Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Water water not everywhere

News item --

Farmers in (California’s) drought-stricken agricultural basin will finally get a meager supply of federal water to help irrigate crops this summer. Federal officials said storms in March allowed them to increase the amount of water sent to customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Water districts that supply some of the nation’s largest farms in that region will receive 10 percent of the amount they are entitled to under government contracts.

Article in The New York Times, Associated Press, 4/22/09

California has been -- and still is -- the premier producer of the nation's fruits and vegetables, to the point where a water problem in California (and California has always had water problems -- see Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner circa 1986 for an exhaustive discussion of the problem) can create a situation where prices skyrocket at the nation's grocery stores.

Few Americans are likely to be seriously inconvenienced by this, for we remain a wealthy country and compared to most other places in the world, spend a shockingly low percentage of our income on food.

But I believe it illustrates a need that many recognize but few at the political level where things can be done, i.e. our national and state "leaders," wish to acknowledge. We as a nation (and let's include Canada and Mexico in this as well) are dependent upon California foodstuffs to a degree not dissimilar to the U.S. dependence upon Middle East oil. We as nations -- North America -- need to diversify our sources.

More in future blogs....

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why are so many organics encased in plastic?

It's been a puzzle to me for years why so many fresh foods -- fruits and veggies alike -- come in plastic containers of one sort or another. And especially why organic products are so often encased in plastic.

I was wondering about this a couple of days ago while putting up organic strawberries stuffed inside one-pound plastic boxes. I personally think plastic boxes are fine for shipping -- they do help prevent the dreaded squish effect of unpacked berries, after all -- but....

Aren't organics supposed to be a better alternative for the health of the planet, not to mention the health of the people? They cost more, sometimes a lot more, but isn't that the price we should be willing to pay for loving care bestowed by hand as opposed to care bestowed by chemicals? Doesn't such close companionship inside those plastic containers just encourage the mold and mildew to which tender organics are more susceptible owing to a lack of fungicides in their growth, ripening and shipping phases?

I now work for a store that slaps all its berries (except local berries) out for sale inside plastic -- and without careful examination every day, suffer the usual fate of plasticized produce, bruising and its companions rot and mold. This is the first place I've ever worked that didn't take the time to spill berries into molded paper pulp containers before offering them to customers -- and I go along with it because the truth is that it's easier, faster, and most importantly cheaper to toss out pre-packaged berries than it is to take the time to sort through them with the care and respect I believe they deserve. This probably makes me a sellout, but I need the job.

I think you as customers should start asking pointed questions about this practice, particularly as it concerns organics. Start with, Why should I buy an organic product in a plastic wrap when that plastic is likely produced using oil from the Middle East? And go from there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

FDA posts details on pistachio recall

Good news for everyone worried about salmonella-bearing pistachios. The FDA has posted a list of pistachio customers for products processed by Setton Pistachio during 2008.

Considering the ambiguousness, ineptitude and inaccuracy of federal actions with regard to food safety over the past decade or so, this is refreshing news.

What truly interesting to me about this recall (and those of the recent past) is that companies exist to provide protection for companies like Setton and Peanut Corporation of America (PCA)., for example, samples and examines a wide range of products for exactly the bugs that brought both Setton (which to its credit is cooperating with FDA) and PCA (which appears to want to stonewall its problems) to unflattering public attention.

Would you be willing to pay a few cents more to be assured the food products you buy are safe for actual consumption? I would.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


People, people, people! I love you, but I gotta tell you, some of the things you all do in the produce department drive me absolutely crazy!

Lookit, we do our best to have fresh, attractive, tasty product for you to buy and consume, but some of you -- not all -- don't seem to appreciate the time and effort required to keep things looking good and being good.

Like the lady I came across one afternoon who was picking up pears -- one of the most delicate of fruits -- and apparently finding them wanting, tossing them from side to side atop the other pears. I mean, the thrown pears were smashing into the unthrown, bruising both beyond belief and destroying pears that others might have purchased, if they weren't so nasty looking. I asked her if there was a problem (politely) and she informed me that none of our pears were any good. I said, well, they're certainly no good now, so how do you define good? She wanted something firm (hard as a rock, as it turned out), so I said I believe we have some of those, but you won't find them until you get to the very bottom, and in the meantime, we have a case or so of pears that are definitely no good now. But, I continued, I would be pleased to get out some that might be more to her liking. She walked off in a huff.

Or the woman who came in one afternoon and informed me that I had ruined her dinner party. This was a surprise, since I hadn't been invited, so I asked (politely, I thought) exactly what I had done to ruin her party. It was the lettuce, she said. Which lettuce, I asked. The one with the rot in the center, she said, and then informed me she thought we ought to reimburse her the full cost of all the food she had purchased. I told her all I could do was reimburse her the cost of the lettuce and apologize, which I did. I'm sorry. That really got her going, and after about five minutes or so of being scolded for the condition of the lettuce that -- I had to point out -- she had bought, not me, I suggested (politely, I thought) that maybe she needed to shop somewhere else for awhile.

Or the people who seem to make a point of squeezing the tomatoes until they burst, looking, I suppose, for the perfect combination of softness and firmness. Or the people who lean on the tomatoes, placing their hand on top of a carefully stacked pile and putting their full weight down. Guaranteed squish, all the way to the bottom.

Or those of you who just have to have two of the oranges on the bottom row and then complain when the whole pile collapses on your feet.

Or those of you who complain that we don't fresh morel mushrooms in December (the season usually starts sometime in March or April and ends sometime in May or June).

I don't mean to imply in any way that we in the business are perfect. To my regret, I have been rude to customers several times over the course of my time in the business, and if you are one of those to whom I have spoken sharply or meanly, or simply ignored, I apologize. I'm not like that, really.

And people, I know we're Americans and we can do damn near anything we want and get damn near anything we want year around, but some of us seem to make a habit of being unpleasant or unthoughtful or simply unaware of how we are affecting things for everyone else. If you are among the "some," please, I ask you politely, stop it!