At this time of year, it’s good to consider where our food comes from, typically in most areas of North America, we are entering or are already in a period of harvest – when the corn is fresh and sweet, and the fruit is thick on the trees. And this is the case in most parts of the continent, that some form of fruit and vegetable has a pretty good chance of being harvested in reasonable quantities almost anywhere. So why is it that we buy perfect looking but crappy cardboard-tasting fruit from the local chain supermarket? We are so accustomed to getting exactly what the recipe calls for, or the fruit that the kids will actually eat from the supermarket at any time of the year, that we rarely consider what types of produce could be grown in our backyards, or on local farms.
Most people believe it’s because the supermarkets select for appearance not taste. This might be true for vegetables, but for fruit it’s evidently wrong. Green mangoes, Conference pears, unripe Bramley, Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples look about as appealing as a shrink-wrapped stool. Appearance has nothing to do with it. What counts to the retailer is how well the variety travels.
The travelling is the part I have a tough time with, from a sustainability perspective. It doesn’t really matter how healthy the fruit is – if it has travelled 3000 miles, it probably isn’t the fruit you should be choosing to eat.
To compound the problem, the supermarkets demand that fruit is picked long before it ripens: it doesn’t soften until it rots. This makes great commercial sense. It also ensures that no one in his right mind would want to eat it. But, happily for the retailers, we have forgotten what fruit should taste like. The only way to find out is either to travel abroad or (the low-carbon option) to grow your own. I find myself becoming a fruit evangelist, a fructivist, whose mission is to show people what they are missing.
Having just recently (for the second year in a row) canned up dozens of jars of fruit for the winter, I’ve learnt the value of fresh fruit locally grown, and the need to preserve that crop. In the middle of winter, the pears and apples in the supermarket just aren’t as appealing as the jars of fruit stored in our cold room. Other fruit is still tough though. Bananas are a hit in our household with two kids, but even buying the organic ones bothers me from a sustainable tranportation perspective – I simple shouldn’t be buying a perishable prodict from that far away. It is something we need to work on as a family, ensuring that adequate nutriuents are present in the food we are eating, while choosing to eat more locally and responsibly.