One available type of cauliflower is the green cauliflower, called "Romanesco."
Caroline Stevan

GENEVA — It's a sight that would have pleased Pantagruel, the 16th-century giant dreamed up by French writer François Rabelais. A horde of mini-vegetables, more numerous and diverse, are taking the world's kitchens by storm. For many years, we have grown accustomed to baby carrots and cucumbers, not to mention baby corn. But here come mini eggplants, peppers, avocados or even fennel.

Until now confined to the tables of chic restaurants, mini-vegetables are increasingly sneaking onto supermarket shelves.

The Swiss supermarket chain offers a wide range of products and services, such as, but not limited to, okras or asparagi, produced in Switzerland, Spain or overseas. The retail company does not release sales numbers but notes that most mini veggies are sold during the holidays. A few offerings, however, such as peppers or cucumbers, are now popular all-year-round.

Driving the trend is the demand from vegetarians and vegans looking for novelty. But consumers also note the practical side.

Driving the trend is the demand from vegetarians and vegans looking for novelty. But consumers also note the practical side.

"Vegetable snacks, such as carrots or cucumbers, are ideal for between two meals or for children. You can carry them around in a bag," notes Aurélie Deschenaux, a spokesperson for food distributor Migros. "Baby vegetables, like baskets of cauliflower or romanesco, are perfect for single people or small families because it allows you to cook different vegetables at the same time without having too many leftovers." It's also worth noting that they generally don't need to be sliced or peeled.

What about producers? Matthieu and Marco Cuendet, fourth-generation farmers in Bremblens, near Lausanne, have more than 200 types of vegetables to offer. Their father initiated this production three decades ago, working hand-in-hand with several top area chefs. Over the years, the family farm developed a clientele made mostly of "fine restaurants." But now, the number of private customers, who can purchase their products online, at the farm or in local markets, is also growing.

Matthieu Cuendet doesn't want to share his trade secrets. But according to specialized websites, there are three ways of obtaining baby vegetables. One can either harvest earlier (eggplants), or sow closer together. But there are also particular types of plants, either found in the nature or by cross-breeding.

A food vendor sells tiny gourds. — Photo: a2gemma

Questions of nutritional value remain.

"Contrary to fruit that needs to ripen, mini vegetables already have everything," says Cuendet. "Its nutritional quality is therefore probably as good as that of the bigger ones, if not better because of the concentration."

But Muriel Lafaille Paclet, a nutritionist at the Lausanne University Hospital, cautions against such non-scientific declarations. "We cannot claim anything without further analysis, but to harvest a vegetable before it's fully grown, as well as tight sowing, can also have an impact on its nutritional quality because they will lack nutrients. This can lead to a lower amount of vitamins and minerals. Treatments, washing, light exposure and transport can further alter the product, not to mention the impact on the environment."

Still, Paclet does agree that anything that can increase the consumption of vegetables is good for overall nutrition. But remember that a recommended portion of vegetables is 120 to 150 grams. That's a lot of baby carrots.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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