Initially, I was a bit hesitant to write this piece for a two main reasons. The first one is the fact that I have never eaten American vegetables, and the second one- I definitely have a lot to say about quality of European vegetables, especially if sold in a supermarket.
But, for certain, the findings of Julia Belluz of Vox triggered my attention. She shares her experience of visiting rural Italy, where she ate the most delicious tomatoes, and then moves on to finding the reasons why Americans do not have such tasty produce.
Now, on one hand, she might be very right. When comparing supermarket American tomatoes, with these small flavorsome ones that she has tried, it must have been quite a shock. The reason is that American supermarkets apparently have regulations on size of tomatoes they sell, meaning that anything smaller than whatever it is on the shelves now, would just not make it.
To go further into tomatoes, scientists have found out that the genetic manipulation that has been done on those particular red and juicy supermarket fruits (vegetables, depending on which side of this argument you are), makes them grow. This growth, however, limits the production of sugars by the plant, and therefore the resulting tomato is pretty looking but tasteless.
Apparently it is only a myth that the soil in Europe is different, or that farming practices are different. I will not argue with science, although I have heard that it is the specificity of the water in Naples that makes the best pizza Margaritta in the world.
But, what I would argue here is that if you compare supermarket tomatoes in Europe with supermarket tomatoes in America, I bet the difference will be minimal, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables sold outside of their growing season. What is more, comparing locally grown, organic produce, with mass-produced supermarket vegetables is just like comparing apples and oranges, and I doubt this is any different in any “Westernized” country in the world.
It is logical that we cannot expect a tomato grown in winter in a greenhouse, with artificial light and chemical fertilizers to taste incredible. Yet, American and European customers expect to go to the supermarket and pick that good looking fruit or vegetable. It is simply the mentality of our society. I would personally always go for seasonal produce, and whenever possible, visit the local farm markets. In my opinion, this is the key to finding tasty and nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables, and it does not require crossing oceans.
There are many campaigns and initiatives that try to stimulate people to buy ugly or small fruits and vegetables. These are mainly to reduce food waste, but I believe they also serve a much bigger purpose. They make people realize that the look of the vegetable or fruit is not its most important property.
Image (c) Kaitlin Louie