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That unopened bag of baby carrots

bagged carrots

Bad news for the produce industry in The New Yorker of October 10, 2022.

I don’t mean the articles on Ukraine or the CIA. Grim as they are, they don’t have anything directly to do with fruits or vegetables.

I’m referring to a funny little cartoon. Three people are sitting on the ground at a picnic. The caption: “I brought chips and cookies to snack on and baby carrots to sit unopened on the blanket.”

This snatch of humor reflects certain truths.

richard smoley produce blueprints

Like many middle-class people, when we have guests over, we usually put out a tray of crudités. At the end of the evening, it’s a lot fuller than the plates with cheese and salami.

A recent online survey conducted by OnePoll for Veggies Made Great found that 63 percent of millennial parents of young children knew that you are supposed to eat two or three cups of vegetables a day, although they only ate one cup.

Confirming this finding, one CDC study from 2019 showed that close to 50 percent of people in most states consumed less than one cup of vegetables per day.

The OnePoll survey also found that 88 percent of respondents said they want to increase their daily vegetable intake.

This is no doubt very close to the percentage of Americans who say they want to lose weight.

The poll also said that 60 percent of those surveyed would prefer to increase their vegetable intake with bite-sized snacks. But 42 percent of the parents said they forget the vegetables are in their refrigerator; 64 percent said that at least one to three of the vegetables they buy each week spoil before they can use them; and half of the parents said they would eat more vegetables if they tasted better.

It is very difficult to see how “bite-sized snacks” are going to obviate these problems. It is just as easy to forget that you have a bag of baby carrots in the produce drawer as it is to forget the kale.

The implications for the produce industry?

In the first place, it seems unwise to harp on the fact that fruits and vegetables are good for you. The public knows that. They knew that in 1950.

The public does not equate nutritional quality with good taste. More than once I have eaten a product and thought, “This tastes really healthy.” I did not mean it in a good way.

There is a peculiar trend in the American diet. A product starts as health food and ends up as junk food. Dr. Kellogg’s nourishing corn flakes mutated into Count Chocula. Once-exotic yogurt is now an ice cream-like product, with comparable quantities of sugar.

The produce industry is stymied here. It can develop fruit that tastes more like conventional sweets (Cotton Candy grapes), but if it goes beyond a certain point, the item is no longer produce and not healthy. Strawberry fruit leather is not strawberries.

None of this means that increasing Americans’ consumption is an unsolvable problem. But it clearly means that it is a problem that has not yet been solved.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.