Hope for Food Despair

I grew up in an Italian family that loved food. Shopping for high-quality, fresh ingredients was always a top priority. My mother and grandmother were excellent cooks. Most of our meals were a celebration of tasty, home-made foods. An important part of our daily lives revolved around meal preparation and eating delicious, home-cooked meals.

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved fruit. Eating ripe, sweet, juicy fruit makes me happy. Even looking at it brings me pleasure, which explains why I loved going to the grocery store and fruit markets.

But things have changed.

I stopped buying fresh strawberries more than 20 years ago because the quality was so disappointing. Here in Florida, commercial strawberries have been bred for disease-resistance, productivity, and ability to ship and store well. To aid in storage and shipping, packing houses started having strawberries irradiated. The end result of selective breeding and irradiation has been a highly profitable product that looks like a strawberry but tastes like tart cardboard.

The last time I bought some Florida strawberries a few years ago, we ate the ripest ones and then left the less ripe ones on the kitchen counter for a few days to ripen. I was surprised that they remained in suspended animation for more than a week. Home-grown strawberries start spoiling within a day or two of picking. These neither ripened nor spoiled—they just shrank slowly from dehydration. And like just like the “ripe” ones, they had no sweetness and no fragrance. Beyond appearance, there was no resemblance to a real strawberry.

In recent years, I have had similar experiences with melons, pears, apples, and other fruits. They look great, but never ripen. And it’s not just the grocery stores because I have tried independent veggie markets, high-priced healthy foods stores, “farmers markets” and road-side stands, and I usually don’t find fruit that will ripen.

I return lots of fruit to the grocery store to get my money back. But there is no satisfaction in that. I don’t want my money back—what I really want is sweet, juicy fruit that is worth eating. I want food that makes me happy and healthy.

I dread going to grocery stores now. Every trip to buy food is disappointing and depressing. For a few years, I thought it was just me. I am just being negative and overly critical. I am just depressed.

But that’s not true! The truth is that it is nearly impossible to buy decent quality fruit anywhere in Tampa. The truth is that we have allowed business interests to ignore basic human interests, like the right to have nutritious, tasty, real foods.

The changes have happened so slowly and pervasively that many people have not noticed. There is nothing to compare to—the quality is universally mediocre. Sadly, many younger Americans have never tasted real food.

Yes, I am feeling despair about our food. But I take hope in small farmers, home gardeners, and the Permaculture movement. A revolution is beginning! People are taking action to grow and distribute real foods. They need our support and participation!

I do have something to compare to—I do have memorie_DSC0084s of beautiful, real food. Foods that my mother and grandmother prepared. Fruits that I found growing wild.

I celebrate these wild raspberries that I picked on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina a few years ago.

They were so fragrant and sweet!



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