“Those carrots you bought were rubbish," they said. "We'd better not go shopping there again”
Actually, "those carrots" weren't rubbish at all, but the reaction of my family told me a lot about how we view shopping for vegetables. I'd bought the carrots from a well-known local shop, along with mushrooms, apples, sausages, onions and some cheese.
I'd taken the girls there on the way back from ballet one Saturday a few weeks ago. As I’m at work all day during the week, I don’t often get to do the family shopping, so it was a bit of an outing, and I was curious to try a different shopping experience. Most of the fresh food on sale seemed genuinely local, mostly from Norfolk, and what wasn’t seemed to be mainly from East Anglia. The prices were reasonable and so was the choice. I was pretty impressed.
And what happened next was this. We ate the sausages for lunch, made apple crumble with the apples, cooked the mushrooms that evening with some garlic... and put the carrots in the fridge and forgot all about them. When we found them again a few days later, they’d gone a bit brown and mushy. No-one was prepared to eat them so, I'm ashamed to say, we fed them to the slugs.
We’re so used to supermarket shopping now that we tend to see our vegetables only in terms of shiny scrubbed items in clean plastic bags, graded for a uniform size and shape, and packed in a “protective atmosphere” with a best before date that means we know we can eat them when we want and not have to worry too much about them going off. And they are absolutely, 100% always available to us, regardless of the time of day, day of the week or season of the year. We’ve been educated to believe that this is what veg is like.
But if we want to support a move to more local produce, sold in local shops, we're going to have to do more than just change our shopping habits, we're also going to have to change our mindsets. If you grow your own veg, you know that each carrot you pull up isn't going to look exactly the same as its neighbour. Why should we expect the veg we buy to be any different? And it may mean that we have to buy things nearer to the time that we know we're goint to use them, because maybe without all that scrubbing and protective-atmosphere going on, they just ain't going to last as long.
But I really believe it's worth it, so I'm not going to give up on the local shops, even if I have to be a bit sneaky about it for a while until I can prove the case. Because I'm convinced that if we'd cooked and eaten those infamous carrots sooner, they'd have been delicious.
How can I be so sure?
Because everything else we'd bought that day had tasted absolutely amazing. And the verdict on that had been unanimous!