingredient.
Accustomed to the convenience of urban lifestyle, fruits and vegetables with perfect appearances are often sold in packages. Other than appearance, texture and freshness, how much do the consumers actually know about the fruits and vegetables, say their country of origin and nutritional values? The day’s activity was intended to let participants put in some thoughts about common fruits and vegetables and not taking them for granted.
Demands for perfect vegetables create wastage
To ensure that fruits and vegetables meet the ‘market standards’, these produce had to undergo a “beautifying” process before sold in supermarkets. But is perfect appearance equivalent to high nutritional values? Probing further into the issue, the participants were informed that flawless vegetables were cultivated with plenty of pesticides and fertilizers, and they were carefully chosen before they were sent to the supermarket. Farmers personally would not want to overload their crops with chemicals, but they had to act according to the market demands in order to make a living.
A video aired during the activity cited a common example that happens behind the clean and pristine supermarket racks. After the “beautifying process”, a head of cabbage is only left with four-fifth of its original weight. In other words, one in every five cabbages is discarded during the pre-sale production.
Every year, thousands of tons of fruit and vegetables are thrown away after being rejected for being the wrong shape, size or standard. How paradoxical it is that in our quest to pursue food ‘perfection’, we are also compromising our health and wasting Earth’s resources.
Shunning pickiness and the VERO culinary team tapped on their ingenuity to prepare the snack of the day, the Rainbow Platter by utilizing the natural colours in fruits and vegetables, baby tomatoes, corns, cucumbers and grapes were used to form a rainbow, topped with pancakes and homemade mayonnaise. Not only did the Rainbow Platter was appealing to the senses, it was a very healthy snack, as the amount of processed food was kept minimal.
Shocking truths in the kitchen waste
Mother Earth is kind enough to let us produce food enough to feed 12 billion people, but with a world population of 7 billion, why do we have 30,000 people died from starvation each day? The main reason behind this equation not adding up is food wastage, a luxury that can only be afforded by residents in the developed countries. Through the Da Ai TV video ‘The Secret of the Kitchen Waste Bucket’, every year, an appalling 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted around the world. After doing some math, that is 3.5 million tons of food going down the drain EACH DAY.
After seeing the shocking numbers and figures, it was rather heartwarming to know that there are a group of people who are still dedicated to make a change to the society, who are courageous enough to go against the flow. Though small in number, the enthusiasm was not.
Being the shy girl who gets nervous each time she joins new group activity, Lily Chew brought her mother along that day. Her mother Chen Li-hua was fully identified with Master Cheng Yen’s advocacy of “eating 80% full and save the remaining 20% to help the needy”.
“I’m a very frugal person and I don’t like to waste food, hence I could not agree more with what the Master is teaching regarding moderate food consumption.” Having introduced to the VERO campaign by Tzu Ching senior Yeoh Kuan Seong, Mdm Chen expressed her support by purchasing a VERO T-shirt.
“Being a VERO, we must have the courage to walk out of our own comfort zones. After all, growing up is about surpassing whatever limits that we have set for ourselves. Challenge yourself to cut down your desire for meat. Spare a thought for animals and the environment, instead of just satisfying yourself,” said Liew Zing Quan, the coordinator of VERO.
Instead of expecting the mode of agricultural production to be changed overnight, or to expect any policy changes from the stakeholders, why don’t we pursue the easier path to make change?
Start from ourselves. Cut down our consumption, and change our mindset that external perfection is equivalent to the inner one. It is when we keep the scale of a healthy body and a healthy mind balanced that we’re really striding towards an even healthier society. Only then will true Peace and Harmony ensue.