Monday, May 14, 2007

'Cute' veggies cost more, waste less

Since our Miniature Schnauzer Wagner was a puppy, we have fed him baby carrots as treats instead of processed meat-flavoured snacks so we don't have to worry about accidentally fattening him up (the idea is from a dog-training book). Wagner loves his baby carrots (as well as snap peas, apples and pears), and since we also take baby carrots in our work lunches and eat them for snacks, it simplifies our shopping.

Since baby carrots are such a staple in our house, I was very interested to see's recent post about the origins of the treat:

For those of you who don't know, baby carrots aren't really baby carrots. I was surprised at how many people didn't know that when the topic came up at work the other day. I suppose it's an easy mistake to make - baby carrots are small, they're sweet, and... well, they're small. And they're called BABY. Isn't that enough?

Baby carrots are not young carrots, but rather small pieces of carrots that are chopped and whittled down to look like small carrots. They are peeled, and washed, and insanely convenient. USA Today featured an article a couple of years ago about the origin of the baby carrot, and I have to say, I'm impressed.

The story of the baby carrot is an interesting study in contrasts. The baby carrot is the brain child of Mike Yurosek, a Californian farmer who was weary of throwing away tons of carrots every year because they wouldn't sell. Anyone who has ever grown carrots in their garden knows that carrots don't always grow in perfect shapes. Some are bumpy and lumpy and ugly, and even if they taste wonderful, they won't sell in a supermarket if they don't fit that ideal carrot shape.


In 1986, Yurosek came up with the idea of taking the ugly carrots and cutting them into small pieces of more or less uniform appearance.

First he had to cut the culls into something small enough to make use of their straight parts. "The first batch we did, we did in a potato peeler and cut them by hand," Yurosek says. Then he found a frozen-food company that was going out of business and bought an industrial green-bean cutter, which just happened to cut things into 2-inch pieces. Thus was born the standard size for a baby carrot.

Next, Yurosek sent one of his workers to a packing plant and loaded the cut-up carrots into an industrial potato peeler to take off the peel and smooth down the edges. What he ended up with was a little rough but still recognizable as the baby carrot of today.

What is interesting is that the rejected knobbly carrots, once peeled, whittled down to uniform chunks and dressed up as 'baby' carrots then sell for much more than the homely full-sized carrots at the grocery store. What begins as a frugal idea by the farmer turns into a money-waster for frugal consumers. Baby carrots do save prep time, but if you're committed to frugal shopping, it does make much more sense to buy a big bag of regular carrots and peel & chop them yourself.

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