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The smooth, cylindrical, snack-size orange root vegetable that Americans love to eat is carrots, but in a form very different from a carrot grown naturally.

Tens of millions of Americans who grew up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons remember a scene in which the wascally wabbit croons "Oh carrots are divine, you get a dozen for a dime" (or at least you could when the original cartoon was released in the 1950's) "it's magic."

Prior to the Bugs Bunny era, carrots weren't exactly America's favorite vegetable. Carrots were mentioned in the same breath as cod liver oil and garlic paste chest liniments for colds. The popularity of the cartoon character, drove the popularity of the vegetable, and an entrepreneur named Frank Yurosek and his wife Sue increased sales even more.

The Birth of Baby Carrots

Born in 1922, Frank Yurosek started a family farm in Santa Clarita, California. He grew cabbages, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, lima beans, and carrots. When cartoons started making carrots popular, his wife Sue drew a sexy lady bunny, who could have seduced Bugs, to become the icon of their brand, Bunny Luv carrots. After generations of buying dirty carrots with wilted tops out of bins and barrels, with the introduction of Bunny Luv, Americans now had an option to buy fresh, clean, crispy whole carrots out of a bag. Carrot sales soared.

Even though Bunny Luv was a major success, the Yuroseks were left with a formidable problem. The reality about carrots is that most of them don't grow into long, straight, unblemished carrots that look nice in a produce display. The Yuroseks' now-giant farming operation produced 800,000 pounds (about 360,000 kilos) of "cull carrots" a day, that could only be used for making carrot juice and animal feed. The problem with those uses was that there isn't a big market for carrot juice, and you can only feed cows and pigs so many carrots before the animals turn orange. Truckloads of carrots were destined for the dump.

Then the Yuroseks had an idea. Experimenting with a potato peeler and an industrial green bean slicer, Yurosek managed to produce a few bags of raggedy but clean and bite-size mini-carrots. He sent a sample to Vons, the California grocery chain, and the next day they called back and told him "We only want those."

By the time the Yuroseks retired in the 1990's, they had become the largest carrot producer in the world. Giant machines race down rows of carrots, harvesting 75 tons per hour. The carrots are then washed, dried, chilled, sorted, peeled, polished, weighed, and bagged, all by machine. The tens of millions of dollars the Yuroseks allowed them to spend the rest of their lives pursuing their favorite activities, sport fishing and eating carrot cupcakes.

What's Unnatural About Baby Carrots?

The legacy of baby carrots isn't all bad. Sales of carrots jumped 14 percent just in the first year after the introduction of baby carrots. Americans now eat more than twice as many pounds of carrots per person per year in 2016 as they did in 1986. (The average American family consumes the equivalent of 450 snack packages of baby carrots annually.) Turning misshapen carrots that would have gone into the garbage into baby carrots that people love to eat is good for the environment and for the economy.

The problem is that baby carrots have become junk food. One advertising campaign even pitched "Eat 'em like Doritos" with high-calorie dip. Regular carrots have become a fine dining option in fancy restaurants. The truth is, there really are reasons to eat whole carrots with the leafy green tops at least occasionally.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Ferdman R. Baby carrots are not baby carrots. Wonkblog. Washington Post. 13 January 2016.
  • Seidel K, Kahl J, Paoletti F, Birlouez I, Busscher N, Kretzschmar U, Särkkä-Tirkkonen M, Seljåsen R, Sinesio F, Torp T, Baiamonte I. Quality assessment of baby food made of different pre-processed organic raw materials under industrial processing conditions. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Feb. 52(2):803-12. doi: 10.1007/s13197-013-1109-5. Epub 2013 Jul 25. PMID: 25694688.
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