A reader writes:
Your reader who insists that all apples are tasteless is clearly going to the wrong grocery stores. Red and golden delicious are disgusting, it's true, but there are many popular varietals that are both cheap and have excellent flavor and texture. Jazz, Fuji, and Pink Ladies are some of my favorites; newer (and more expensive) breeds like Envy and Honeycrisp are truly delicious. And none of these require one to make a trip to Whole Foods; I can find most of them at my local Safeway, or even Wal-Mart. My point is, it's a good time to be an apple-lover.
I don't know what your correspondents are talking about: when I was a kid in the '60s and '70s, our local grocery stores had red delicious and yellow delicious – period. Now, I see Granny Smiths, Fujis, occasionally Pippins and Newtons, and sometimes varietals I don't recognize.
The hothouse tomatoes – which I presume are really lousy from an environmental standpoint – are better than any other tomatoes I have ever found, including from my mothers' garden. (And I, heretically, find the heirloom tomatoes I have tried to be bland.)
It is possible that some of the difference is in the location and/or type of store: a white-bread grocery store in Illinois obviously isn't going to match up with a gourmet store in California, but a) I don't think the gourmet grocery stores even existed in the 60s and 70s, and b) even at IGAs in British Columbia, I can find all manner of apples. People talk about how the good old days were so much better, and I frequently wonder which good old days they are talking about …
Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilema points the finger at McDonald's and other huge demand users of tomatoes and iceberg lettuce as the root of the problem. I will make the point that McDonald's is the perfect customer for tasteless tomatoes and junk food lettuce. The flavor of a tomato can't possible be singled out in a bite of a McDonald's burger, so why should it even have flavor, never mind be required to taste good. And let's face it, shredded iceberg lettuce isn't meant to taste like anything, it's a filler. Might add some crunch or texture if eaten immediately, but for those who pick up at the window, it's compost by the time to open the cardboard container at home.
This mentality of quantity over quality has become an American mantra. Fifty years ago we didn't need an organic classification for food. Now there needs to be organic labeling, labels for genetically modified foods, artificial foods, flavor enhancers, fake coloring, and we've not even started the debate regarding "light" alternatives, and my favorite meaningless adjective on way too many packages, "natural."
Growing you own, and buying organic and locally grown isn't a trend. It's a necessity if you have any real appreciation for food and flavor, as well as eating a healthy diet. Shopping the local big box grocery, ignoring any organic offering they present, and buying cheap, as well as loading up the cart with all the ready-made processed frozen and the new scary stuff that's not even refrigerated, is for the self-loathing. This is the same consumer who's throwing away 40% of what they buy.
Moral of the story: convenience and fast food is the most expensive way to eat poorly.
"The fact that apple consumption has been on the decline for decades" is because there is no such thing as "apple" on the shelves of 99 percent of US supermarkets. The "closest science has come to creating the perfect apple specimen" could be found down the street in southern France at the daily and open produce market where you can find everything form Fuji to Ariane … oh yes, that delicious French variety developed at the National Institute of Agricultural Research only a decade ago. But it’s blemished, it turns brown immediately if cut, it lasts only for a few days, maybe a week. But oh it smells so good, and it tastes and it melts in your mouth like Ariane should every single time. Like real apple should. That is the perfect fruit – that lost natural seed cultivated and loved and enhanced by skilled farmers for centuries who use the lab to preserve them, not "perfect" them.
The difference is that the French – the biggest agricultural producers in the EU – remain intimately tied to their soil. The one bloody thing they do right. And as the economist once said, farming is everything that complex financial capitalism is not. And it could never be.