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. » Strange Fruit

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.

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

3 replies on “The Mystery of Supermarket Fruit”

  1. I’ve stopped buying bananas too, even though I really like them. I can’t quite let pineapple or grapefruit go, though…

    My SIL’s parents live in Robson, and last week I picked clean their hazelnut tree and got 15lbs of their apples, too. For a baker on a budget, this is gold! I’ve frozen the nuts and am in the process of freezing the apples. None of their trees are sprayed, and while the nuts have been OK, I’ve found a few wormy apples so far…

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  2. The localization of the food network is inevitable as society moves towards a more sustainable model. No matter what type of fuel we use to get bananas to the middle of BC in winter, it is just not a good use of resources when we could be growing adequate fruit locally.

    It’s no fun imagining this type of world, one where all of the consumerism we’ve grown up with just disappears or becomes worthless – but I do take satisfaction that I can help teach my kids skills that may be more relevant in the future.

    (And for those who are wondering, yes I am hedging my bets. My children are being taught practical skills for growing and harvesting food, as well as ensuring they keep up with the latest technology).

  3. The benefits of eating locally grown and locally raised food extend well beyond the dinner table. Yes, the food typically tastes better. But perhaps more importantly, consumers who purchase local products also help to reduce our carbon footprint, since decreased transportation time equals reduced fuel emissions.

    In her best-selling memoir, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”, Barbara Kingsolver points out that on average, food travels farther to reach grocery stores than we do to go on vacation. The greatest distance I’ve gone for vacation is about 1,700 miles. The banana I ate at lunch is likely a more worldly traveler. At the very least, it required a far greater number of calories of fuel to transport that banana than it provided me by eating it (a banana contains about 100 calories). That’s not just an issue of taste — it’s simply wasteful and inefficient.

    According to Kingsolver, if every American ate one locally grown/raised meal a week, we could reduce our oil consumption by over 1 million barrels each week. With the current state of the U.S. economy and no end in sight to conflict in the Middle East, how can we afford not to shift our habits (even slightly as Kingsolver suggests) towards eating more local, sustainable food?

    When considered from this perspective, buying a tomato from a nearby farmer’s market not only spices up your salad, it also reduces America’s dependence on foreign oil and reduces carbon emissions. Now that is what I call “green”…

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