taste your food

'tomato' by erin dunigan

The first time I noticed it, it happened to be in the form of a tomato. It was fresh from the garden, homegrown, just off the vine and I was slicing it up to eat for dinner.

“This is so good!” I couldn’t help exclaiming as I took my first bite. It was, in no uncertain terms, delicious.

“Wow, what a difference it makes to eat your tomato fresh from the vine, vs. fresh from the produce aisle at the supermarket,” I thought to myself. Even the ‘vine ripened’ tomatoes in the market didn’t even come close to the flavor of the home grown version. So, for the past five years since, I’ve made sure each spring to plant tomatoes. “They should have a different name for the ones that they sell in the supermarket,” I remember thinking. Because the tasteless bland bit of mush is really nothing like the real thing. I seemed to be turning into something of a tomato snob. Not just a snob, but a real tomato evangelist as well. “Here, try one of these, you’ll love it,” I offered to friends and neighbors, when the plants’ yields were more than I could keep up with. “It is so much better than the store bought variety–try it!” I’d push. Not quite a megaphone and placards preaching impending doom on the street corner, but close.

This behavior continued over the past five years, fairly consistent. In the intervening time I read books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy and  Michael Polan’s In Defense of Food. I started paying attention to where my food came from–meaning, how far away (do I really need out of season berries from Argentina?) as well as how it was grown (do I really want to eat beef from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) with all of the potential for disease, not to mention the ecological ramifications such mass produced farming efforts leave in their wake.

But then one day a few weeks ago something else happened.

Spending more of my time in Baja California, I’ve been trying to get as much of what I need locally, rather than picking it up when I happen to be in the US. Amazingly, even though it is a small town, a new ‘produce market’ opened up locally, with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, most of them locally grown. On this particular day, along with my other items, I picked up a cucumber and a few carrots. That night as I was peeling the cucumber and slicing it to put in a salad, I sampled a bit.

“This has so much flavor!” I couldn’t help but exclaim. I was amazed. I didn’t realize that cucumbers could be so flavorful–so much that I could even smell the cucumber as I was slicing it.

That was when I realized–maybe the same thing that is true for the tomato, is true for the cucumber as well?! Is it possible that cucumbers, real ones, grown locally and picked when they are actually ripe and ready to be eaten, is it possible that they are actually much more flavorful than their store bought counterparts, just like tomatoes? It seemed so obvious, now that I saw it, but still somehow I was stunned.

The next day it happened again. I was hungry and wanted a snack. I spotted the carrot and decided I’d peel it and have a healthier snack than the chips and salsa I was eying. So, you guessed it. I peeled and sliced the carrot and as I bit into it, again was taken aback. “You mean carrots are flavorful too?!”

So, it made me wonder. How much else of what we have been accustomed to eating and drinking is actually a shadow of the real thing? And perhaps more importantly, why in the world have we allowed this to be so?

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