What’s the sitch with Baby Carrots?
There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the importance of honesty when communicating information to the public. Whose responsibility is it to ensure news stories are based in reality? When is it unacceptable for corporations to mislead consumers in the name of profits? How far can politicians reasonably stray from the facts in order to build support? Should writers have to indicate when a story is satirical, so no one misinterprets their meaning?
I’m just asking questions. I don’t believe people are being more dishonest now than they were in the past. But I do believe, in many ways, it is getting trickier for bystanders to know when dishonesty is happening. And this hunch that we are all being lied to in some way, by everyone, cements distrust deep in our collective gut.
Baby carrots come from a time not so long ago, yet, a different enough era, where there was less public suspicion. Common folk were more willing to take companies, politicians, and news organizations at their word, without having to investigate motives and conflicts of interest. Baby carrots were then grandfathered into our current era, without having a social media outcry about the truth of their origin.
This may shock you to learn, but, baby carrots are not what they seem. They are not just infantile carrots, eaten before they had a real chance at life. They are not veal. And they are also not bonsai carrots, selectively stunted in order to keep them cute. They are not corgis.
They are just regular, adult carrots, peeled, and cut into small pieces.
Invented in 1986 by Mike Yurosek (1), a farmer from California, these little babies turned a stagnant industry around. Carrot farming was a relatively inefficient practice in those days, with long growing seasons and a lot of waste. Substantial portions of each season’s crop were turned into animal feed or thrown away, as grocery stores did not want deformed carrots on their shelves.
Mr. Yurosek was a carrot man, but he was also business man and, as it turns out, an inventor man. Using an industrial green-bean cutter, he peeled and cut his outcast carrots into 2-inch carrot sculptures, the size that is still standard today.
His idea took off immediately, and overall carrot consumption increased nearly 30% by the following year, in 1987. This growth didn’t slow down, and in the decade following the introduction of the baby-cuts, per capita carrot consumption doubled, from about 7 lbs per person per year, to more than 14 lbs. Thas’a spicy manufactured carrot a’ball! Carrots are now responsible for nearly half of sales in the fresh-cut vegetable grocery category, far ahead of the bland, unimproved-upon potatoes and celery. And the packaged, shaved version of our favorite root vegetable account for almost 70% of all carrot sales. Mr. Yurosek could not have known the impact his humble idea would have when he bought that industrial green-bean cutter in 1986. (2)
Now, no one has ever tried to cover this information up. The only dishonesty involved is that they are known as baby carrots when, in fact, they are not baby carrots. Real baby carrots do exist, are sold at organic co-ops and served at fancy restaurants, prized for their sweetness. Hoity-toity farmers often leave the green tops on them to prove their authenticity. The sculpted-carrot industry likes to use the euphemism, “Baby-cut carrots,” on packaging to maintain the common “baby,” parlance, while skirting legal troubles from legitimate baby carrot farmers.
This may be mildly misleading… but do we have any reason to be upset? We, as an adult public, are too immature to buy carrots when they are not straight, orange, and unblemished. As our surging per capita carrot consumption has shown, we actually did want those slightly imperfect carrots, we wanted to feed upon them, and we had the capacity to include more crunchy veggies in our diet… but they looked weird. Once they were called “baby,” and made to look the part, we happily plugged that large, asymmetric, carrot-sized hole in our stomach with five or six perfectly processed carrot nubbins.
It is in these rare cases, where we are too dumb to know what is good for us, that it is OK to lie to the public. Far more often we are being misled in a direction we don’t want to go in, against our best interests, to the benefit of the few who are doing the misleading. But, once in a while, as in the case of baby-cut carrots, we, the public, need to be tricked into eating more vegetables.
“Baby Carrots.” The True Story of Baby Carrots - Origin and Evolution. UK Carrot Museum, Web, (Image citation).
Ferdman, Roberto A. "Baby Carrots Are Not Baby Carrots." The Washington Post. WP Company, 13 Jan. 2016.