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Paper or Plastic? [Aug. 3rd, 2011|11:25 pm]
When I was a little girl (you had to walk uphill both ways in the snow, yes, yes, I know...)

Bear with me; this really is going somewhere.

When I was a girl, the mushroom selection in the produce aisle looked something like this:

When I visited the grocery store today, the mushroom selection looked like this:
Mushroom heaven

Likewise, my childhood peppers selection was pretty much this:

While on today's visit, I was presented with this:

I could go on about the iceberg and romaine lettuce heads of my childhood and contrast them with the vast variety of leafy greens on display and more, but it would belabor the point--and the police officer who guards the front door of the store was already raising an eyebrow at my photographing the produce section, so let's limit this to one more image.

When I was a girl, the supermarket produce aisle was two parallel refrigerator cases and a row of unrefrigerated tables running down the center, with the bakery area taking over in the back half of the aisle--and that was in a big supermarket. This is a glimpse of the produce section in my neighborhood grocery store today:

One enormous refrigerator case isn't even in the picture. It's a breathtaking spread of vivid fresh food. It borders on acreage.

And yet.

As I walk past the table filled with peaches and plums, all I smell is the industrially refrigerated air of the grocery store. I pick up a nectarine and hold it to my nose and I smell...nothing.

Who is eating this lifeless produce? How can they not know better.

I remember a time when the first table of peaches in the store would almost buckle my knees with its sweet perfume. When buying peaches wasn't a choice; it was a compulsion. I couldn't walk past that scent without my mouth watering. And fruit brought into the house would be devoured almost before it could be removed from the grocery bags. These days? I see the peaches, the nectarines, the plums. They look pretty enough. But then I take a deep breath? And I might as well be sniffing a photograph.

The same goes for tomatoes, often for strawberries. Grocery stores are filled with produce that's designed to ship well, store well, survive rough handling with minimal bruising and rot.

Flavor is secondary.

I know this about peaches and tomatoes. I know that I need to look to alternate sources if I'm going to find fruits that taste like summer. But how many other food items have had their flavor profile diminished so slowly and subtly that I don't remember what they used to taste like, don't know how much I'm missing?

The most vivid example of this comes from last Thanksgiving, when we went to Maine to visit our friends Cat and Dmitri. They were keeping ducks, and fed us scrambled duck eggs. Cat warned us that the flavor was different from chicken eggs and to be ready for it. And, indeed, the flavor was very different from the bland and lifeless scrambled eggs to which I had grown accustomed. But the flavor was a lightning bolt of sense memory back to my childhood and my great aunt's house and the chickens she kept. This, this, was what scrambled eggs were supposed to taste like: deeply flavorful and eggy, not bland yellow lumps needing cheese to give them flavor.

When we got back home, I tried buying eggs from a farm house, but the lack of taste isn't so much in the place the chickens were raised as it is in the genetic manipulation that's been foisted on the available laying breeds, manipulation designed to guarantee consistent and voluminous laying without much attention to the quality of the eggs themselves. Home gardeners have suffered dismay in their tomatoes, finding themselves with a bumper crop of thick-skinned, low-flavor, red softballs instead of the tomatoes they remember. It's one of the reasons that heirloom seeds have gained so much popularity: people seeking out the flavor they remember from the past. Refusing to accept the industrial versions in their homes.

Now, no doubt there are some things that have been improved over the years, mostly in the vegetable field: spinach is sweeter, less bitter, the variety of produce is vastly improved.

But we've lost something that some people don't even know is missing - because if they did, those piles of peaches and nectarines would languish in the store until they rotted.

Last week in Heinen's Grocery a miracle happened. I staggered to a stop in front of the peaches, my knees buckling from the heavenly scent. I bought two of those lovely orbs and when I got home I just stood over the sink, juice running down my chin, groaning with pleasure.

Everyone should get that.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/780530.html?mode=reply:

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[User Picture]From: dandelion_diva
2011-08-04 03:53 pm (UTC)
Yep. I trust my nose when buying fruit and some veggies. If I can't smell the, I know they won't be delicious. I'm teaching both Sam and Charlie this too. Though, Charlie just has fun pretending to sniff stuff. It's Sam who gets the pop quizzes. *grin*
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-04 05:12 pm (UTC)
My nose is definitely the way to go.
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[User Picture]From: smartlikeatruck
2011-08-04 04:15 pm (UTC)
This is why I go to the local farmer's market in the (thankfully very long in SoCal) summer time. I buy heirloom tomatoes, lumpy and streaked in purple, black, yellow, orange, and green. I buy brown bags filled with stone fruit, bruised and delicate and perfect. I buy yellow Wax Beans that taste as like my grandmother's garden bounty as anything ever could. I also get to try out fruits and vegetables that are strange to me- chayote, dragon fruit, the amaaaaaazing sapote.
I am thankful for winter produce, certainly, but it is the summer that tastes like it is supposed to.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-04 05:58 pm (UTC)
I love visiting my mother-in-law in Vacaville because of the amazing fruits and vegetables.
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-08-04 04:56 pm (UTC)
the police officer who guards the front door of the store

really!?? my mind is blown away ...

all I smell is the industrially refrigerated air of the grocery store

and my brain that was raised on foodstamps starts counting the cost of all the waste. as a society, we waste so much, and not just food - but the food we waste is abhorrent.

my grandmother would roll over in her grave if she could see a modern kroger.

remember when the flowers at the grocery store had scents? i refuse to buy flowers that don't come from a florist. none of them have any scent to speak of! sure, they're beautiful, for the most part, but ... i don't want to drop $30 on a bunch of roses with no scent.

the first table of peaches in the store

i've bitched about peaches all summer, but there's nothing anyone can do about it. i realized somewhere in june that all the peaches in this town were labeled "fresh california". where were the georgia and south carolina peaches? then i did some looking around and realized how bad the drought in gorgia and south carolina had gotten. as well, i don't like buying california oranges - they're all hull. florida oranges are sweeter and have much thinner hulls.

i'm very picky. probably too picky, but still, damn it!!

oh gods don't get me started on grocery store tomatoes ... :(

But we've lost something that some people don't even know is missing - because if they did, those piles of peaches and nectarines would languish in the store until they rotted.

mari totally and completely and unabashedly concurs!

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-04 06:03 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure why this grocery store always have a cop at the door, but it does.

I'm thinking that I will stop at the farmer's market on the way home from court today.
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[User Picture]From: kuangning
2011-08-05 02:04 am (UTC)
In the case of Georgia's crops, politics is getting in the way as well. Their vaunted anti-immigrant bill? Well, it's working; immigrants have left the state in droves. And the result is, there's a shortage of labor to pick the crops, so they're left in the fields. Go figure.
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From: twinkelbelpeach
2011-08-04 06:27 pm (UTC)
I will always miss the tomatoes my father used to grow; I think he had a magical green thumb. But thankfully I have access to locally grown (middle GA) peaches, strawberries, and vidalia onions. I also have a friend who raises chickens, so yah-hoo for yummy eggs. I've found some really good oranges in the grocery store this year, the ones that said 'Indian River'. Other than that, I find the grocery produce pretty much tasteless.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-04 10:10 pm (UTC)
I need to get out to the farm market. This is making me hungry!
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[User Picture]From: roaming
2011-08-04 08:16 pm (UTC)
Back in the 1960's, when I was still young enough to live at home, my grandmother, who had once had 3 Italian restaurants and did the shopping for the family meals EVERY day, in order to buy only what was fresh and good each day, was already complaining that nothing had any good taste or smell anymore. I can't imagine what markets in Europe must have been like in her childhood!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-04 10:36 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's really depressing.
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[User Picture]From: fitfool
2011-08-05 01:36 am (UTC)
Such beautiful photos to go with your post :) I'm lucky enough to have the option of both big box supermarket as well as going straight to local farms to get vegetables. While the stuff in the regular grocery store isn't AS flavorful as the really good stuff, I still do LIKE the regular grocery store food too and think it still has enough flavor to be enjoyable. Except for Red Delicious apples. You're right, those are irredeemable. But even those white-capped California strawberries taste good tossed with a bit of balsamic vinegar. I do suspect my taste buds aren't as sensitive though. (I also have a weak sense of smell.) For example, I can see that the yolks are a deeper, richer hue of yellow in the free-range direct-from-the-farm eggs (compared to the free-range eggs from the grocery store) but I can't taste the difference. Both taste good to me. Oh wait...and tomatoes. That's another one that tastes very very different to me. I wait for tomatoes to show up at the farmer's markets for fresh tomatoes. Otherwise, canned tomatoes do just as well.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-05 02:51 am (UTC)
I need to farmer's market soon.
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[User Picture]From: alumiere
2011-08-05 01:39 am (UTC)
I am so happy I live in LA where more things are produced locally or nearby, and that we have multiple farmers markets within a short drive from our apartments. I may not get everything I want every time I go, but it's fresh, smells the way it should, and tastes so much better than grocery produce does.

I think we probably spend $10 more a week at the farmers market than we would for the same thing at Ralphs, but I'm much more likely to actually eat it. It frustrates me that more people don't have access to a wide variety of local non-packaged foods, and that they're much pricier in regions that aren't here. Food equity is obviously a dream, but if we want to help people eat healthy it has to be affordable, accessible and tasty.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-05 02:52 am (UTC)
I envy you.
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