52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

what next is the question?

How Middle Class Am I? (part xxvii)

I seem to have been dissatisfied with the quality of supermarket fruit & veg for as long as I have been paying for my own shopping. It is just rubbish: fruit doesn’t ripen properly, vegetables don’t last. How often do you open a pack of something to find that half of them are already off? Why do all the potatoes in Sainsbury’s have a “sell by” date within the next few days? I thought they lasted for months.

I’ve no idea what the average time-to-shelf is for fresh produce in a major supermarket, but I do know that stuff is picked before it is ripe, it is super chilled, and usually shipped halfway around the world and then wrapped up in tonnes of pointless packaging before being put on our shelves. This has added a depth of variety to my diet, and I can push my trolley around the supermarket picking up bananas from the Dominican Republic, pineapple from Costa Rica, figs and medjool dates from North Africa, along with any number of other colourful and exotic fruits from countries of the world I couldn’t locate on an atlas. This is great (although probably best not to think too long and hard about “fair trade” outside of that one shelf in the shop, eh?). What it does mean though is that the concept of “seasons” for food seems to have all but disappeared. When I was a kid, I used to love summer and going to those “pick your own” farms where you could stuff your face with fresh raspberries and strawberries. They were still something of a treat, and were only available for one season of the year. That’s still true of English strawberries, but now you can pick up strawberries from Israel (or wherever) all year round.

C’s parents live in the Loire Valley in France, where her dad makes good use of the warmer climate to grow an enormous number of vegetables. Whenever they come to visit, he often brings a few bags with him: luscious cherry tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes…. All bursting with flavour that you just don’t seem to get from supermarket bought vegetables. Last time they were up, he brought some string beans with him. They hung around in the fridge for a week or so before we got round to using them, but even then, the beans had a lot of “snap” to them…. In comparison, supermarket beans come out of the packet already limp, making you wonder how fresh they really were, and how long they had taken to get from the field to the shelf. I know I could get off my arse and go to a proper grocer, where I know the quality of food will be both better and cheaper… but who has the time? That’s the curse of the supermarket. You pay through the nose for poor quality food, but time is short and they are so damn convenient, and I can get my CDs here…. And so on.

A few weeks ago, after several months of thinking about it, we signed up to receive a weekly delivery of organic vegetables. Our “medium box” is delivered every Wednesday directly to our door, and contains 100% UK grown organic vegetables. It’s basically pot luck – you get whatever is in season – and this has forced us to try new recipes and discover new vegetables (until we started receiving this box, the only squash I had knowingly eaten was of the butternut variety. Now I have discovered the delights of the pumpkin shaped squash… delicious when roasted). This week’s box contains potatoes, squash, savoy cabbage, carrots, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, swede and chard. We will find ways of eating all of it. I have never eaten so many vegetables in my life, and I feel all the better for it. Last week I enjoyed a beetroot, radish, celery and orange juice, for heaven’s sake! I’m exuding so many vitamins that I don’t think colds can get anywhere near me. It’s not even working out any more expensive, as we are buying less from the supermarket.

Mind you… it’s not very rock n’roll to get an organic vegetable box delivered is it? I can practically feel some comfortable knitwear and a tweed jacket with leather arm patches creeping up behind me as we’re talking, ready to claim me as their own.

And with that thought, I must leave you… I have a squash to roast.


  • At 8:05 pm, Blogger LB said…

    I shall revert now to my position from 1990-1993 as Produce Assistant at the UK's largest branch of it's biggest supermarket chain.

    Stories of fruit and vegetables? Where to start?

    For example, anything in a bag or wrapping had a "sell-by date" on. For example, you can buy bags of Granny Smith apples.

    Once the bag of apples goes past their sell-by date, they should be removed from the shelf and binned.

    Departments are targeted on the amount of wastage of fresh food items and so want to minimise the waste.

    So, what to do? Open the bags of apples, discreetly throw away the plastic bags and lob the bagged apples in with the same variety of loose apples on the shelf in a box with a sell by date a few days further on.

    And then when the box of loose apples reaches its sell-by date, all you then have to do is pour the remaining apples into a new box of apples with a longer sell-by date. So, you could be buying apples easily over a week out of date.

    Apply same principle to oranges. Bananas. Broccoli. Cabbage. Plums. Peaches. Carrots. Grapes. And so on, and so forth.

    I could share numerous other hideous fruit and veg tales (for example at Christmas when the orders were much larger, the stock wouldn't fit in the storage rooms and so an awful lot of the delivered produce used to live in the staff car park) but then you'd never buy produce from the supermarket ever again....

    oh, and why don't you get them to deliver the Readers Digest at the same time?

  • At 9:26 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    Those box schemes definitely work out cheaper when you factor in freshness, convenience, selection, quality etc. Therefore it shouldn't be a class issue at all.

    Then again, they'd probably baulk at delivering to a 14th floor flat on a sink estate in Tower Hamlets, so you may have a point.

    Farmers' markets are everywhere though, and are genuinely cheaper than supermarkets for food which is approximately forty billion times better quality. Go and find your local one, people.

  • At 9:48 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    there are loads of things wrong with supermarket food: overpriced, too much packaging, shipped over massive distances... almost the worst thing is the taste. Shop somewhere else for this stuff because it just tastes *so* much better. Same thing goes for stuff like cheese, bread.... all things you can pick up at a farmer's market as Fox says.

    we are such blind consumers it's ridiculous.

    healthier and more productive
    a pig
    in a cage
    on antibiotics.


  • At 10:55 pm, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    It's funny, as I started reading, I started thinking "he should really sign up for a box delivery like we have here...do they have them there." And, lo and behold, you do and you have. Ain't it grand.

    I really need to resign up for one.

  • At 11:41 pm, Blogger Lazygal said…

    You're right, it's not very "rock'n'roll" to get a box of organic veg every week. It is, however, very 60's "back-to-the-garden". If that's any consolation.

  • At 1:39 am, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    It should be noted that some very punk-rock people here in the Bay Area love their organic boxes.

  • At 8:34 am, Blogger The Num Num said…

    Very interesting idea indeeed. Icy and I got a leaflet from a similar organic delivery company. I'll see if I can sell the idea of experimentation to her.

    As for supermarkets, I don't want to go there - though I do like Waitrose, its bloomin expensive but their own brand stuff (vegetarian stuff mind) is fantastico. I highly recommend the mushroom and mascapone pizzzzza.

  • At 2:04 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Boxes are great.

    But if you've got the space nothing beats supplimenting your box - stop sniggering at the back - with home grown produce.

    Rocket and lettuces grow really well, even in pots. So do a few varieties of bush tomatoes. Courgettes are the wildest vegetables - a single plant, regularly fed and watered will produce dozens of courgettes in a season.

    Growing your own is probably even less rock'n'roll than a veg box but then pushing a shopping trolley around the veg aisle of a supermarket is hardly Woodstock...

  • At 1:17 am, Blogger Ali said…

    I'll see your leather armpatches and raise you a dirndl skirt and afghan coat.

    I have been eating actual produce from my actual bit of allotment.

    Providing the lead poisoning and the hormones in the water have no adverse effects, I can highly recommend this method.

    Hmmm - may have to give the box ploy another whirl. They did deliver to Brixton - but I fell out with them over a bag of potatoes and cancelled.

  • At 11:22 am, Blogger adem said…

    I can just see you an C living 'The Good Life' a la Tom and Barbara, watch out for the brussel sprout wine.

    Your cooking antics with the box of veg reminds me a bit of 'Ready Steady Cook' when they have to make a 3 course meal with the contents of a bag of ingrediants.

    On another note when I've got some weird foods I often pop onto the BBC site where they've a 'recipe finder'. Just input what you've got and it'll come up with various recipes.


  • At 11:26 am, Blogger Le moine perdu said…

    it's not something the middle class have monopoly on. I know a lot of pretty poor people living out in the rural parts of Lincolnshire who grow their own vegetables and fruits, and wouldn't buy them from the supermarket even if they did have the money to. I often buy stuff from their little stalls that they often have at the roadside, very cheap and all fresh and organic.

    you're right about supermarket veg though. Especially carrots! My God, but it's impossible to get a carrot that tastes carroty in a supermarket!! they have the shape, colour and texture, but none of the flavour, they just taste like solid water or something!

    I'm blessed to live in a rural county though, where home grown stuff is readily available everywhere you go.

  • At 11:29 am, Blogger Le moine perdu said…

    But also, when i was a kid we had a farm and we used to grow our own stuff. I remember the fruit we picked from our orchard used to sit for weeks in the barn before going mouldy, ditto the veg.

    If I buy a sack of spuds from a roadside stall in Lincolnshire, usually about £3 or £4, I can guaruntee that I will eat all of them, which, considering how rarely I eat potatoes, means they're lasting well over a month.

    I dunno where the shops are getting them from! Perhaps they're genetically modified to go off quicker so you have to buy more?


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