Lacklustre American Produce Matters

Hi there Labbers! While some of you network regulars may recognise me from School of Doubt, I’m very pleased to say that from now on I’ll be contributing to MAL as well.

I thought for my first post I’d talk about something that is (literally) very close to my heart: food. More specifically, I thought I’d relate some experiences when it comes to the massive differences in quality between European and American produce, and why I think it’s important that we start demanding more of our food supply.

Today’s post had its genesis this morning when network friend Massimo Pigliucci tweeted this Vox article from February, which goes into some of the reasons why (on average) fruit and vegetables in European grocery stores just plain taste better than their North American counterparts. The article resonated strongly with my experience as someone who once lived in and frequently visits Italy: basically my eating habits change drastically as soon as I cross the Atlantic. I greedily eat things in Italy that I have learned never to buy in North America because there is simply no point, even when they are ostensibly in season: fresh tomatoes, stone fruit, melons.

(Ok, caveat: in Ontario and Quebec we do get some amazing local peaches and strawberries, but only for a few weeks and usually not in grocery stores).

It’s all well and good to encourage healthy eating, but part of that equation has to be working toward ensuring that healthy foods are actually desirable to eat compared to alternatives. I thought I didn’t like raw tomatoes until my LATE TEENS simply because my experiences with gross tasteless ones were so misleading! Thankfully I did eventually try the ones from my grandfather’s garden, which did the trick.

Things really got interesting, though, when I shared this sentiment on Facebook. Friends and colleagues came out of the woodwork to defend their own idiosyncratic practices rather than take the point that American supermarkets and the industrial supply chain need to do better. One friend touted her membership in a local organic produce co-op and regular apple- and berry-picking excursions during the spring and fall!

And hey, if you have the time, money, and inclination it is certainly possible to find great produce on this side of the ocean. But the reality is that these are luxuries most people can’t afford. Apple- and berry-picking in particular seem to me to be almost laughably elitist scams: people pay way over market price for produce for the ‘privilege’ of blowing a whole day doing free agricultural labour. This seems ill-suited to the (majority of) people barely scraping by working tons of hours for low wages.

And this is all not even addressing the problem of food deserts! Or grocery stores I have been to in impoverished neighbourhoods where the produce was not only undesirable but frequently literally inedible due to spoilage.

Higher standards aren’t impossible, as the Vox article shows. We just have to demand them.


Well that got a little heated, so let’s end on a brighter note: here’s a fun series of three articles that take a sciency approach to that age-old question: should you refrigerate tomatoes or not?

Thanks everyone and I look forward to seeing more of you in the future!

Featured image: Flickr user Kim Anh

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Dan has a PhD in historical musicology and has taught music history and theory at a major Canadian university. He mainly studies music from the Italian Renaissance when he's not busy performing stand-up comedy or playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. He occasionally tweets as @incontrariomotu and blogs about geeky stuff at The Otaku Skeptic. He is also the glorious editor-in-chief of School of Doubt.

1 Comment

  1. April 18, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I suspect a lot of the people who this would really matter for(i.e. us impoverished, chronically underemployed people who can’t go to a fancy organic place) don’t even know the difference because, you know, we also have never been able to travel, so we have no idea what food tastes like in other places. At least, I have no idea why you’re calling our tomatoes tasteless, I adore them.


    That said, our produce companies need to do WAY better, starting with maybe refrigerating food while it’s in transport so it doesn’t go bad the day after hitting the shelves.

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