Saturday, September 10, 2011

It tastes as good as it is for you

One memory I have as a kid is sitting on my aunt's porch in country Idaho shelling peas. My sister and I were given the task with my cousin. I don't remember how we felt when we were first given the task, but after awhile, it became apparent that this was a good thing to be doing, and it was because these peas tasted amazing. Fresh out of the garden, sweet, and glorious.

As I've looked more into food, I've begun to realize that there is a very real reason for that. The first is that when food is grown in your own backyard (literally in that case, but also figuratively in the case of it being grown close by) it can be picked at the height of freshness, instead of being picked to last the longest before going to market. With the long distance that produce generally travels, and the bumps and bruising that happens along the way, they have actually begun to breed varieties that are picked for their appearance after this journey. They are effectively breeding less tasty varieties, and these varieties pack less nutrients too. It's all for the sake of portability, so the produce grown in California or Florida or Idaho or wherever for the crop can be shipped the average 1500 miles that food travels. The varieties that have been grown for generations that have been chosen just for the fact that they taste delicious, they are being lost. There are places that are saving the wider varieties, such as Seed Savers, which I've bought from. Those seeds were the thing I was most worried about coming through customs into Australia actually, because they have you go through a special line if you have anything like that, and I was worried I'd get my seeds taken away.

You also get varieties that look really really cool, stripey kinds, and purple carrots, blue potatoes. I began to realize that I had this limited concept of fruits and vegetables based on what I had seen at the supermarket, and that there was a whole other world out there, where food is bred to taste delicious, while still retaining a nutrient balance. Like, it makes evolutionary sense! Food that is good for us tastes good! (Now you're thinking about that bag of potato chips that tastes mighty wonderful but will pack on the pounds if you give in to your desire to eat potato chips all day long - well, the issue with that is that in the wild, finding a fat source like that, it would normally be few and far between, and so you would want to gorge on it to improve your fat stores, because it was unpredictable when the next opportunity might come. Instead our opportunity is for every meal of every day, so that has to be tempered by our mind. Not so with produce though.) Foods that have the nutrients we need will be desirable to us, and those that have less are less desirable. If you taste a tomato that's been shipped 1500 miles and an heirloom tomato freshly picked, there is a cosmic difference. There was a lady who tried a Pizzeria 712 caprese salad who had never liked tomatoes before, and when she tried what I'd deem the real thing, she cried.

When I think back to that day, shelling those peas, though, eating them to my heart's content, I was young then. There's that pervasive image in our culture - the mom telling their kids to eat their vegetables. What the kids realize that the mom doesn't is that the vegetables should be telling them themselves to be eaten. No one had to tell me to keep eating those peas that day. I wanted them because they tasted wonderful. I wasn't thinking about the nutrients, because thousands of years of biological evolution and taste-dominated crop selection had already done the work for me. All I had to think about was whether it tasted good. Because with produce, it tastes as good as it is for you.

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