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Save money with ugly food

Felicity Hannah

Potatoes have knobbly bits, carrots sometimes have two legs and apples taste just as good even if they are a bit scuffed.

Yet look around your local supermarket and you’d be forgiven for thinking nature grows perfectly uniform, blemish-free fruit and veg.

We used to blame the EU, with its weird rules on how far cucumbers could bend, but those rules have now been relaxed. However, most British supermarkets still only stock food that meets strict standards on size and appearance.

And that’s because we Brits like our food to look good and don’t buy the knobblier, bulgier varieties. But should we?

[Related feature: Things you shouldn’t buy at the supermarket]

How d’you like them apples?

In a world of rising food prices and increasing populations, it doesn’t make much sense to worry about how food looks as long as it’s tasty and nutritious.

According to Tristram Stuart, campaigner and the author of ‘Waste’, between 20% and 40% of UK fruit and veg is discarded before it reaches the shelves. Not only is that environmentally inexcusable, it also means that we’re all paying for food to be grown that isn’t eaten.

So what if your potato has eyes or there’s a funny bulge in your pepper? It all tastes the same.

Buy direct

Farm shops and farmers’ markets are not necessarily cheaper for jams, cheeses, gifts and the myriad other products they pile up for sale. However, when it comes to meat, fruit and veg, you can usually save money.

What’s more, eggs sold at the farmhouse door will often be far cheaper than in the supermarket (one near me sells six free-range eggs for 80p). That’s because eggs aren’t always perfectly egg-shaped, but the supermarkets only want the right size and shape.

[Related feature: Never put eggs in the fridge – 12 food myths that cost you]

Buy from greengrocers

A local market or greengrocers can be even cheaper than the discount supermarkets, and you have the satisfaction of supporting local businesses.

I compared supermarket prices to my local fruit and veg stall and found it was 50% cheaper in the market. Despite that, the vegetables I bought there were larger and healthier, although not entirely blemish-free.
Buy boxes of veg

I’ve always thought that having organic veg delivered to your door was an expensive option for enthusiastic foodies. That’s apparently not the case.

According to the Soil Association, having local, organic fruit and veg boxes delivered will save you 26% compared with organic fruit and veg in supermarkets.

Of course, non-organic food is almost always cheaper, but if you prefer organic food then a delivered box could save you money. If you’re not sure how to cook seasonal veg, some companies provide recipe cards in the boxes.

[Related feature: Is organic food actually any better?]

Grow (some of) your own

Many people would struggle to save money by growing their own on an allotment; there’s just too much initial investment and then hard work, all for a few potatoes that wouldn’t cost much to buy.

However, growing the right stuff can really save you cash. Salad leaves for example would cost a lot more in the supermarket and you can grow them in garden pots or even on a balcony.

Growing your own does often mean uglier food and you’ll have to pick the creepy crawlies out yourself, but you will save money with the right produce.

Hairy carrots? Haggle!

You can also turn people’s reluctance to buy imperfect food to your advantage. If a greengrocer knows customers are less likely to buy uglier fruit and veg, you may be able to haggle them down over price.

To test this, I visited my local market, where I’ve been bested before in my haggling attempts. I filled a bag with slightly blemished cooking apples, which didn’t matter as I was planning to stew the fruit anyway. The stallholder agreed to knock 40p off, saving me 20%.

Ugly food, beautiful savings

So ugly food could be a way to save money without having to cut back on the amount of healthy fruit and veg you buy. Inflation might have slowed but food inflation continues to rise, so this is more important than ever for UK homes.

It’s also worth remembering that you can store most fruit and veg in the freezer in order to cut back on waste in your own home too.

However, there’s one more important thing to consider. Ugly food means a return of the amusingly-shaped carrot, without which the nation’s kitchens have been sadder places.

Would you eat ugly food or is the first bite with the eye? Are you saving money by buying direct or growing your own? Share your ugly food experiences with other readers in the comments below.