27 October 2015


When I was in grad school, I remember a friend saying, “I wish we could just live on fruit.” Many creatures do, of course, live on mainly fruit. I’m thinking of certain berry-eating birds and tropical monkeys; no doubt there are others. But humans aren’t made that way.  We need our veggies, our protein and fat. Still, many of us probably don’t consume enough fruit, although we’re lucky, in this stage of human history, to have access to so much of it so much of the time.

Right now, for instance, there are two apples, an orange, a plantain, a mango, a lemon, and three limes on our kitchen counter. In the refrigerator, there is a bunch of grapes. Only the apples are seasonal now in the Midwest. None of the other fruits ever grow here. We’re already nostalgic for summer, when we feasted on peaches, nectarines, and plums that came from nearby states.  Even when they came from the West Coast, they tasted good.

(I’ve never had winter stone fruit—what my mom called “fresh fruit”—that tasted good.)

When I go back to the grocery store, I expect to pick up more citrus, maybe some berries, bananas, pears, more apples.  The apples and pears might be from around here; the rest will come from California, Mexico, or even further afield.

A lot is being written about our unsustainable food system. It’s kind of crazy that I can be eating mangos from Brazil and grapefruits from Texas, not to mention bananas from equatorial countries and citrus from wherever it’s warm right now.  It’s possible that in some years or decades, we’ll be back to a situation where oranges are a special winter treat (which I almost remember from my childhood—at least, I remember we had a relative in Florida who would annually send us a box of oranges and it was a big deal) and we almost never see papaya or pomegranates in Chicago.

But we are so used to having whatever we want, whenever we want it. Produce has gotten a lot more expensive in the past 10 years, but when you consider that you can buy a mango for a dollar—less than you spend for an apple from Michigan—you realize how ridiculously cheap food really is. One solution probably involves pricing food more realistically.  It doesn’t make sense that a pound of bananas from Honduras costs much less than a pound of pears from a local farm. 

Does it?

I guess issues of scale come into it. This is something discussed in the fine carbon footprint primer How Bad Are Bananas? (The answer to the title question is “not so bad, actually,” because they are transported in ships, which are pretty efficient.) Locally grown produce is transported in more and smaller vehicles, which may not be as energy efficient as a large truck—certainly not as efficient as a giant container ship.

So it’s complicated. For now, I remember to be grateful for the variety and deliciousness available and try not to let it go to waste.

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