You Don't Need to Peel All Those Vegetables

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It's so much work, and it's so wasteful!

Bea Johnson doesn't own a vegetable peeler. I learned this fact years ago while reading her book, Zero Waste Home, and it made a lasting impression. While it did not convince me to get rid of my peeler altogether, I cannot tell you how many times I've eyed up a vegetable on my cutting board and skipped the peeling step, simply because I felt she had given me permission to do so.

Johnson said in a 2014 interview with Remodelista,

"I let go of my vegetable peeler and have lost the reflex to peel those veggies that do not need peeling. As a result, food prep is much faster, my compost output (peelings) is considerably reduced, and we benefit from the vitamins that are locked into vegetable skins."

I think she's on to something here. We are too quick to peel out of habit, without taking the time to analyze whether or not a vegetable really needs it. Much of the time, it doesn't! An article in the Washington Post backs the benefits that Johnson listed, stating that there's far more fibre in the exteriors of vegetables and that a good wash is sufficient to clean a vegetable for eating. As for dealing with pesticides, peeling isn't as effective as some people may think:

"Peeling doesn’t guarantee that you will eliminate pesticides, which can penetrate produce from the outside or find their way inside through the water supply. If you’re concerned about exposure to pesticides, you can certainly choose to buy organic produce, but even that needs to be washed and can still harbor natural pesticides or other types of pesticides that have drifted from conventional produce grown nearby."

I'm not suggesting that you stop peeling everything. Some vegetables do need it, such as celery root, kohlrabi, and waxed rutabaga. (I assume Johnson uses a knife for these foods?) But many others, like carrots, cucumbers, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and beets, can be cooked with their skins on. With foods like beets and potatoes, the skins come off on their own, but are still edible and delicious. I also like to put unpeeled onions and garlic in vegetable stock, as Mark Bittman recommends, and it adds deeper color and flavor.

So, the next time you face a pile of veggies that need prepping, take a moment to analyze whether or not you really need to peel – and avoid creating a mound of scraps that go to waste, when they really could go into feeding your body.