I live in Ontario, Canada. A pretty damn good place to live. The best? Probably not, and how the hell would I know anyways, but it suits me just fine.
Ontario is one of the larger provinces in Canada, and due to this, there are many different types of climates contained within. The Niagara escarpment creates perfect conditions for the grapes that make world renowned wines. There are orchards, wild blueberries, apiaries. There’s not many non-tropical foods that you cannot grow in Ontario. This is why the song goes “Good things gro-o-ow, in On-tario!”
We’re proudly Canadian, and farmers are proud of their produce. If money and time were no object, most of us would likely enjoy receiving our food from a good wholesome family who lovingly raised our apples and our peaches.
Businesses know this. That’s why when you see a bottle of some highly processed, shelf stable, vitamin C enhanced “APP-L DRINK” it will still have a nice orchard scene, and maybe a red barn on the label. Nevermind that the container the juice is held in is likely more natural or nutritious, they conjure the vision and notion of a quaint little farm.
Restaurants are more and more extolling the virtues of the concept of “farm to table”, and locally grown, organic vegetables. If a tomato was picked green, shoved in a refrigerated truck, shipped across the continent, held in a warehouse, and then delivered to a grocery store, of COURSE it won’t taste as good as one that was picked in a garden just down the street. It more than likely isn’t as healthy for you either. We are likely to accept paying a higher price for these vegetables, and therefore meals made from them.
Grocery stores capitalize on this too. They have the Foodland Ontario signs posted all throughout the produce section. This is likely something you see in your area, regardless of where you live. The local produce is touted as better, and I feel it likely is, and you would probably pay more for it if you had a choice.
This is why I was so surprised when my wife and I walked through the produce aisle at one of our local grocery stores. This wasn’t a small potatoes little shop either, it was a chain store, one of the biggest in the country.
The Foodland Ontario signs and logos where EVERYWHERE. There were little brochures showing different Ontario-grown vegetables, and recipes containing them. There was a neat little poster on the apple section showing all the varieties of apples grown in Ontario, and the differences between them such as sweetness and acidity, texture, whether they are good for baking etc.
The surprising thing about the apples? There were about 8 different varieties on the tables to choose from, but they weren’t all Ontario apples. Wanna know how many were? Wanna know how many were grown in Canada? ZERO! They were all from other countries, with Chile and USA being the most common, and New Zealand being the most surprising. There is a MASSIVE apple farm just outside my town, and not a single one of their apples was for sale in this grocery store. Instead, these apples were trucked in or shipped in from other countries, to sit on a shelf that was covered in the nostalgic ideals of local farming.
Apples weren’t the only culprits. Half the tomatoes were from Mexico. The pears were from the US. The grapes were from the US. The berries, though finally Canadian, were from BC. What the hell is going on? There were some Ontario peppers, and watermelon, and cucumbers, but mostly everything was imported from outside Canada.
First, I will give a slight pass due to the fact that it was after 8 pm on Sunday night. Perhaps the local vegetables were all sold out first, and these foreign invaders were left shunned on the produce tables. I highly, highly doubt it, but I don’t know when their orders come in. It does make me pause and consider two thoughts it brings to mind, however.
One, where do all the fruits and vegetables produced nearby go? Restaurants? Maybe. The local farmers market? Maybe, but you’d be surprised as to how many fruits and vegetables come from South America or the United States- at a “local Farmer’s Market”!! What’s the point?
I’m not being unreasonable in my expectations either. Even with the advent of greenhouses and factory farming. I’m not expecting to get mangoes, pineapples and coconuts grown just down the street from me. But peaches? My favourite summer fruit, that I am a total snob about at this time of year too, should not be being trucked in from the states. You can grow them here. I had a fully fruiting peach tree as a kid growing up. A fresh, soft juicy peach beats the shit out of the hard, mealy white pucks of sadness you can buy in the grocery store.
And again, I’m not being unreasonable, I don’t expect those peaches in that condition in the middle of February, but I DO in the middle of the peak growing season.
The other thought I had was, why import these fruits when they are growing nearby? Some grocery orders have to be placed months in advance, so maybe some stores hedge their bets in the event of a drought or shortage. You don’t want to be the only place in town without cucumbers during pickling season if the local crop fails. Perhaps it is cheaper, but I can’t see how a plum from Chile costs less per piece given the distance travelled, the borders crossed, the international tariffs, the taxes, than a plum grown within 2 hours drive of the store. I don’t know how that could be true, it might be, but it sounds goofy.
I know we are a global society, and supermarkets provide us with foods and flavours that our grandparents would have had to cross an ocean to experience. I don’t want to be greedy or unappreciative. But to cart out a bunch of substandard, imported fruits in place of ones grown locally, but still try to capitalize on the notion of a small scale, local farmer is silly, irresponsible and for me, unforgiveable. I will seriously reconsider buying any of my produce from there ever again. Normally I buy it from local farmers, direct from the farm, this was a spur of the moment trip, but it reminded my why my wife and I started doing so in the first place.
We live in a capitalist society, and we vote with our dollars. Products that sell get larger facings in the stores, and are ordered more. Those that sell less disappear.
If none of this matters to you, then buy whatever you want, your money, your choice, but if you think similarly to myself, search for a local farmer and buy your produce directly from them. It’s likely fresher, possibly cheaper, and you may build a friendship with a farmer thats far more rewarding than any loyalty rewards points at a supermarket.
The best of all is to grow your own. I will have more articles coming on this very premise, so if you are interested in gardening or healthy eating, keep an eye out for those.