photographing fruits and vegetables

Bounty from the Phoenix farmers market

What is so endlessly fascinating about fruit and vegetables?

Have you ever seen a Buddha’s hand? I found their unique and one-of-a-kind shapes captivating. These citrus fruit are mostly grown for ornamental and praying purposes. Each one is different, and they all cost an arm and a leg at Whole Foods. Although often cash-strapped, I only felt a slight tinge of guilt about buying this $9 citrus. I walked out cradling her in my arms, in all her gnarly beauty. I was going to photograph her later.

photographing fruits and vegetables

Buddha’s Hand Citron (not mine) Photo by Forest Starr and Kim Starr, 2016.

So, what keeps me photographing fruits and vegetables with my camera? I’ve heard quite a few parents remind their children to eat their veggies, but never heard them say, “Don’t forget to photograph your veggies!”  However, looking at and photographing veggies never gets old to me. And I am not the only one out there with a penchant for photographing good-looking vegetable specimens.

photographing fruits and vegetables

Who knew there were tons of people photographing fruits and vegetables and sharing them on Instagram?

Photographer Brittney Wright’s love for colorful fruit and vegetables is evident in the visually stimulating photographs she shares on Instagram. She spends a lot of time perfecting her photos, and her colorful gradient color palettes are impressive. She says, “I’m trying to rebrand vegetables and fruit,” and she’s especially concerned with this message getting to kids. In our hot Cheetos-lovin’-culture, that’s important.

I follow a few other people on Instagram who have farming initiatives, on small and large scales. They take some beautiful photographs of fruit and vegetables. Besides the physical beauty of fruit and vegetables, there is also the meaningful sustenance that they provide us. Without fruit and vegetables, humans wouldn’t survive.

(Nothing dorky about finding beauty in this onion peel!)

Lucky to be able to eat green

I feel privileged to be eating fresh fruit and vegetables daily, although sometimes I had to be choosy on Jeju, with avocados around $3 a piece, for instance. Mostly, I thank my lucky stars that I get my fill of veggies because they make me feel so great.

My friend Carolyn works at a farmer’s market and recounts her memories of coming up in a family of four children. Although she didn’t realize they were poor, she did notice that peaches were rationed out in her family, and she imagined how different things would be once she was an adult, and could have all the peaches she wanted.

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I couldn't resist the fresh strawberries at Market today. I somehow managed to keep my shirt stain free but my hands are red from the juicy berries. I remember my parents always loved to take us strawberry picking when I was a child. It was so special to be surrounded by the sweet berries; I'm sure I ate more than I picked. Growing up the third of four children, I didn't realize we were "poor." Kids are expensive and I can't thank my parents enough for having four children even knowing that funds would be tight (I'm pretty sure they only meant to have 3.) 😊@hulsey.anna I only remember feeling poor and wishing we had more money in two situations. 1. Being able to order a drink when eating out- we were only ever allowed water. 2. Fresh fruit. So many families still face difficulties being able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables. In my family, when peaches were in season and on sale at the supermarket, we got 6 and that meant we each got one. I remember trying to manipulate my little sister into giving me her allotment. I remember thinking that when I was grown, I'd have all the peaches I could desire and I would eat them all by myself. It breaks my heart knowing that families still struggle to afford fresh foods. I support fresh food access programs because I know what it's like to grow up on canned vegetables. I hope to see a future where fresh foods aren't a luxury but where they fill bellies, support families, and create healthy futures. #Ebt #snap #FarmersMarkets #freshfoodaccess #local #gsocurbmarket #farmersmarketnutritionprogram #WIC @hulsey.anna

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She says, “It breaks my heart knowing that families still struggle to afford fresh foods. I support fresh food access programs because I know what it’s like to grow up on canned vegetables. I hope to see a future where fresh foods aren’t a luxury but where they fill bellies, support families, and create healthy futures.”

I’m with Carolyn!

When I take photos of fruit and vegetables, I don’t spend a lot of time setting them up. The photos are hardly perfect. My main photographic focus is on people but I often feel the need to document the beautiful and interesting fruits and veggies I encounter. There is something fun about keeping track of the beautiful colors, the varied seeds, the organic shapes of fruit and veggies. I think of it as separate from my ‘real’ photographic work, though.

photographing fruits and vegetables

Lovely leaks which remind me of God’s eye weavings

The upside of finding beauty in the gnarled and asymmetrical

I recently wrote about visiting a family farming operation on Jeju Island in South Korea. As I was researching the article, I learned more about why all the produce in Jeju looks so big and perfect. Koreans actually have very specific standards for appearance, from the way people look, to how a mandarin orange is supposed to look. Farmers are forced to either throw out misshapen produce or find creative ways to use it in products.

In the US, I heard that for many years we had something similar in place. ‘Ugly fruit’ was rejected by grocers because it didn’t sell. Now, however, there are several initiatives to avoid waste and sell this ‘ugly fruit’. One company, called Imperfect Produce, sells produce online for 30-50% discounted rate.

Their site says, “Fact: 1 in 5 fruits and veggies grown in the U.S. don’t meet cosmetic standards – the crooked carrot, the curvy cucumber, the undersized apple – usually causing them to go to waste. We’re here to change that.”

Again, this review of their service by Erika Beasley, from San Clemente, CA makes me grateful to be able to afford good produce:

“As a single working mom, I don’t have a lot of free time and organic produce is far outside our budget. We are blessed that [our church’s food bank] gathers food from stores that carry whole, organic foods, but we do not get fresh produce often. [Imperfect] has been an answer to prayer for me. Being able to order fresh produce weekly will help me build strong and healthy kiddos!”

photographing fruits and vegetables

Jackfruit, before

photographing fruits and vegetables

Jackfruit, after

Americans have become more interested in healthy-eating and organic produce. As health care costs rise, people have begun to avoid visiting doctors as often by eating more healthy. Organic fruits and veggies are often oddly-shaped, and it appears that the more familiar these unique veggies and fruit become, the more accepting consumers are.

I’ve always had a soft-spot in my heart for the odd and unique produce. I had a long conversation with the farmer who sold me this tomato. He was convinced I’d be taking pictures of it to share on Facebook. He was right.

I will never forget this tomato.

Cavepeople probably would have photographed veggies, if they had cameras

Photographing fruits and vegetables is not some new-fangled thing that millennials thought up, either. Robert Mapplethorpe, and Edward Weston, they both made beautiful images of fruit and vegetables. Georgia O’Keeffe, while a painter, not a photographer, spent years and years painting flowers. What I’m trying to say is, I think people have always been documenting the beautiful things that give them sustenance, and that fill their world with aesthetic beauty.

A gigantic apple mango I found in a parking lot in Jogja.

So, what is so endlessly fascinating about taking photos of fruits and vegetables? I dunno, maybe it’s just their incredible colors, their unique shapes, and diverse textures or perhaps it’s the way they nourish our bodies. Whatever it is, I don’t think I’ll stop any time soon.

Do you take photos of fruit and veggies? Why do you do it?