The wonky veg box

wonkyveg

This all sounds like a bloody good idea.

The exclusive wonky veg boxes are packed with peculiar potatoes, crooked carrots and curved cucumbers which are all in season, as well as knobbly peppers, cabbages, onions, leeks and parsnips. They’re just £3.50 each,

OK, it’s pretty limited and so on and so on.

But that plus a couple of quid’s worth of “essentials” or the like pasta and canned tomatoes, hmm, maybe £3 or £4 worth, and you could eat heartily, if a bit boringly, for a week. They do actually say it’s enough veg for a family of four for a week but there’s no indication of what the weight actually is. But reasonable to assume they mean two or three of the five a day for those four? Which, for one person, would be plenty. The pasta (you’d eat vast amounts of it, of course) would provide the protein.

What with cooking oil etc you’d be able to eat well for a week for a £10er. Not interestingly, but well.

Do a bit of hanging around the fish and meat counters at 7 pm and for another tenner you’d be eating very well indeed actually.

Which brings to an interesting little point. There’s never been a time in human history when the average bloke could eat well and healthily off 3 hours work a week. It simply never has happened, not even hunter gatherers surveying vast reefs of untouched shellfish ever managed that.

How rich we are, eh?

78 thoughts on “The wonky veg box”

  1. Not as rich as we were before that fantastical economic cock-up in 2008 and subsequent make-believe “recovery”, if you look at how people have had to shift from nicer food to cheaper, uglier food.

    Growth is production increases in both quality and/or quantity. Lowering quality is falling production. Whatever the GDP figures might say, people appear to be getting poorer. But not to worry, property prices are rising! Life is good!

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    Someone was running a 25 pence food shop according to the Daily Mail. It occurred to me, mildly, that supermarkets already run a partial Dutch auction on food – they reduce the price as it gets near its use by date. Why not do this properly? Rent somewhere cheap, go around all the supermarkets taking their slightly distressed food off them for next to nothing. Sell it before it expires.

    Presumably that was what the man in the Mail’s example was doing. But I didn’t read it.

  3. No, he isn’t doing that. However, it has long been part of the Weatherspoons’ model for beer. But stuff about to go out of date, flog it off cheap: they’ve got the volume, they can sell anything.

  4. I suspect Stelios’s 25p shop was just an opening stunt to lure the media (mission accomplished). The regular prices will probably be more in line with Tesco Value ranges. Which are still incredibly cheap.

  5. The cost and ease of getting a few recipes to follow has never been cheaper as well. There’s probably a Delia app or equivalent.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Tim Worstall – “No, he isn’t doing that. However, it has long been part of the Weatherspoons’ model for beer. But stuff about to go out of date, flog it off cheap: they’ve got the volume, they can sell anything.”

    Well someone ought to. Presumably a lot just gets thrown out. Megan McWhatshername at Bloomberg had a fascinating article about how she could never buy a chicken as cheap as the roasted ones in the supermarket. She couldn’t figure it out until they explained to her that they take the chickens about to expire, roast them, sell them cheap.

    It is an excellent business model I think.

  7. @AndrewM the 25p is a starting price, the operating price will be 50p.

    Don’t know if anyone else reads the writings of Theodore Dalrymple, a (former) Doctor (and Prison Doctor) in Birmingham. He contrasted the South Asian migrant/origin patients he had who seemed to produce plenty of cheap food on a budget by cooking it (with shops providing sacks of staples cheaply) with white families on similar budgets who lived on microwaved food and take aways and so on. I don’t know about the former personally but he’s right about the latter.

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Paul – “I don’t know about the former personally but he’s right about the latter.”

    I know the latter and the former and he is right. I have friends who always joke how their parents buy things like cooking oil by the gallon. But the poor Whites are merely reflecting middle class values. I am amazed by the number of young White women who regard it as an insult to cook for their husbands much less clean. They are independent women just taking time off from changing the world. Not some down trodden traditional housemaid.

    There was always a type of British woman who disliked her husband. The sheer cruelty and indifference of a lot of modern girlfriends is quite remarkable.

  9. Philip Scott Thomas

    There’s a shop in Newcastle that does pretty much what SMFS suggests. They have some dairy, produce, and bread and such, but mostly they get the over-run, end-of-life, and near-expired items from companies that produce frozen meals for pubs. If one has a reasonably large freezer it makes shopping very cheap. Not particularly healthy, mind, but cheap.

  10. This is the problem. Everyone keeps banging on about how it’s possible to live cheaper, without getting to grips with why people are having to live cheaper.

    Look, we suffer all the dislocations of a (supposedly) market economy- the creative destruction, the job insecurity, etc- in return, supposedly, for a steadily increasing standard of living. If people are being forced back into eating food that would have gone in pigfeed ten years ago (or whatever) that raises very serious questions about what the fuck has happened to the growth (in goods and services) that is supposed to result.

    We are supposed to live better than our parents. Not rediscover their top Depression Era tips.

    I think frankly we’re back with Puritanism again, aren’t we? I don’t want to live like some fucking peasant from the third world on sacks of fucking rice and rancid ghee, thanks. It isn’t supposed to go like this in our glorious economy we keep getting told is a free market. Things are supposed to get better.

  11. Quite, Ian. But aren’t we told here of the necessity of inflating the value of our dosh away at a planned rate of 2% a year? And that we must consume to prosper? And the virtuousness of debt?

  12. Ian>

    Who’s forcing anyone? Get a grip. You might as well argue that we’re poorer because we’re ‘forced’ to pay only a tenner for a mobile phone instead of a couple of grand.

  13. That’s a good way of looking at it, Dave.

    Also: what’s the betting that none of these wonky veg boxes (with the concomitant requirement to cook the damn things) reach the poor, but are instead loaded into the Volvo XC90’s of virtue signalling upper middle class parents, roughing it at Asda for the first time since their uni days?

  14. While I don’t think the food box to be a manifestation of his ideas, IanB is correct.

    We are nothing like as well off as we think and act. Much of the West is supported by welfare payments from a bankrupt state system and our potential to produce is massively squelched by the thieving and meddling dirty habits of the same state. If fact the illusion of greater wealth actually causes people to work less and spend more under the impression that they can afford to do so. The vast personal debt in West is a reflection of these thought processes.

  15. The fly in the ointment here is rent. If you don’t need to pay rent, you can indeed live pretty well off next to no money, without troubling the state for benefits (this is how Spain, which is only half-urbanised, can absorb youth unemployment – unemployed youths can live at granny’s farm).

    Unfortunately, because land is ~the only factor of production that is constrained (Dutch-style reclamation aside), the rise in rent – which in its economic sense includes mortgage costs for people who bought after the house price rise – means anyone who has to pay it feels poor.

  16. Dave-

    It’s not “who” is forcing people, it’s “what” is forcing people, which is having less money to spend on food than they had.

    And telling people it’s their own fault for not buying up the bruised and beaten up shit that used to be fed to pigs is not an answer. The question is why people are having to economise on their food budget, when it’s supposed to get a bit more generous each year due to that economic growth thing.

    Sure, you can do your best to enjoy the box of whatever they’ve got and cut out the bruised and nasty bits, but it still doesn’t address why you could afford a decent pepper ten years ago, and now you can’t.

  17. As I’ve mentioned on here before, I worked a summer on Britain’s largest vegetable farm. We had to leave the bent/stunted/deformed vegetables in the fields because the supermarkets didn’t want them. The reason they didn’t want them is because they couldn’t sell them. Gimmicks like this vegetable box and upper-middle-class virtue signaling aside, I assume the supermarkets know what they’re on about. No it makes sense too: if 10% of available produce doesn’t look nice, why buy it? It’s not like we’re in the siege of Leningrad.

    I see France has banned the practice of supermarkets throwing away food approaching its sell-by date, or deliberately spoiling it to prevent homeless people effectively living in their bins. This has been lauded by many, but I can’t help thinking this will require additional efforts from the supermarket the costs of which will be passed on to paying customers. And it’s a matter of time before somebody eats some of this “free” food and gets ill. Who is therefore liable?

    To answer Ian B’s question, I think the issue of why it is becoming unaffordable to buy a pepper in a shop situated in the middle of the world’s most expensive real estate answers itself. I don’t think people are looking to eating habits of a bygone era to survive, they’re doing so simply to free up money for other luxuries our forebears could not imagine.

  18. Ian>

    You’ve imagined the bit where people can’t afford the ‘good’ stuff and so are buying the ‘bad’ stuff. This isn’t ‘bad’ stuff at all, it’s just that supermarkets’ understanding of consumer tastes have improved. And prices have dropped.

  19. “I am amazed by the number of young White women who regard it as an insult to cook for their husbands much less clean.”

    Why can’t the husbands do the cooking and the cleaning?

  20. Tim Newman nails it.

    If people weren’t spending their money on iPads, smartphones, 1000s of satellite TV channels, 2+ cars per household, foreign holidays every 3 months, eating at restaurants and takeaways more than cooking their own food then they could feast on lobster and wagyu beef if they chose to. Its all about prioritising expenditure – Sky TV and a takeaway is more important than a roast dinner cooked at home using free range organic chicken and the best quality veg, in many (if not most) people’s eyes.

  21. The reason they didn’t want them is because they couldn’t sell them.

    They can sell them when they are less expensive than the perfect-looking stuff.

  22. “The pasta (you’d eat vast amounts of it, of course) would provide the protein.” I didn’t know that pasta contained much protein. We live and learn. But wouldn’t beans be a better bet for protein?

  23. As with bread, not a huge percentage of protein in there, no, but eat a couple of thousand calories a day of it and you’ll be fine. Esp with veg giving you the vitamins.

  24. How do you close the lid on that box in the picture? Looks to me the box isn’t big enough to have £3 worth of veg at all.

  25. They can sell them when they are less expensive than the perfect-looking stuff.

    Why would they want to sell imperfect produce at a discount when they can pack their retail space with perfect produce?

  26. I’m confused by a number of the comments. Rent in the 70s was as big a burden as in 2016; and in the 80s I paid £2,500 for an inferior computer to one that recently cost £350. Rightly or wrongly I believe we now have a larger percentage of our disposal income available for the purchase of food, and that food is also relatively cheaper to produce than in the past. Damn it it’s why a third of the population are obese.

  27. Why would they want to sell imperfect produce at a discount when they can pack their retail space with perfect produce?

    Why would they want to sell when they can pack? Because they’re in the business of selling not packing.

  28. Bernie G.,
    Our expenditure on food has gone from about 20% to 10% in 40 years, or something like that.

    On a day-to-day level we live Kings in comparison to the 70’s. The difference is in hidden wealth, pensions and property.

  29. Ian B,

    “If people are being forced back into eating food that would have gone in pigfeed ten years ago (or whatever) that raises very serious questions about what the fuck has happened to the growth (in goods and services) that is supposed to result.”

    Nobbly veg might have gone into pigfeed but there’s nothing wrong with it. The problem used to be that supermarkets would get various stuff in, and people would always grab the nice stuff and leave the ugly looking stuff.

    What they do today is grade it. So, the “basics” carrots I buy are ugly and cheaper. They’re just as good as the pretty veg in a caserole, though.

  30. Jack C.

    Every penny my pension generates is spent maintaining Chez Gudgeon’s structural integrity. You are better off out of it.

  31. Jim,

    “If people weren’t spending their money on iPads, smartphones, 1000s of satellite TV channels, 2+ cars per household, foreign holidays every 3 months, eating at restaurants and takeaways more than cooking their own food then they could feast on lobster and wagyu beef if they chose to. Its all about prioritising expenditure – Sky TV and a takeaway is more important than a roast dinner cooked at home using free range organic chicken and the best quality veg, in many (if not most) people’s eyes.”

    I only go out for fancy meals now. I’ll pay £100 a head for some culinary master to prepare me a genius meal, but the rest? I can do as well with stuff from supermarkets. I’m completely switched to ready meal curries now. They’re as good as the Indian takeaways around here. And pizza? Are you joking?

    A lot of rich people spend money on utter shit, too. Instead of £30 toasters, they buy £130 toasters from Smeg or Dualit. Or they buy some designer sunglasses. They’re basically made by the same Chinese children as the Sainsbury’s toasters or Boots sunglasses. Or they go on holidays to the other side of the world to sit on a beach, like they couldn’t go to Biaritz and do that.

    And if you’re spending £45 a month to watch a bunch of multimillionaire mercenaries kick a ball around like they’re a member of your family, you need your head examining. You can get a cinema pass for half that.

  32. If a supermarket has 1m2 (say) allocated to sell carrots, and customers are paying X pence per kilo of carrots, and they have expressed a revealed preference for straight carrots rather than wonky ones if the price is the same…why the fuck would a supermarket take up valuable retail space with cheap, wonky carrots? Somebody needs to learn the difference between revenue and margin, and the value of retail space.

  33. Tim Newman,

    I guess it’s competition. I’m happy buying the wonky ones. If Sainsbury’s decide to flog wonky carrots as a way to attract customers in, customers who then buy some gin and steak, that means that maybe Waitrose have to follow to get them back.

    I don’t know the economics, but do supermarkets make money on carrots, or is it more that they have to sell them as part of the shop? That it’s a way to get you in to buy gin and steak?

  34. @ Tim Newman
    Because the special offer will attract more people into the store who will then buy pasta or cheap meat to go with it and boost Asda’s overall sales and profits.
    Unlessa you know an ASDA store that empties its shelves quicker than staff can refill them during shopping hours, then adding a small number of boxes of wonky veg toi the shelves won’t reduce the amount of full-priced goods they sell (except to Grauniad journalist and other virtue-signallers).

  35. I guess it’s competition. I’m happy buying the wonky ones. If Sainsbury’s decide to flog wonky carrots as a way to attract customers in, customers who then buy some gin and steak, that means that maybe Waitrose have to follow to get them back.

    Nah. It’s a publicity stunt to deflect the criticism from the dim middle classes that food is being wasted because it doesn’t look nice. I suspect they’re fed up with having to do this crap, frankly.

  36. @ the Stigler
    Last time I checked, carrots cost more in the supermarket than from the market stall (but I rarely check, the low cost of carrots means it’s not worth the effort).
    OTOH I suspect that they make less profit on carrots than on gin and steak, so you have a point.

  37. Tim Newman,

    “Nah. It’s a publicity stunt to deflect the criticism from the dim middle classes that food is being wasted because it doesn’t look nice. I suspect they’re fed up with having to do this crap, frankly.”

    Possibly, but the dim middle classes are often their best customers (who else is buying all that organic shit?) 😉

  38. I don’t know the economics, but do supermarkets make money on carrots, or is it more that they have to sell them as part of the shop?

    They’ll make money: tiny margins, huge volumes. But any supermarket that didn’t sell carrots wouldn’t get any customers, so they don’t have much choice but to sell them.

  39. IanB

    “Growth is production increases in both quality and/or quantity. Lowering quality is falling production.”

    That is rampant idiocy, even by your standards. First, “both…and/or…” is meaningless. Second, there is a trade-off between quality and quantity: for example, mass production wood carving is of lower quality than hand carving, yet such mass production makes us all richer.

    Meanwhile, inflation is close to zero while wages are rising: so we are all getting poorer? Congratulations: you’ve won the Richard Murphy Prize for Economic Insight!

  40. “Look, we suffer all the dislocations of a (supposedly) market economy- the creative destruction, the job insecurity, etc- in return, supposedly, for a steadily increasing standard of living. ”

    Er, IanB, has it ever occurred to you that the inevitable dislocations of a market economy mean that the increases in the standard of living are unlikely to arrive “steadily”?

    And then “puritanism”, again. *yawn* You wouldn’t be a monomaniac…Oh no!

  41. “Of course not; the bastards play vile muzak at you.”

    And, worse, too many of the clientele smell like a wet dog.

  42. If a supermarket has 1m2 (say) allocated to sell carrots, and customers are paying X pence per kilo of carrots, and they have expressed a revealed preference for straight carrots rather than wonky ones if the price is the same…why the fuck would a supermarket take up valuable retail space with cheap, wonky carrots?

    Why do you keep saying the price is the same? Ever heard of price discrimination? Different things for identical or similar things? E.g. economy, ‘normal’ and finest brands? Carrots for 50p/kg or more than £3/kg?

  43. @ ukliberty
    the revealed preference is for straight carrots if the price is the same.
    Some people will buy wonky carrots if they are cheaper.
    So Asda makes up these boxes of cheap veg where the price is lower to shift misshapen veg that got through to the store.

  44. So Asda makes up these boxes of cheap veg where the price is lower to shift misshapen veg that got through to the store.

    Yes, so it’s a secondary business line. Most supermarkets simply don’t buy the misshapen stuff because customers don’t want it, and there’s no point losing margin on the same stuff by selling it cheaper.

  45. Oh, the supermarket conversation. That’s what I so miss about the UK. The fact that the old upper/middle/working class structure has been replaced by the “which supermarket you go to” class structure. It takes me back to the days whewn southerners rediscovered the simple delight of black pudding on the polenta when Morrisons bought Safeways and took previously-scorned inedible austerity bits down south, just in time for austerity chic.

    And the class mobility is actually now supermarket mobility, with the “in” people now apparently doing a mix of Waitrose and Lidl. So I guess Tescos and Sainsbury are now basically at the bottom end of lower-middle, stuck in the times when Henderson’s relish was still poor-posh, while the benefits class are doubtless still eating their stash of out of date own-brand pot noodles from Kwik-Save.

  46. “Second, there is a trade-off between quality and quantity: for example, mass production wood carving is of lower quality than hand carving, ”
    This hasn’t been true for a considerable time. By & large, volume production techniques produce much higher & consistent quality of products than limited production. Hand made’s about as hit or miss as you can get. Unless, of course, you’re assigning “quality” to imperfections. Which, of course, the “it’s hand made, of course, Dahling!” mob generally do. Why I used to take the chisel to the very detailed & accurate work the CNC machine turned out, to inject a little of that hand made “quality”..

  47. @ BiG
    Living in a town where you need an above-median income to rent a one-bedroom flat and where, before a new Asda opened, the only alternatives to Tesco were two Asian-run mini-supermarkets, I beg to differ. I can walk a few miles to the nearest Waitrose, but I have no intention of buying toilet rolls there when there is a Tesco quarter-of-a-mile away. I just do not believe that all the inhabitants of my town are the bottom end of lower-middle-class.
    OTOH, I quite frankly don’t care how you choose to categorise my social class.

  48. @john77,

    I know it will come as something of a shock to your sensitive ego, but you were among the furthest people from my mind when I wrote that.

  49. I’ve now googled barley: more protein than pasta. How cheap is barley by the bag for broth-making?

    What are the cheapest useful sources of protein? Beans? Sardines? Oats? Offal?

  50. Consistent quality, bis, but often not higher. A master carver will produce higher quality carving than any machine, though obviously a jobbing carpenter won’t. Most people won’t notice the difference, but there’s still a trade-off.

  51. Tim Worstall
    February 7, 2016 at 10:58 am
    No, he isn’t doing that. However, it has long been part of the Weatherspoons’ model for beer. Buy stuff about to go out of date, flog it off cheap: they’ve got the volume, they can sell anything.

    I’ve spoken to brewers who supply Weatherspoons’ and they say this is a fallacy.

    ‘Spoons buy/sell a lot of real ale which has a natural short shelf life which is probably where the rumour started.

    JD Weatherspoons own their pubs and have a manager not a publican to run them. In effect they are a beer retailer rather than a pubco in my opinion.

  52. With respect, Theo, bollocks. Get the machinery to do it, you could carve a perfect photographic image on a piece of wood. Even get a grayscale with texturing. And then let it churn out a thousand piece production run. It’s not surprising, really. The master hand carver doesn’t carve wood. His tools do. With the limitations his tools & his body have. Computer guided tooling is much more accurate & can do things the carver can’t do.
    If you think about it.it’s a natural progression. Carving wood isn’t the end product, it’s the means. The master hand carver will have a roll of maybe a hundred tools. Chisels, hooks, gouges files, scorpers… most designed to do one particular task. The machine’s just a better tool with a bigger range of capabilities. But the carver’s still there. He’s the guy writing the program.

  53. @ BiG
    🙂
    When are they going to invent an emoji for “my sensitive ego is bruised”? There must be a massive demand!

  54. When Blackberries were new, and a thing, about ten years ago, a commercial banker friend of mine who’s been angling for more pay and a promotion (or else he’d (supposedly) walk), was given a, er, Blackberry. And he stayed. No more money. No promotion. And this was before the bust, when bankers could name their price. I told him he’d exchanged his demands for a gadget that enabled him to do more work. He chuckled, then went to the far East to become a proper salary-man.

    Its a living. I think he earns about £150k a year. Couldn’t afford to buy in Tokyo. Or HK. Or Singapore. Couldn’t even afford a car in Singapore. Now he’s in Manila. Perhaps he can buy himself a shack. I daresay he has an iPhone now.

  55. So Much For Subtlety

    dearieme – “I didn’t know that pasta contained much protein. We live and learn. But wouldn’t beans be a better bet for protein?”

    Find someone on a gluten-free diet. They will tell you what sort of pasta they don’t eat.

    It is interesting that TW’s readers care so much about vegetables.

  56. So Much For Subtlety

    Matthew L – “Why can’t the husbands do the cooking and the cleaning?”

    Way to totally miss the point Matt. Three thumbs up.

    The issue is not the cooking and cleaning. The issue is the politically motivated refusal of acts of love. It could be picking up the children from school and the point would remain the same.

  57. Pulses of some kind I would think. Lentils? Dried or split peas? Beans, as you say?

    That’s without checking of course…..

  58. BiS
    Machine carving is very impressive but it cannot deceive an expert in art or antiques. The quality just isn’t there, and the machine cannot respond creatively to minor irregularities in the wood or marble. The quality-quantity trade-off is there, even if only experts can detect it.

  59. BIG…Morrison’s takeover of Safeway. First thing I noticed was the cuts of meat. Hadn’t previously seen skirt on sale in a South London supermarket – to Southerners, skirt was an exotic slice of grilled beef served in Calais bistros when on a day trip to stock up with claret.

  60. dearieme said:
    “I’ve now googled barley: more protein than pasta. How cheap is barley by the bag for broth-making?”

    I just read the packets in the larder & it surprised me:

    Tin of beans (cannellini), 9.6g protein, 25p, 38g/£
    Bag of barley, 40g protein, 55p, 73g/£
    Bag of pasta, 125g protein, 99p, 126g/£

    That’s pretty much the opposite order I’d have expected in terms of how much protein for your money.

  61. So bean-and-barley broth it is then, Richard.

    I’ll bet barley was cheaper when I was a lad: like split peas and lentils, your Ma made soup from them, to keep the cold out. A breakfast of porridge and a kipper would be pretty good too.

  62. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/16/uk-wages-rising-at-quickest-rate-in-six-years

    Oh, in the last six years (in September 2015).

    Look at a graph of real wages over the longer period. Big fall from ’08 from which we haven’t yet recovered. This is the kind of thing Ian B and Bloke in Spain talk about – the perception.

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/real-wages-and-living-standards/

    Ordinary people certainly don’t compare their living standards to those in the 1750s (rightly or wrongly).

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