At the supermarket last night I went to the produce section to get some apples. I was standing next to the tower of apples, I had torn off one of those plastic produce bags from the roll, and I was about to pick out which apples I wanted to put in my bag, like any good woman around the world shopping for fresh produce.
But, as my hand reached toward the stack of apples, and I looked more closely at the gleaming row of fruit, I suddenly realized that I did not need to pick out the apples; indeed, I could not pick out the apples – because all of the apples were exactly the same. It didn’t matter which ones I selected from the pyramid of perfect produce; all of them were shiny, round, and free of any dent, bruise, or blemish. There was simply no need to pick them up, hold them, feel them, smell them, check them, or select your favorites.
But in many other places in the world, that is exactly what you do when you shop for fruits and vegetables! In France, you can’t shop at the local market for fresh fruit and veg without making a big scene out of examining and selecting the right ones. It is a whole activity unto itself that usually involves lengthy banter with the grocer about what is in season, what is best, and what discount he will give you on that punnet of overripe raspberries which you plan to make into a tart.
In many African markets, the produce for sale is also grown locally, but usually without fertilizers or pesticides, so no two avocados or carrots look alike; indeed, they are likely to vary vastly in shape, size, color, and ripeness. You might see a gnarly carrot with two or three points; a cucumber twisted into a U-shape; or a lumpy contortionist potato.
It is absolutely necessary to examine each and every fruit or vegetable you plan to buy to determine which one is the least bruised, wilted, or deformed. And, while conducting this careful cross-examination, the good African market shopper maintains an air of total disinterest in the produce – indeed probably actively insults the quality of the goods – as a negotiating strategy for when it comes time to talk price with the market woman who is hawking the goods.
Well, not so in the United States of AMERICA. I suppose a combination of genetic modification, highly commodified farming practices, stringent selection standards by large supermarket chains, and consumer demands for perfection mean that fruit and vegetables have lost their individuality (and probably also their flavor).
The end result? I just shoved the first four apples in reach into my bag.