On the Apple Box (an argument for more sustainable food)

Has anyone noticed that produce just doesn’t taste as good as it used to?  My main chagrin is going into a grocery store during the peak of summer and getting mushy or rock hard peaches.  I haven’t been able to buy a good peach in years.  I have all but given up, holding onto the faint childhood memories of dribbling juices and sun warmed fruit that was sloppy enough to soak my tanks as I devoured them with glee.

Fruits are just being picked too soon to avoid damage in shipping and also to enable large picking machines to speed the time it takes to harvest a crop.  But where does that leave us?  We the consumers are left with a product that simply cannot age off the tree and thus never reaches its potential.  From rock hard to impossibly waterlogged this fruit is not even palatable.  This is one of the many reasons for the impetus to eat local foods.  Not only do local foods support businesses in your community, they also often deliver a better product because they are able to cut back on many of the production costs of shipping across the country (mainly gas).  Then by cutting back on overhead, farmers are able to put more time (thus money) into producing quality.   It is also the incentive of a farmer who sells through a farmer’s market to aim for quality over quantity.  When your interactions are face to face with your customers your focus will be on pleasing that customer.

Now I refuse to believe that American’s have lost their taste buds and no longer know a good product.   I do believe however that we have settled for convenience over excellence.   Don’t get me wrong–I love buying all my food in one location.  It saves an extra trip.  It saves gas (or in my case just sheer time and energy–living in NYC)!   But what are we sacrificing?  As a chef, I’d say A LOT.  When you take the time to cook something with fresh ingredients you want your efforts to be rewarded with an explosion of flavor.  That’s why the best and freshest ingredients produce the best product.

So where does this leave us?  By eating local, you’re lowering your carbon footprint but you’re also limiting your options.  You say:  “My supermarket doesn’t stock good quality but I hardly have the time to travel twenty minutes out of my way to find organic or local produce”….I say boycott the supermarket on products that are inferior.  If it doesn’t taste good…don’t eat it!  Buy something that IS optimally produced (apples are usually really great and especially in New York and Washington they often are local).  Let your supermarket know that their quality is slipping–trust me, if you make a direct statement to the manager it’ll make an impression.  Now I don’t mean stamping your foot and whining to the checkout guy/gal.   But the point is, there are other options.  As a consumer-based society your dollar has some power.  I say, use it to encourage the agricultural industry to work for you.  Just don’t count on that dollar buying you a lot of the best.  Also be willing to pay more for a true upgrade.

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