Wednesday 26 October 2005

what next is the question?

How Middle Class Am I? (part xxvii)

I seem to have been dissatisfied with the quality of supermarket fruit & veg for as long as I have been paying for my own shopping. It is just rubbish: fruit doesn’t ripen properly, vegetables don’t last. How often do you open a pack of something to find that half of them are already off? Why do all the potatoes in Sainsbury’s have a “sell by” date within the next few days? I thought they lasted for months.

I’ve no idea what the average time-to-shelf is for fresh produce in a major supermarket, but I do know that stuff is picked before it is ripe, it is super chilled, and usually shipped halfway around the world and then wrapped up in tonnes of pointless packaging before being put on our shelves. This has added a depth of variety to my diet, and I can push my trolley around the supermarket picking up bananas from the Dominican Republic, pineapple from Costa Rica, figs and medjool dates from North Africa, along with any number of other colourful and exotic fruits from countries of the world I couldn’t locate on an atlas. This is great (although probably best not to think too long and hard about “fair trade” outside of that one shelf in the shop, eh?). What it does mean though is that the concept of “seasons” for food seems to have all but disappeared. When I was a kid, I used to love summer and going to those “pick your own” farms where you could stuff your face with fresh raspberries and strawberries. They were still something of a treat, and were only available for one season of the year. That’s still true of English strawberries, but now you can pick up strawberries from Israel (or wherever) all year round.

C’s parents live in the Loire Valley in France, where her dad makes good use of the warmer climate to grow an enormous number of vegetables. Whenever they come to visit, he often brings a few bags with him: luscious cherry tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes…. All bursting with flavour that you just don’t seem to get from supermarket bought vegetables. Last time they were up, he brought some string beans with him. They hung around in the fridge for a week or so before we got round to using them, but even then, the beans had a lot of “snap” to them…. In comparison, supermarket beans come out of the packet already limp, making you wonder how fresh they really were, and how long they had taken to get from the field to the shelf. I know I could get off my arse and go to a proper grocer, where I know the quality of food will be both better and cheaper… but who has the time? That’s the curse of the supermarket. You pay through the nose for poor quality food, but time is short and they are so damn convenient, and I can get my CDs here…. And so on.

A few weeks ago, after several months of thinking about it, we signed up to receive a weekly delivery of organic vegetables. Our “medium box” is delivered every Wednesday directly to our door, and contains 100% UK grown organic vegetables. It’s basically pot luck – you get whatever is in season – and this has forced us to try new recipes and discover new vegetables (until we started receiving this box, the only squash I had knowingly eaten was of the butternut variety. Now I have discovered the delights of the pumpkin shaped squash… delicious when roasted). This week’s box contains potatoes, squash, savoy cabbage, carrots, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, swede and chard. We will find ways of eating all of it. I have never eaten so many vegetables in my life, and I feel all the better for it. Last week I enjoyed a beetroot, radish, celery and orange juice, for heaven’s sake! I’m exuding so many vitamins that I don’t think colds can get anywhere near me. It’s not even working out any more expensive, as we are buying less from the supermarket.

Mind you… it’s not very rock n’roll to get an organic vegetable box delivered is it? I can practically feel some comfortable knitwear and a tweed jacket with leather arm patches creeping up behind me as we’re talking, ready to claim me as their own.

And with that thought, I must leave you… I have a squash to roast.

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