Beauty and the Best

Don't be fooled by superficial good looks: If you truly love food, you’ll accept it as-is, blemishes and all.

Credit: Photo: James Wojcik

Nature abhors a vacuum cleaner. If the meat or produce you’re thinking about buying looks perfect in the store, you might want to approach it with a healthy skepticism. Spots on apples, gnarls on carrots, and sand in spinach aren’t blemishes; in most cases, they can and should be seen as markers of earthy authenticity. And while the outward appearance of flawlessness doesn’t necessarily prove that a particular food item has been chemically treated, genetically altered, or overprocessed, it’s still probably worth asking yourself the same question you’d be inclined to ask about a physically “flawless” celebrity: “Have they had work done? Come on, you just know they’ve had work done…”


Talk about your poison apple. To make them shine, supermarket varieties are coated with a layer of wax—along with the chemical diphenylamine (banned in Europe) to keep them bright red (or green) despite long periods of refrigerated storage.

The organic variety, which you might find at a farmers’ market, on the other hand, boasts super-mottled good looks to go with its tasteful matte finish. Freckles, color gradations, dimples, and even the occasional hole are perfectly safe.


Buy a bag of baby carrots and you’re probably getting just regular carrots that have been peeled, segmented, and processed into watery capsules of bright-orange Orwellian sameness. They’re crunchy and convenient, but also largely flavorless.

Unlike baby carrots, which can seem slimy even fresh out of the bag, carrots that haven’t been stripped of their natural protective peel have a guard against rot. Washing, peeling, and slicing them yourself will cut down on slime as well as cost.


“Fresh and ready to eat!” Not likely, with the up to two weeks’ worth of rinsing, trimming, plastic-bag packaging, and long-haul transporting required to get bagged greens—including spinach—to your supermarket shelf.

Recently picked bunch spinach—even at its grittiest—is likely to be far richer in vitamins, if only because it hasn’t been out of the ground for nearly as long. It’s also bulkier, firmer, and better tasting.


The stripes of rich, flavorful fat found in the typical farmed salmon are the result of keeping fish confined in their pens—too busy gobbling up food pellets and antibiotics to exercise. Oh, and that rosy shade of pink? It’s added into the salmon feed.

Wild salmon come by their intense pink hue naturally, thanks to a steady diet of krill and other tiny crustaceans. A lean cut of wild sockeye or coho will more than make up for its lack of fattiness with extra flavor, and you’ll be ingesting one-sixteenth of the pollutants.


Cage-free! Free-range! Free-roaming! What do all those brain-scrambling words on an egg carton actually mean? Not much at all, it turns out.

Want an egg from a chicken that has lived a good life? Far better to develop a relationship with one of the many conscientious small farmers who sell eggs from humanely raised chickens directly to customers—often at local farmers’ markets.

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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