Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fruit and Vegetables

Some things are the same the world over.
An article in the Telegraph suggests that, thanks to bad weather, supermarkets in the UK may have to sell some fruit and veg with slightly lower aesthetic appeal than usual. We all know that in most supermarkets the apples are uniform in size, colour and succulent appearance; the carrots are straight and entirely lacking in knobbly bits; the potatoes don't have those chunks knocked out of them where the spade digging them up was a little closer than was strictly necessary; the tomatoes have neither under-ripe green bits nor over-ripe squishy bits and the bananas are the perfect shade of yellow rather than green or brown.
In short the fruit would look beautiful in a glass bowl waiting for a still-life painter to dash off another masterpiece.
Now, says the article, supermarkets may be prepared to accept visually less appealing produce "to prevent waste". 
The cynic in me suggests that it's more likely because they will be able to buy at a lower price and sell at a higher mark-up and get a better profit, but that's just me and, hey, what does the motive matter? It's the end result that counts.

Here in China things are largely the same. Most of the supermarket produce has the same look of being chosen for beauty rather than for taste as the food in the UK does. The difference is the alternative. In the UK the alternative is to go to independent greengrocers or to outdoor markets. The former sell fruit in a shop environment and the latter sell, usually from a nice clean, well-laid-out stall with tables and boxes and usually a nice awning to keep the rain off. 

Here the greengrocer almost doesn't exist - many of the shops we find on the high street in the UK don't exist - and the market is something entirely different. Chinese fruit and veg markets can be found all over the place in Baiyin. Within five minutes walk of my apartment I know of four different streets where I can buy all manner of fruit and veg. The traders are the farmers who grow them - or, at least, members of their families. They lay out their melons and apples and carrots and peppers either directly on the ground or onto a blanket. Some of them, particularly the melon farmers, will just park a lorry loaded with fruit and sell directly from the back. 

Now much of this fruit looks horrible: scabby, misshapen items that even the apparent new relaxed attitude of UK supermarkets would balk at. On the other hand it's cheap and nutritious and — once it's peeled and chopped — perfectly tasty and acceptable - not to mention indistinguishable from its prettier cousins.

There are some who would say that when I buy it I don't know whether the water supply on the farm is, as many are here, tainted with heavy metals. I do not know what kind of pesticides or fertilizers have been used — there is no regulation of the word "organic" in China. To them I say that the same is just as true if I go in to a supermarket and buy packaged food, wrapped in celophane and piled on a hygienic, cooled shelf. The supermarkets buy from exactly the kind of farmer that sells on the street. They are just pickier about the appearance than I am.

I used to buy all my vegetables in the supermarket because I thought it was convenient but now I walk past three different street markets in my ten-minute stroll from school and it's far more convenient just to buy from them. It means I don't have to make a special trip or carry everything a long way home. It's also ridiculously cheap. the supermarkets are already cheap but the street markets are half the price for double the quantity. I can buy more than I can carry and spend less than a pound.

And so here in China I do just that, even though in England my entire weekly shop — including fruit and veg — was done in Asda or Tesco.

Some things are the same the world over but that doesn't mean that I can't change.