As creatures of the city, we have become accustomed to the seemingly natural supermarket. We browse down aisles of food without a second thought of where exactly all of it comes from. Most people will fill their carts with all sorts of food so long as it appears fresh and looks as it is supposed to. But what exactly is our food supposed to look like. We think of a tomato and a picture of one pops into our mind. Try it, picture a tomato in your mind. I bet you can see it, a nice, round, red vegetable. Except that’s not how most tomatoes look like, and they are not even a vegetable. That’s right, you and many others are just victims of the modern supermarket.
The typical consumer has been brainwashed over decades to have images in their mind of what a certain vegetable must look like. To someone who has never grown their own food, images of perfectly shaped vegetables is nothing out of the ordinary. Ask any organic farmer or gardener passing by, however, and they will attest to the fact that it is not ordinary to see row after row of such homogeneous vegetables. Anyone who has grown their own tomatoes can recall the many shapes that they seem to take. It is rare to find a plant with only perfectly round tomatoes. Yet, we see them in such vast quantities in every supermarket. This is because for decades, the tomato has been bred to remove its imperfections so that it appeals to the eye of the consumer. Studies have found that these specially bred tomatoes do not even taste as good as a native tomato. Yet, people don’t seem to mind. The tomatoes look nice, and that’s what matters. The quality of our food has been traded in for aesthetics. You may ask why there would be a problem with such homogeneity or with a system based around aesthetics? Food is grown in such vast quantities and supplied fresh every week to supermarket chains so it matters little whether or not everything is used. Differences to preconceived notions of how a vegetable must appear causes wastage; the grotesque potato that was a bit too lumpy for our taste, or the apple that was bruised. So, as the freaks are passed by, they end up in the garbage instead.
Most of us have stopped wondering where our food comes from. There is just too much and it is bothersome to question where everything comes from. But behind every product in the local supermarket there is a story. Tracing back a cob of corn to its source will reveal much to us… perhaps a bit too much. We would rather not hear about the giant monocultures that have taken over large swathes of land in both Canada and the USA. Fields that stretch for thousands of acres, all bearing the exact same type of crop. You may think, so what? What is the big deal if we grow a lot of corn? Monocultures result in degradation of the richness of soils as nutrients are quickly depleted and not given the time to naturally replenish. Instead, farmers use large amounts of fertilizers that then runoff into groundwater and surface water supplies which then result in the creation of dead zones.
Corn has conquered our lands and replaced such a large proportion of native crops. It is so pervasive that it has made its way into 45,000 items that are commonly found in our stores. If we are what we eat, then we are all the offspring of corn. Our meat comes from industrialized slaughter houses that seem no better than concentration camps. Millions of beasts are bred to produce the maximum amount of meat possible. They are pumped full of hormones to accelerate their growth and then injected with antibiotics to counter diseases that spread due to the poor housing conditions of the beasts. There is much more about corn and meat that needs to be discussed, but that cannot be done in this one article. Read Michael Pollans "The Omnivores Dilemma" to find out more. These facts should scare us and make people revolt against this horrific system. But most people would simply brush this off as a necessary sacrifice that is required to sustain large populations. But is this really true? North American societies are notorious around the world for food waste as well as obesity. Is it necessary to mass produce food in this manner just so the population can eat in excess?
So What Can Be Done?
It is up to educated consumers such as yourself to challenge the images implanted in our brains of what the perfect vegetable looks like. It is up to us to understand that we have a responsibility when it comes to choosing our food. We have the option of buying organic goods. As a student, I understand that it may not seem feasible to buy only organic foods. Typically, any given organic food is at a minimum twice as expensive as the conventional good. Perhaps an immediate conversion is hard, but slowly we can begin to trade in the conventional for the organic. What may begin as one organic item in your cart may slowly transform into more than half of what you purchase being organic. We have the option of sacrificing quantity for quality. We just have to ask ourselves what is truly important. We may also opt to plant a few of our own vegetables in the summers when we are able, or perhaps taking a trip down to a local organic farm to buy our vegetables. Buy free range meat, and products derived from animals that were raised in a responsible manner. Not only is it important to buy products free of pesticides and other chemicals, but many would agree that the taste is also significantly different. Try biting into a garden grown tomato and one that is bought from the supermarket and decide for yourself. Small steps translate into large movements over time. The organic industry itself may not be perfect, but it is at the very least a step forward in the right direction. With continued effort from a growing number of the population we can hope to spark change in the agricultural industry and raise awareness among the general public.
This blog is in part inspired by Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivores Dilemma”. I highly recommend readers interested by this post to consider reading Pollan’s book. The book explains the realities of the food we choose to eat and suggests what can be done instead.
Read more about why store bought tomatoes taste bad:
The Omnivores Dilemma