It is the height of July, but even so, the green string beans at the grocery store still look like they have contracted some premature aging disease: they lie there, wrinkled, spotted, brown-tinged — but for sale anyway.
Buy fresh broccoli, that old produce stalwart, and just hope you don’t get one of the fairly-regular stalks with the brown slime disease — it seems to foster out of sight, hidden until you cut off the first florets and enter the forest kingdom of the broccoli-undead. Usually, even if you can’t see it yet, you can smell it if you hold the bunch under your nose before you buy.
Plastic-cartoned strawberries? Turn the clamshell boxes over, and check for the furry mould on the bottom. It’s not just a regular occurrence — it’s the exception that’s startling.
Buying peaches? Four or five bucks for some obscure size that’s called a “punnet,” and when you’re doing the math on what they actually cost, don’t forget to factor in that two of the eight or so will have a rotten spot you can’t see in the store, but that you will certainly put your finger into when you reach into the box.
Tuesday, grocers in the province made a fascinating argument: maybe, they suggested, trucks hauling fresh meat and produce should get priority on Marine Atlantic ferries. Why? Well, maybe because perishable items have already been on the road for seven or more days by the time they reach North Sydney, N.S.
Every day they spend sitting on the dock waiting for space on the ferry means more wastage.
Their idea makes startlingly good sense.
It’s hard enough eating healthy in this province. It’s harder still when spoilage keeps prices artificially high, and when the expensive fresh produce you might buy is on the very edge of rotting anyway.
The Retail Council of Canada suggests produce in this province is as much as 25 per cent more expensive than in other parts of the country and long-haul transport is part of the problem. Anyone who shops for groceries would point out that a cost increase of only 25 per cent seems wildly optimistic.
It’s hard to attract customers to the fruits and vegetables they should be eating when the products are both ruinously expensive and prematurely on their way to the compost bin. Having some of the most expensive compost in Canada is not a selling-point for living here.
Face it: your average green bean has been on the road for longer than a provincial cabinet minister at a Houston oilfield trade show.
Transportation isn’t the only problem, though. Anyone who shops can tell you their travails with rotten potatoes and ice-damaged onions. And they’re supposed to be good travellers.
Making dedicated space for products that have to be thrown away if they don’t make it to stores on time makes good economic sense, and, frankly, good health sense as well.
Oh, and a “punnet”? It’s defined as “a small box for soft fruits.”
Weights for the unit differ, as does the proportion of rotten fruit you will receive in one.