Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, July 09, 2007

Perverse Habits, Reverse Expectations

Haven't we come a long way, from an economy and a society that valued its primary producers for the hard work of the plow resulting in produce to support urban society whose work was that of the brow. We celebrated the fecund production of farms that supplied us with grains, vegetables, fruits, chickens, eggs, milk and beef. We needed the farmers that surrounded our urban settlements, their work was fundamental to our existence, our well being.

Ah, trade, commerce and the ongoing opportunities presented with the establishment of highways and refrigerated rolling stock. We no longer look forward to seasonal produce. The world has become for all intents and purposes, as far as commercial trucking in produce is concerned, a much smaller place. Coveted and seasonal produce that consumers looked forward to as timely seasonal treats have become available year-around.

And at such a reasonable price. Quite remarkable. Greenhouses are able to make available local produce throughout the year but in limited quantities. But foodstuffs grown in geographic areas where harsh winters don't limit potential, are now trucked in daily from afar. Of course, this means that produce will be plucked from the vine well before full maturity, impacting on quality and taste.

And new scientifically-enhanced products able to sustain long journeys through changes to their structure making them less likely to bruise, to become over-ripe in transit, have altered the basic produce we once knew. Misshapen apples and pears and tomatoes are no longer acceptable for the fastidious diner, and apples and raspberries hosting tiny worms are definitely not sought after.

Pesticide use has grown exponentially, even more so as the geographic transfer of insect pests and viruses have grown, making it ever more necessary to use a growing number of chemicals on the food we eat. On the other hand, food grown close to hand can be picked on the cusp of ripeness, and can be grown in traditional ways, organically, their transfer from farm field to grocer less time-consuming.

But, alas, a costlier process, because small specialized farms cannot compete in price with large farming conglomerates, even taking into account increased costs for transportation, even considering the offset effect of harm done to the environment. Supermarkets no longer make an effort to stock produce grown in season by area farmers; too much bother when they can purchase large quantities, more economically.

Living in Ottawa, we can no longer find area-grown berries, although if we travel to a nearby U.S. State like New Hampshire, there are Ontario-grown strawberries for sale in supermarkets alongside California-grown strawberries; one tasting as fruit should, the other a reasonable facsimile. And while California-grown strawberries are cheaper to purchase in Ontario than are fresh farm-grown strawberries, in New Hampshire it's just the reverse.

Confusing? You bet.

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