Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Rant - you mean, that comes out of the ground?

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker the other day. I was headed to the farmer's market and asked if she wanted to come. Somehow the subject of cherries came up, and she said she wanted to get the dark red kind. This made me pause. I'm thinking in my head, "are there other colors of cherries?" (I just did a wikipedia search, and there are red, dark red, light red, and some yellowish ones).

But I didn't get the feeling she was talking about some strange variety of cherry. So I said I thought that cherries were generally dark red. And then she said something that blew my mind - "I want the dark red cherries, not the ones they put in martinis."

And there you have it - I completely understand this, because our society has become so divorced from the concept of growing food that sometimes we just don't know where it comes from. I suppose it isn't unrealistic to expect that a maraschino cherry is just a different variety of cherry, plucked off the tree and bottled (or, if you've never even seen it bottled and only seen it in martinis). And if you grow up in a city and never deal with the growing of food, well then all your information comes with whatever you're exposed to in tv, movies, and books (well, ok, then there's parents and friends too).

I read Small Wonder (Barbara Kingsolver) a while back and she made this very point. She and her family had a garden in Arizona, and when her kids' friends would come over, they'd go out and pick some veggies for dinner. And the friends would refuse to eat veggies that came out of the ground, because they had dirt on them, and they didn't believe that that's really where veggies came from (veggies come from the grocery store, don't they?).

I was guilty of this myself - my boss brought in a box of home-grown cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil for all of us in the office share (yummm!), and I went to grab a cucumber, saw dirt on it, and almost put it back. Then I pinched myself and took it anyway. Because while I wouldn't take a veggie with dirt on it in the big box grocery store, I knew he'd picked it that very morning, so it was perfectly reasonable for there to be dirt on it.

But is this a good thing, that we've come "so far" technologically and culturally and can get any fruit and veggie on earth, but we have no idea where they come from? I read Fast Food Nation earlier this year and it's true, I really didn't have a great idea where the meat I eat comes from. And I don't want to see any remnant of the animal in the food I'm eating (I can deal with fish heads and lobsters, but the idea of killing a chicken just kinda wigs me out). But I really didn't have a great idea of just exactly what the animal goes through between pasture (or pen, as the case may be) and my plate. I would've thought that the process would've improved since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, but apparently it hasn't necessarily (there are always the abattoirs that buck the trend mentioned in Fast Food Nation, but there are so many that don't).

Have you had any interactions of this, people (or you) just had no idea where the food comes from, or that a particular food was prepared and they thought it was natural? (for the record, a maraschino cherry has been macerated in flavored sugar syrup, then dyed, and is usually flavored with almond. Green maraschinos are mint flavored).


Leah J. Utas said...

I grew up on a farm. We had livestock and a huge garden. I knew precisely where my food came from. I do understand,though, after you've been away a few years (or decades) perceptions change. When I check eggs at the store I often put a carton back because of a smudge on a shell.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I remember being really impressed once, when I was teaching French at a Montessori in St Louis, that they had a garden that the students were keeping. They used it to learn about plants and seasons and all that. Growing up in a big city, none of the schools I went to ever had anything like that, and my mother didn't start growing veggies on her roofdeck until after I was grown up and out of the house.

JavaChick said...

I grew up in the country and my parents always had a vegetable garden. We even had chickens. Even then, was not impressed with the idea of eating those chickens. Somehow, when the come from the grocery store it's less personal.

My husband grew up in a small town, which was near enough to country to know that vegetables grow in the ground. Still, the first time I grew lettuce in containers on our deck, he was quite impressed. I think he was under the impression that it must be much more complicated than putting some seeds in a container of soil and watering it.

Charlotte said...

So funny you should bring this up! At a girl's night out last weekend, there was a huge gorgeous fruit tray. And when i put some cherries on my plate the girl next to me said "what are those?" And i thought she was kidding. But nope! She'd really never seen a cherry before and was also shocked it wasn't "maraschino" I also had to explain nectarines to her. Weird.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Javachick, I'm very impressed you're growing lettuce too! I admit I don't have much of a green thumb, but I have made bread and I've made cheese, so I don't buy everything I eat at the store (well, except the flour...)

Charlotte, wow, that's priceless! She didn't even know what a real cherry was? Or a nectarine? Wow. That's amazing.

MizFit said...


I think I/we lose sight of this because of the people with whom Ive surrounded myself.
In my 'circle' I know that I am the least clean eater/organic eater/whatever you wanna call it.


and yet I can.

M., who is off to the farmers market this morning to get some dirrty veggies.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Too funny! I've often wondered if the tasty yellow cherries have as many antioxidants as the red ones, so that's the sort of cherry color question I was anticipating--the maraschino thing cracked me up!

While I'm pretty in touch with where fruit and veggies come from, I'm pretty much in denial about meat. Otherwise I'd be a vegetarian.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Every once in a while a veggie will trip me up - like avocados. For some reason, it doesn't seem logical to me that avocados grow on trees. I have no idea why it doesn't seem logical to me, but there you have it.

Crabby, I've never tried yellow cherries, but it sounds intriguing. I wonder whether anyone's done any studies on red vs. yellow cherries? I did a brief google search but didn't look past the first page of results (didn't see anything).

Miz, I guess I'd be in the mid-range of organic/local foods. My mother is really gung-ho in that she buys local organic veggies almost exclusively. I know people who are perplexed they can't get blueberries in December. Me? I'm not a stickler on organic, though it's nice to have, and I try to get as local as possible, but sometimes that means CA.

WeightingGame said...

i'm all for eating veggies straight from the earth. I have a bach degree in Nutritional Sciences. And yet...I had no idea maraschino cherries were the same kind of cherries I get at the grocery store in the produce department. Guilty!

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Well, honestly, I don't know if they're exactly the same kind of cherries...they might be a slightly different variety. It was more the fact that she thought that the maraschino cherries grew on the tree like that...