Americans buy food without much thought

Americans buy food without much thought

As a teen, my family had a section of land at the far back of the yard that was given over to growing vegetables every summer.

A relative with a tiller would come and work up the soil for us, and then we would plant the usual suspects — tomatoes, green peppers, onions, some lettuce, beans, maybe radishes and carrots.

On one end was a pointless crop of corn. If you’re gong to plant corn, you really need more than a small garden. We planted the corn in a couple of long rows, which made it harder for the plants to pollinate and thus bear fruit. We were not what one would call expert gardeners — or even energetic ones, truth be told.

You can plow through a lot of work successfully with a gust of enthusiasm in your sails. Dad and I always lost interest once things were planted, and we rarely got more than a single meal out of anything we put in.

Weeds swamped the whole enterprise, and if you don’t keep up with weeds, pulling them out as soon as they appear, they will take over like Napoleon sweeping across Denmark.

Carrots were stubs, radishes were puny and onions never grew to anything more than skinny scallions. Our neighbors, by contrast, had plenty of old-fashioned enthusiasm, and I watched as they pulled giant onions, potatoes and carrots out of their carefully tended plots.

The guy next door even grew celery, which is rather labor intensive as the plants need to be wrapped in newspaper to get properly pale as they mature.

It’s a similarly dismal situation in some grocery stores. No weeds, of course, but the produce seems to be sitting untouched as prices remain high. I watched over a coupe of weeks as a big display of gorgeous, fresh Brussels sprouts turned first yellow, then gray, then black before a new batch, at a still higher price, came along to replace them.

That makes this a particularly good year to get out to the many farmers markets and farm stands in the area as local produce begins to show up in full force. It’s hard to imagine better looking, fresher homegrown produce than we are seeing from local, small growers. Just about everything is in season now, and in a month we’ll add squashes and their ilk.

Freshness makes a big difference, and starting with the best quality ingredients you can find means your finished dishes will carry that freshness to the table. Nobody outside the Cracker Barrel crowd likes a wilted salad or limp green beans with no snap.

One wonders why so few open markets are found in the U.S. Big, airy markets with banks of iced fish, freshly baked breads, spices of every kind, and spectacular fruits and vegetables are the prevue of a few large cities.

They seem to be common as dandelions all over Europe and Asia, if foodie television is to be believed. French people toss on a scarf as only they can pull off and browse from stall to stall, testing, sniffing and sampling perfect-looking ingredients grown or sourced from somewhere nearby.

Americans buy food without much thought and with a heavy dose of required forgiveness. So much of what we eat is supplied by giant corporations that a quiet drive to a small farm stand is something we save for afterthought while we’re unpacking the shoddy food we accept as normal. Fresh, local produce has real, full flavor, much better than the bland stuff from factory farms.

Farm families work very hard, often while juggling other regular jobs, to bring us the best they can offer, with fewer chemicals and a much more careful harvest. While the fruit of their labor is at its peak this year, I encourage you to make them a first thought and make the special trip to get the best available. Once the snow flies, it’ll be back to pricey, black Brussels sprouts.

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