How can you tell an item of food is fresh?
I was in the grocery store and I noticed that I’m usually the only one smelling my produce, or tapping at a melon or carefully inspecting the meat. As I go through the fresh food isles, I am constantly scrutinizing the products. I realized that not many people are doing this. Instead, they are mindlessly grabbing whatever is on their list or whatever they fancy at the time and blindly put it in their basket. I just want to gasp at the sight of it. And never mind the frozen stuff. I only go there out of desperation. My freezer is usually where things go to dies a lonely, frozen death.
But why aren’t people taking more care in what they are purchasing and ultimate consuming into their bodies?
I have come to realize that less and less people know the answer to these questions. In our current, consumerist society we tend to heavily rely on the expiration dates marked on the outside packaging of the product we are purchasing. Packaging that is designed to appeal to the consumer and inadvertently disconnects us from the product itself. Most of us don’t question where it came from or at what point in it’s ripeness it was picked, or how the animal was slaughtered or how the grain was milled. We just see the end result. We see that it checks an item off our grocery list and we carry on to the next isle.
Living in North America is difficult for me mostly because of its cultural connection with food or lack there of. In Europe, one is constantly going to the grocer or the butcher or the bakery or the various markets to purchase fresh food almost on a daily basis. In North America, a farmer’s market is an attraction or a place to go for a special occasion or a treat. It’s not common place. Not since the renaissance of the supermarkets and hypermarkets.
I remember helping my grandparents grow and pick their own produce. They would teach me what the produce should look like when it is ripe and ready to pick. My grandmother would take me to the fish market and teach me how to test to see if the shrimp is fresh by holding it by its ‘beard’ as she would call it or the antenna. She would say “if the beard holds, they are good, if it brakes, they are not fresh. Send them back.” This basic concept holds true for most things. If it’s falling apart, it’s not fresh. Between my grandparents and my parents, I learned to use my sense of smell to determine if things went bad. In a time when we made most of our own food, even yogurt, we did not have expiration labels, so that we needed to learn when it went bad. Most of the time it’s quite obvious but it also taught me how to tell if something I am purchasing is still good.
I take great pleasure in shopping for food. Especially in places where all the fresh food is displayed and I can skip the frozen food and packaged food sections. I enjoy smelling the produce. In Italy it is customary to sample the fruit you are buying to make sure it tastes good. It is a matter of pride for the vendor to offer you nothing but the best. I take great pleasure in feeling whether an avocado is the right firmness, or hearing if the watermelon is ready and I enjoy picking out the different shapes and sizes.
These are the simple pleasures to live for. The smell of the fresh olive oil or of a fresh peach. The sight of fish and sea food caught earlier that morning. The wafts of fresh bread baking as you walk by a bakery. I have literally followed the smell of freshly baked bread until I found the bakery it was coming from. Like a hound trying to find its prize during a hunt. Lets not forget the beautiful array of colours that are on display. Colours that can’t help but bring a smile to one’s face.