Why Are Fruits And Vegetables Called Produce? Let’s Find Out

To understand why we call fruits and vegetables “produce,” we need to go back in time. In the 17th and 18th centuries, most people grew their own fruits and vegetables or purchased them from local farms. There were no large grocery store chains selling pre-packaged produce.

Instead, farmers would load up carts with the fruits and vegetables they had harvested and transport them to the nearest village or city. They would then sell their fresh goods at open-air markets. The fruits and vegetables grown and sold directly by farmers came to be known as “produce” or “farmer’s produce.”

This term distinguished the fresh, unprocessed fruits and veggies from non-perishable food items that could be bought at general stores, like flour, sugar, canned goods, etc. The word “produce” was a way to specify that these foods were delicate and straight from the farm.

Why Are Fruits And Vegetables Called Produce?

The term “produce” is used to collectively refer to these edible plant products, emphasizing their natural origin and the fact that they are cultivated and harvested for human consumption.

Furthermore, produce is a term used to differentiate the food items that are perishable and must be consumed quickly from those that can be stored for longer periods of time. Produce includes all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. As such, bananas are classified as a type of produce.

1. They Are The Product Of Agriculture

Produce comes from agriculture – the cultivation of plants for food and other products. Farming and harvesting fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. yields the produce that makes its way to our kitchens and plates. Identifying these items together as the products of agriculture makes sense based on their common origin.

2. They Are A Farm’s Yield

When farmers cultivate crops, the plants they grow and harvest are collectively referred to as their “yield.” The fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, etc. amount to the total agricultural bounty produced by the farm. So produce encompasses a farm’s yield and the plant-based foods that they are able to produce through agriculture.

3. They Often Share A Similar Lifecycle

Many produce items follow a similar lifecycle from seed to harvest to table. For example, both tomatoes and squash begin as seeds, grow into plants that flower and fruit, and are hand picked once ripe. This shared cycle from cultivation to harvest connects various produce and designates them as related agricultural products.

The Rise of Commercial Agriculture

As cities grew larger in the 19th century, more systematic methods of feeding urban populations were needed. This led to the development of commercial agriculture, involving large, dedicated farms growing food at bigger scales.

Produce was increasingly grown in rural areas many miles from the urban centers where it would be consumed. New transportation methods like rail allowed fresh fruits and vegetables to be shipped further without spoiling.

Grocery stores started sourcing produce from many different farms and selling it in one central location. Regardless of the origin, all fresh fruits and vegetables sold in these stores were referred to as “produce.”

Major Categories Of Produce

While produce can refer broadly to fresh edible plant cultivation, there are some major categories most associated with the term:

1. Fruits

Fruits bear seeds and come from flowering plants like trees, bushes, vines, etc. Common fruits considered produce include apples, citrus, berries, melons, stone fruits, and tropical fruits like bananas.

2. Vegetables

Vegetables represent the edible roots, leaves, stems, shoots, bulbs and flower buds of plants. Produce veggies include greens, root vegetables, peppers, onions, tomatoes, etc.

3. Herbs And Spices

Leafy, seed-based, or flowering plants valued for their flavor, fragrance, and culinary use fall under the produce umbrella as herbs and spices. Think basil, oregano, cinnamon, garlic, ginger.

4. Grains

Grains like wheat, rice, oats, corn, and rye that are harvested from cereal grasses or similar plants also qualify as produce. Their edible seeds are used to make flour, oils, and other products.

5. Legumes

Legumes are a produce category that includes beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils. These edible seeds grow in pods and provide protein.

6. Nuts And Dried Fruits

Most nuts like almonds, pistachios, and walnuts grow on trees and fall under the produce definition. Dried fruits are another subset of produce like raisins, apricots, dates, figs, etc.

So while produce may seem synonymous with fresh fruits and veggies, it’s a diverse term that connects the wide world of plant-based foods.

Why We Still Use the Term Today

Even as food systems have evolved, we continue using the term “produce” in the 21st century. Some reasons this antiquated word persists:

  • Tradition – The long-established terminology carries on through habit.
  • Distinction from packaged foods – Differentiates fresh vs. canned, frozen, etc.
  • Emphasis on “farm-fresh” appeal – Highlights that produce is unpackaged and not heavily processed.
  • Association with vegetables and fruit – The word evokes fresh, healthy food choices.

The term “produce” refers to the edible fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and plant-based foods that come from agriculture. Its origins trace back centuries as a term to represent the bountiful yield of farms and harvested crops. While we often associate produce with fresh fruits and veggies, it’s a diverse umbrella term that connects the breadth of foods grown from plants.

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