Food, Wine

Thoughts on biodiversity, organic and local produce

When I was young, our Christmas stockings would inevitably be weighed down by a handful of oranges and, too heavy for our faux-mantle, laid carefully beneath the tree. Though nearly irrelevant in the contemporary First World, this tradition heralds from a time and place when oranges were both rare and expensive.

Somehow, beyond my comprehension of shipping logistics, this is no longer the case. Oranges can be found in grocery stores around the world alongside even rarer, more tropical fruit for prices even a pauper could finagle nearly year-round.

So let me just climb up on my soapbox and ask: Is this a convenience of modern society or a needless frivolity that takes for granted the future of our planet? It seems impossible (in my primitive logistic mind) that these prices account for the carbon footprint left behind, nevermind the questionable ethics involved at every stage of production. I’m not a zealot, but perhaps we should just pause and think for a nanosecond as we stumble through our luxurious, ignorant lives. (Too harsh? Chalk it up to shock value…)

Anyway, as I’m living in one of the world’s most diverse biospheres (Sicily), I thought I might share some realities from my current perspective. Experiencing these truths makes me feel rich and lucky. And it makes me promise myself I will strive to live differently upon my departure.

1. There are no “heirloom” tomatoes and peppers. There are only tomatoes and peppers.

From the local market.
From the local market.

2. When you ask the grocer where a given fruit or vegetable comes from, they point.

3. If you ask for cauliflower in any month except October (or cherries in any month except June etc.), the grocer looks at you like you asked for moon rocks.

4. You have to wash your vegetables before you eat them. To get the soil off; not the pesticides.

5. You need to use less than one-quarter of the herbs or garlic when they’re fresh and not mass-produced, genetically modified, clone-selected, greenhouse-grown, shipped-worldwide Frankenstein plants. Yes, even the dried stuff.

6. Things go bad. They shrivel and rot. I know that seems like a negative, but that’s what food is supposed to do. I personally find it alarming when a tomato I bought three weeks ago has retained perfect structural integrity.

7. Leafy greens actually have flavour. As it turns out, they’re not all just different shapes of “lettuce”. For example, arugula (i.e. rocket/rucola) is distinctly peppery. I mean seriously spicy and sharp. Just like that chef once told you, but you never understood what they meant (maybe that was just me).

8. Lastly, oranges (between different varieties, seasonal nearly all year) can easily be found for less than €1/kg (about $0.62USD/lb). That’s about 8¢ each for Valencia. Do you know why? BECAUSE THEY GROW HERE.

What I’m saying is this: Wouldn’t the world be a different, and strangely beautiful place if we only ate bananas when we’re in Costa Rica? Man, I love bananas. I guess I’ll put them on my list of things to quit. Alternatively, I could live there but I’m not sure there’s much of a “wine scene”.

So get up and go to the farmer’s market and eat (or drink) something your neighbor grew (and vinified). It’s not code, people! Drink local wine too! And you can wait until Festivus and all give each other bananas. They’re shaped like a stocking anyway. If that becomes a tradition, I’m taking credit. [end rant]

1 thought on “Thoughts on biodiversity, organic and local produce”

  1. Purtoppo, the modern food consumer has grown up in a time when going to the super market is de rigeur because it makes life ‘easier’ and ‘cheaper’. As markets have tapped into the hyper-localized effect on the flavor and quality of food, they have also tapped into the regions where some very unique foods are made, then promoted it, then mass promoted it until, well, the carbon imprint extends beyond the benefit of enjoying those foods. We too have learned to love to shop locally, in Sicily and California, and buy what’s in season. It makes eating exciting and temporal because once the gelsi are gone, they’re gone, and you remember just how wonderful they were until next year when they come back again. It’s like Christmas, as you say. Also, buying local is better for the local economy – even if no one claims the income or pays the taxes on something grown by sunlight and rainwater in their back yard. Basically, I’m on your side. The purtroppo part really is that it takes some re-learning, re-education, and time to see the positive impact in diet, health, economies, etc. In places with four seasons and massive swings in temperature (ie, US Midwest) and populations that scale, it is difficult to get winter fruits from a local garden, so they are forced to buy at the markets that can import for ¢ on the $. Alas, as a species some of us are coming around, one way or another, to understanding that knowing what you eat and when it’s actually in season not only makes it taste better, it is better, for a lot of reasons … that goes for wine too, usually.

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