A lot of it is sold not-quite-ripe, too, which affects taste. Strawberries especially suffer from this. They should be red clear to the leaves, but a lot of the ones I see in the store still have white caps.
I remember the traveling fruit salesman dude that showed up on my doorstep years ago with a box of grapefruit and oranges from the Rio Grande valley, picked two days before. He cut an orange open right there on the stoop and it smelled and tasted like heaven. I bought a whole box, and wished to hell I'd had money to buy more. The oranges were sweet enough that you could eat the rind, too, and the grapefruit needed no sugar at all, none whatsoever, to be perfectly sweet-tart and edible.
Oranges especially have suffered. Dry, flavorless, disgusting. And peaches. Peaches are not what they once were. Paper-bag ripening them helps a lot, and I live in peach and strawberry country, so if I can find someplace that stocks local produce, it generally tastes better. Still. Blechh.
I am glad that produce is cheap, and that people are, you know, eating something. I mean, I'm fuckall poor, you know? I can't afford the money to go hunting out the expensive organic stuff, and I can't afford the spoons to go hunting for a small farmer's market when grocery shopping is one of those things that makes me angry and miserable to have to do. Also, I hate gardening. So I know how that is. Someday when I have lots of money (dear god let this stupid crazy thing we are doing WORK) I will be able to afford to buy food that tastes like something.
The non-ripe would be okay, but it seems that most of the peaches go from green to mealy without any sweet and juicy phase at all. That's why I won't buy them if they don't smell delicious.
And I totally agree about citrus fruit. The first time I enjoyed a grapefruit was when someone came into the place I worked selling hand-picked, carefully packed, flown-in citrus. My only experience with grapefruit was bitter, pulpy fruit that no amount of sugar could truly amend. These were a revelation. (Then there were the Jaffa oranges I ate in Israel. So juicy that a wedge of orange sloshed. Oh my stars....)
It's kind of a crazy balancing act, getting healthy food to people at a decent price, and you make a good point about the tradeoffs. Still, I wonder what else is being compromised by these changes--nutrition?
thankfully there is slowly gaining backlaash to this, in forms like the 100 mile diet, potager gardens. We're working towards a more self sufficient lifestyle .. perhaps the selection will be less, but I'd rather have a 100 things that taste good, that fill not only the belly but the soul with the satisfaction of eating what we've produced ourselves, then a 1000 'pretty' tasteless things.
Having grown up in the culinary desert of the 60s, I appreciate the variety and flavor possibilities. But I agree that there has to be some balance.
Certainly, American strawberries are no patch on local ones. They look so beautiful, but there's nothing to them.
Growing up in rural PEI, my vegetable selection was pretty much the same (hell, it still is). And I do wonder whether the increased selection has been worth it.
I mean, I like mangoes. But I wonder if mangoes that can take intercontinental shipping are really that tasty.
They're not. The proof of that -- besides the watery tasteless lumps that make it -- is that you usually find only one or at best two varieties of mango in the stores. Travel nearer the equator where the weather's right for them, and you get hundreds. Mango Julie, Mango Rose, long mango, tea mango, dou-dou, calabash, starch, turpentine, Graham, and lots of others, and they have as many uses they're suited for as apples do.
I will generally only eat local strawberries, in season. I am mildly allergic to them, and break out in hives, but there's nothing like a proper strawberry, staining your lips and shirt. (I am not allergic to the oversized half-white ones, though.) And don't get me started on these new giant-sized apples. I DON'T WANT A POUND OF WATERY APPLE. I want a small, tart, delightful fruit, and I don't care if it's not perfectly symmetrical, with flawless skin. I want flavor and texture, damn it.
Chicken is another one of the things that has changed in flavor since I was a child; most of it is now Generic White Meat, even the drumsticks, so when I get real birds, I revel in them
I've noticed that about chicken, particularly of late. Lots of cooking effort to produce very little flavor.
Our tomatoes were extremely fragrant - and I don't like tomatoes, but my husband loves them. The deep red makes you WANT to eat them. I like them cooked, in sauces - it's a texture thing. But hubby likes them fresh from the garden and this year ...I sort of understood why. They were magnificent. Oh yeah...they were grown from seeds I saved last year from the 'Grainger County Tomatoes' just to see if it was the soil or the seeds. It appears to have been the seeds.
Flavorful tomatoes are definitely making a comeback in the small garden. I need to get ambitious about getting some in next year.
Squash. Squash has become a complete boogie-man, especially summer squash, because the junk you buy in the grocery store has no aroma or flavor. I've noticed that it loses most of it's vigor by 5-6 hours after picking, so I try to grow it and then pick it just before using it.
Green beans, too. The beans from the store do have flavor, but they've lost their floral aroma and most of their crispness. They're crunchy, sure, but not moistly crisp.
Ooo, good point. The last time I cooked acorn squash they were watery disappointment. I blamed myself, but maybe I wasn't at fault after all.
You might be interested in the book "Tomatoland." It discusses some of the reasons we get produce like that tastes like cardboard and quite a bit about toll our desire for cheap produce out of season causes.
I am lucky enough to live in an area where the non-organic produce at the farmer's market costs about what the grocery store does--when the markets are going during the summer. Looking at how much of our produce gets to our table made it hard for me to buy blindly at the grocery store but we are way too poor for the local organic food at Whole Foods. Summer is fine for us, but it can be hard during the winter to get what we'd like--and that cheap summer fruit at Safeway gets mighty tempting come January.
The issue of good quality produce is one more reason I get frustrated with apartment living. My parents have a lovely yard that could be used for vegetable gardening but they don't need to since they have the money for a house. My husband and I live in an apartment because we have a shortage of money but HAVE to buy at the store because we have no place to grow--it feels like a double hit to our wallet. And because of all these money issues, we are part of the reason there is a demand for cheap food. It feels like a ridiculous circle.
Thanks for the book recommendation; I will look for it.
I am guilty of not taking advantage of the farmer's markets. I keep meaning to, but never manage to remember. Doing so is a good goal for me to undertake.
I agree. I love strawberries but won't buy the flavourless ones from California, even though they look beautiful; I have a couple of plants on my patio, and the few strawberries I get are such a taste treat. Likewise the raspberries I've been picking, a couple at a time, from the canes on the patio. I buy local produce whenever possible, too. The corn is almost ready, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into a juicy cob grown less than 50 miles from my front door!
I didn't plant a garden this year, and I miss the fresh green beans, etc. Next year for sure.
There is nothing to compare with a fresh heirloom tomato, picked minutes before eating...omg.
I keep meaning to do SOME gardening, but have not succeeded yet. Maybe next year.
Beautiful piece, even without the luscious photos -- made me hungry just reading it! More and more of my friends are going for these farm co-op deals where you get a box of local produce to pick up every week during the summer. I would totally do that if I was able to just get a tiny quantity. My husband Does Not Eat Vegetables Or Fruit so it would be a horrid waste.
that's my problem. Ferrett is a bit better on veggies these days, but still eats a very limited selection, so a CSA would probably be a waste.
I absolutely love this entry. Thank you for posting.
Glad you liked it. I am doing my part to keep LJ alive.
Hie thee to the West Side Market ! Do you need a guide? I will take you!
I do find it a bit overwhelming. I keep meaning to make it a regular part of our shopping but haven't managed. But I've noted that even there, it's not really a farmer's market. Much of the produce is brought in by pretty big businesses.
I'm so, so glad I live where most things can be grown almost year round and that I can source organic, local produce that is cheaper than the supermarket, when I'm not growing them myself. Also, for the things that aren't growable locally, I can still get good quality in the same place. Every year, I get peaches like that. I revel in them so much.
Never take that for granted, my friend.
you said it all so well. And your Flist added all the stuff I would add - especially strawberries. And APPLES. My grandmother had a dutchess apple tree in her back yard and I've never ever tastes apples that fresh or that good except from apples that were just picked. I am a fruit and veggie snob for exactly this reason.
Apricots, for me. My gramma's neighbor had a giant tree, and they were SO delicious.
Shawn and I were guilty of being walmart or Publix only shoppers. Our produce, our meat, our everything from one place.
And then one day we started noticing that on our way to these places we kept passing this run down, very old building. Wasn't quite a store, more like a very huge vegetable road side stand that turned permanent. It was simply (and semi-uncreatively called) The Produce Place.
Produce from local and out of state farmers. Produce everywhere. Normal stuff you'd find down the grocery aisle and a lot of not-so-normal. Right now they have Georgia peaches the size of a baseball and larger. They smell so good they make my mouth water and I just want to hover over them and huff them for hours. We started buying all of our produce there and pretty much haven't looked back.
The flavors are just an entirely different story. I can buy a tomato the size of a baby's head there, and let it sit out of the fridge for a week before slicing it and eating it--it's still good and tastes magnificent. The mushrooms are earthy, the leaf lettuce is crisp and actually tastes like something! It doesn't taste like bad tap water!
And of course, the peaches are divine.
That's great. We have a place like that called the West Side Market, and I need to make it a regular shopping stop.
My most delicious memory of peaches is about the ones they used to grow near Lake Erie. I'll never forget walking from Huron to Vermilion (we were kids; back then, kids still walked) eating peaches the size of softballs, juice dripping down our chins and staining our shirts. Do they still grow peaches in Ohio?
I have to suggest you try the tomatoes you can find at, of all places, Costco, in a flat with about seven or nine tomatoes. Juicy, tasty, firm and they last for several days. I have no clue where they get them, I know they aren't local. And I'm pretty sure they send the same stuff to most, if not all, of their outlets. Worth looking.
Yes they still grow peaches in Ohio, and I need to get out of town to a stand and pick some up!