The next time you find yourself in your favorite produce department or farmers market take a moment to revel in the innocence. Look at all the shelves and tables stacked neatly with bright-colored citruses and aromatic soft-fruits, or the wetted vegetables set glistening in front of mirrors and flowering from the wall racks. It’s a serene landscape of staple culinary ingredients, offering visions of a healthier lifestyle with the richest colors Mother Nature has to offer.
A produce department is a symbol of innocence, but unequipped to handle the barbarous assaults subjected to it day after day, leaving it broken, battered and beaten, all in the name of perfection.
Who would wreak such havoc on this unsuspecting utopia of agricultural wonder you ask? Of course the answer is you — though I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s unintentional.
Think about it: How many tomatoes do you pick up, squeeze, then set back down before finding the one you want? How many ears of corn do you peel and toss aside before choosing the “best” one? How often do you excavate the salad cooler just to find the “freshest” date on a bag of salad? How many times have you left a bag of spinach on top of the fresh spinach, just because you changed your mind?
Based on my experience, I’ll say that nine out of 10 shoppers NEVER end up buying the first apple, head lettuce or bunch of bananas they pick up — it’s like a motor reflex. You pick the first one up, sometimes you’ll take a quick glance, but for whatever reason that first pick is never good enough, ever. Then, it’s just a matter of how many picks you’ll make before you finally decide, and where you'll stash the items you don't want.
Why did you pick them up in the first place? What exactly is the reason why it isn’t worthy of making it into your basket?Is it too much to ask of you to put it back where you found it? Do you even realize you’re doing this?!
What’s left at the end of the shopping day is a derelict mass of rejected first picks, strewn across the shelves and racks where they don't belong, patiently waiting for their last ride on my produce cart to the trashcan. I’m left with the guilt of discarding all the would-be kale apple salads, banana breads and eggplant parmesans, and the ominous task of re-stacking their counterparts to face a similar demise the next day.
What I’m saying is plan your picking: no more of this "don’t pick first pick" nonsense when it comes to your produce. I’m not saying to never inspect your produce — of course you should — I’m just asking that you do so with a less-critical eye. And, for heaven's sake, put things back where they belong.
Imagine if you were poked and prodded by unfamiliar faces, examined with critical eyes and dropped off in a strange location to await the nightly culling, just because you don’t meet unrealistic beauty standards. Apparently, the whole “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” mantra doesn’t apply when you’re picking produce, but it should.
I doubt you’re eating tomato heels on a regular basis (at least, you shouldn’t be) so the slight discoloring at the stem shouldn’t turn you off, and so what if an outer leaf of lettuce is broken, or dented; chances are the inner leaves are still to your liking. Those cantaloupes that “don’t look too good” to you very well may be the sweetest on the display, and what difference does it make if there’s a scar on the peel of an orange? Do you eat that too?
Unless your daily meals are on the cover of some food magazine, or for some reason none of the filters on Instagram are good enough, there’s no reason for you to be scouring the displays in search of the perfect peach or that quintessential kiwi. You may not notice the damage caused by doing so, but the carnage in the market left in your wake is like that of a conquered village; a battered skeleton of what it used to be.
Thanks for shopping with us.
— Grocer X
The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to email@example.com.