Eating overripe banana (where banana peel has black marks) in childhood was like a punishment to me and my siblings. In summer we had to attend religious classes and our old tutor who was a monk, used to give us banana as a Prasad. Since he was elder we could not refuse and he would make us eat in his presence mostly because he was suspicious that we would not eat. Summers were very hot and banana would ripe very quickly. No amount of pleading or bargain with my grandma could spare us from these classes. Only thing we took away from these lessons was a strong distaste for black peeled banana and aversion to its smell. I also picked habit of not buying banana with blemishes at any cost.
Some days back I read an article about NGOs who collect funny shaped vegetables and fruits which are discarded by supermarkets. These NGOs use so-called funny shaped produce for feeding underprivileged. Supermarkets tend to define their specification for a shape, size and weight etc of each vegetable or fruit during bulk buying. The possible reason could be ease of packing. However all produce are not sold in packages in supermarket and these specs might have been followed blindly for most of the goods. Products that fail to meet such criteria are dumped as waste. This incurs financial loss and most of the time additional burden for disposal for large scale farmers. By the way this is not limited to only size or shape. Other things include colour, blemish-free etc. Many farmers in India who export do follow similar practice but luckily such discarded produce that do not meet specs are used in Indian domestic markets. On one hand we acknowledge the importance of organic farming and on the other hand such fuss about aesthetic can lead to use of spurious chemicals and various unhealthy methods of harvesting. Availability of fruits throughout the year has robbed us of that anticipational wait for seasonal varieties of fruit. Many a times fruits like papaya look ripe from the skin but turn out to be raw inside. And my mother keeps saying that fruits are not having the same old taste or flavour. Are our demands as customers for perfect vegetables or fruits driving unhealthy trends in supply?
In US once I tried picking up mangoes by smelling them (usual practice in India) and they would not smell at all. How boring that can be? How would be life where you get all kinds of fruits all the time. Or there is only one species of mango available throughout India especially when we argue endless defending how best our local variety of mango is over those from other states? Life will be so monotonous and monochromatic. Many of traditional recipes are based on certain local varieties. Will they taste the same ( stuffed brinjal and baingan bharta made from the same variety of brinjal would be unthinkable)? What about species not covered under geographical indicators? And our childhood excitation of getting things from places for their famed specialties? I guess I am too pessimistic.
As a country where 85% of consumed calories come from crops – one of the largest share globally (National Geographic Magazine, May2014) and where there are abundant varieties of local crops, following conscious practices can help preserve unique diversity and can also help feeding the largest population.
I follow simple (may be trivial at times) things like not being very picky about aesthetics of fruits, preferring locally produced vegetables (over the transported from a distance and preserved), going to local mandi (rather than to supermarket) to buy vegetables and fruits. Of course going to mandi has other charms like watching hussle, greenery and varieties of vegetables (and people), hearing local dialects and not having to get a plastic bags as add-on (which otherwise is required at supermarket for ease of weighing) with every buying.
Over the time I also learnt that there are few varieties of banana (especially with thin skins) which look blemished from outside but may not be overripe inside. One can still use overripe bananas to make various kinds of deserts. By the way I also learnt recently that overripe bananas can induce constipation….new excuse to refrain from eating them..:-)