Browsing Food52.com, I came across an article that made me do a double-take: Why You Shouldn't Throw Away Your Broccoli Stems. The author wrote, "I've actually avoided broccoli stems for most of my life. For many, they've long played second string to the florets, which will crisp in a hot oven and soak up any sauce like a sponge. But if you give broccoli stems a chance, they can be every bit as delicious (and arguably more satisfying) than frilly florets."
I was shocked: did people really throw away the stems and eat only the florets? Growing up, my family had eaten the broccoli stems. Were we different? I asked around, and a Hong Kong Chinese friend said the first time she cooked broccoli for her British in-laws, "They asked me what the smooth vegetables were. They were shocked they could eat broccoli stems. I was shocked they didn't!"
How incredibly wasteful, especially considering that the stems make up about 50 per cent of an entire head of broccoli. Why would people throw that away? Do they also discard cauliflower stems and eat only the florets? And what about lettuce and cabbage: do these people eat only the tender inner leaves, and throw the rest in the bin? Where does this stop, eating only the "best" parts and throwing away the rest, even though it's edible?
Certain parts of foods I dislike, but I wouldn't be wasteful enough to just throw them away; I'd find a way to use it. I dislike chicken breast and, of course, humans can't eat the bones. But would I buy a whole chicken, cut off the legs and wings to cook, then throw the breasts and carcass away? Of course I wouldn't; I'd cook the breasts in a way that I find palatable, which basically comes down to not overcooking them, and use the carcass for stock. Even artichokes - of which very little is edible - don't need to be wasted; after trimming away all the tough bits to expose the tender heart (which can be braised, steamed or fried), throw away the choke, but simmer the leaves and stem to make an artichoke broth, which can be turned into a delicious soup.
Farmers are often criticised for discarding perfectly good vegetables and fruits because they are not pretty enough; it's estimated that about one-third of their produce doesn't make it to market. Farmers say consumers demand evenly coloured oranges, apples and pears, for instance, or perfectly shaped carrots, i.e. straight, not gnarled or intertwined. Cosmetically "imperfect" produce is safe to eat - but people don't want it, they say.
Farmers, therefore, choose to grow crops that have a higher chance of looking attractive and which can be stored for a long time; they're not planting the ones that are the most delicious (case in point: the ubiquitous Red Delicious apple, which has picture-perfect looks but is mealy and boring).
In France, efforts are being made to reduce such wastage: rather than ploughing the imperfect produce back into the ground or putting it in landfills, supermarkets are selling it at reduced prices. It's been a huge success, showing that consumers are willing to buy ugly fruits and vegetables.
Let's hope this movement spreads to other countries. In the meantime, we can do our own small part to reduce waste by using as much as is possible of the fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood we buy.