Soilman’s vegetable APPROVAL plan

This is a little aide-memoire, based on the acronym APPROVAL, to use as a checklist when buying food. It’s tough to follow, particularly now that supermarkets have driven so many smaller shops out of business. But it’s an ideal to aim for.


Aphids. No bugs? Be suspicious – particularly of salad vegetables. A lettuce without a single aphid, slug or creepy-crawly has been sprayed with something. Probably fairly recently, just before harvest. This goes, to a greater or lesser extent, for all veg. If you insist on having it clean and antiseptic, you are ingesting chemicals and supporting agri-chemical farming.

Packaging. All packaging produces carbon dioxide in its manufacture. Most of it goes to landfill. Reject fruit and veg in elaborate plastic wrapping and polystyrene trays. Use a paper bag.

Price. Don’t buy food on price alone! If you insist on the cheapest, you deserve what you get. Food is a life-saving drug. If you were offered three life-saving drugs for a terminal illness, would you automatically and unthinkingly choose the cheapest?

Recency. Think twice about buying veg harvested at the other end of the country. Taste and vitamin levels decline by the hour. Asparagus and sweetcorn, for instance, start losing their sweetness and flavour within minutes. If they’re more than a day old when you eat them, the taste is a very pale shadow of what it should be.

Origin. What country was it grown in? If it could have been grown in your native country, but wasn’t – don’t buy it. Simple. Or rather, not simple. Don’t beat yourself up too much over this one. It’s the toughest rule to stick to.

Variety. What cultivar are you buying? They all taste different. Honestly. Most fruit and veg cultivars sold by supermarkets were bred for yield, shelf-life and ease of harvest. Anything but taste. Ask retailers what varieties they sell. If enough customers ask, they’ll tell. They may even diversify. Fancy!

Air miles. If you live in the northern hemisphere and you buy strawberries in December, you are probably buying an agri-chemical product produced God knows where by God knows whom. Even if it was grown by God Himself, it will have travelled a very long way to get to you. It’s wasted tons of CO2, it won’t be fresh and it won’t taste of much.

Label. If it says ‘organic’, ask what it means. Be suspicious. Countries define this variously. Some are stricter than others. Question your retailer, too, about what ‘non-organic’ means. Remember: the real enemies are food miles, synthetic pesticides and weedkillers… not fertilizers. These just provide an abundance of what plants need anyway. Provided a vegetable’s locally grown, recently harvested, dirty and unpackaged, all the fertilizer in the world couldn’t make it worse than something that was sprayed with something noxious.