How do we know if food used to be better?
January 26, 2008 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Were produce and meat really better in the old days? How can we be sure?

The most recent Achewood got me thinking about food. Seems to me that in my youth, the tomatoes at the supermarket used to be more red. I've heard people of my mother's generation say that beef used to taste better, the way only the best beef does today. And now we have the idea that chicken used to taste more chickeny, at least to cartoon cats.

Here's my question: is there any way to determine objectively whether this is so? Sure, lots of people will tell you it is, but lots of people will tell you that teenage crime and pregnancy are higher than ever, even if it's not true. Can we be sure this isn't just a rose-colored -- or red-colored, in my case -- look back at the foods of a mythical youth?
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Those old varieties still exist. I remember going to this lecture given by a horticulture professor and he was talking about the specific varieties of apples and strawberries that dominated in the past. Each time the new variety that supplanted the old was superior in some physical aspect (firmer, easier shipping, longer growing season), not in taste. Most of them still exist, but you won't find them in the grocery store. You can sometimes buy them at farmer's markets and seed catalogs, typically labeled as heirloom. I've had a lot of them and they really are better. Bourbon red turkey is damn sure better than butterball. Berkshire is better than dry as bone grocery store pork. Tristar strawberries are beautifully juicy and put the white bland giant ones to shame. Etc. etc. etc.

I believe Jeffrey Steingarten has a good essay about how bad peaches are these days and how tracking down the good old varieties is really hard.
posted by melissam at 9:14 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Let me answer it this way - the produce and meat I used to eat in Sarajevo were much better than what's normally served here in America, and in terms of how the source of the meat is raised and in terms of how the produce is grown, Sarajevan practices are much more like those of "old day" America than modern American practices. (I wasn't sure if I was remembering this accurately until I returned last year, and yeah - the food quality is much higher in Sarajevo.) There are a lot of reasons for this:

1) Much of the produce is local and because of this it does not need to be (and isn't) genetically modified to withstand extensive shipping and hold up better over time. It's eaten fresher. When that's done, flavor is inevitably lost. In Sarajevo this means better flavor.

2) Similarly, chemical fertilizers and other anti-taste majors are much rarer in use.

3) It's easy to get funkier "heirloom" produce in Sarajevo. Again, a lot of the best-tasting kinds of produce can't handle shipping and/or go bad quickly. Not a problem in Sarajevo, since it's not shipped as far and is eaten more quickly. So a lot of people grow oddball (but delicious) varieties one can't find in an American grocery store.

4) Sarajevans don't care about "looks" in produce. I'm always amazed in American grocery stores - all the produce is so beautiful. But this beauty is "developed" and not reflective of the taste. In fact, quite the opposite. In Sarajevo, some of the vegetables come out of the ground or off the vine a bit ugly. But they taste great, and since we're cooking and/or cleaning them and cutting them up, who's going to care in the end?

5) Similarly, much of the meat eaten is locally raised and feed on grass or grain - not the industrial fat/corn slush that American animals eat most of the time. (Read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" for a good synopsis of how this affects taste.)

6) Americans eat a LOT of meat, but to me it rarely tastes good. Meat's cheap here (relatively speaking, in proportion to income), and so one can afford more of it. But give me 3 ounces of a nice Bosnian free-range (which is the norm, not a selling point) chicken over a pound of the American industrialized stuff. Ditto beef and lamb, which are big sellers. We didn't eat any pork to speak of.

7) Americans spend a smaller percentage of the income on food than nearly all other countries. But their food suffers as a result. I eat "Sarajevan" quality food, but I'm involved in food co-ops and I buy meat from a local rancher doesn't employ feed lots and loads of chemicals. Ditto eggs. The taste and texture is remarkably and very noticeably different. The yellows of my eggs are solid and nearly orange; it makes me a little sick to see the insides of the ones one buys at Quik-E-Mart.

8) In Sarajevo, food is seasonal. You can't get strawberries year round. The seasons for a lot of fruits and vegetables are sometimes short - but everyone knows when they are, and for a couple of weeks, they're eating incredible amounts of peaches or beans or something because it's "their" season. This is true somewhat of meat as well. In America, everything all the time, and rarely with any flavor.

This is changing somewhat in Sarajevo, I'm sad to say. But most Sarajevans would be appalled at the quality of American food and would feel that the "savings" to still make for a bad deal. This is true in other places where I've spent time - Hungary, Romania, Ukraine (etc.)

How it's done in Sarajevo is how it used to be done in America. So it's easy to compare - just buy a plane ticket! We can be sure by comparing old time American practices to modern day ones and then finding a place that follows practices similar to the America of old. It's easy.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:28 PM on January 26, 2008 [56 favorites]

Seems to me that in my youth, the tomatoes at the supermarket used to be more red.

Its hard to meaningfully address this question since supermarkets dont grow tomatoes. The source may have changed for example and that would neither prove nor disprove what you are trying to ascertain.

Stepping not across Time but across Space, I've found that Oranges - mottled and unpretty - right off of an orange tree are super-delicious in the way that supermarket oranges cannot taste and never do. You can prove this yourself by visiting an orange grove. Go up to a tree full of ripe oranges and lightly swat it. Eat one of the oranges that falls off and I guarantee it will be the most delicious thing you've had in a long time. Similarly for many other fruits and vegetables.
posted by vacapinta at 9:28 PM on January 26, 2008

An old professor of mine travels often to Africa, and he told us that we really didn't know what produce was supposed to taste like.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:29 PM on January 26, 2008

On non-preview: Also what Dee Xtrovert said. I have similar experiences to report in rural Mexico.
posted by vacapinta at 9:30 PM on January 26, 2008

On the meat front: We have a freezer half full of beef that was raised mostly on grass (with a little hay in winter). It tastes much better than beef from the grocery store, which is fed a lot of grain. My understanding is that the feeding of grain to cattle has increased a lot in the past few decades and that letting one's cattle walk around and eat grass is less common. We also have some chickens that are raised by Hutterites on a small scale (and so presumably more as in the past) and they taste, well, much chickenier. Eggs are tastier from free-range hens as well.

I think the situation is similar on the fruit and veg front, but you also have the increased storage and transit times. Fresh fruit and veg taste a whole lot better than ones that have spent time being shipped long distances. Just visit your local farmer's market to convince yourself of that.
posted by ssg at 9:34 PM on January 26, 2008

Seconding/thirding Dee Xtrovert. Go eat some locally produced food in Greece or the Arab world, and you'll realize what you're missing is a whole universe of flavor and texture and smell, and the food you get in America is a cruel hoax.
posted by evariste at 10:08 PM on January 26, 2008

Recent Caltech research: Wine Study Shows Price Influences Perception

Roughly speaking: One data point says that irrelevant data influences perception.

On the other hand, the strawberries I picked by hand went into the best homemade strawberry ice cream I've ever made. Anecdotally speaking, food is better if you know where it comes from.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:14 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

My mom grew up on a farm in rural Canada and she won't hesitate to tell anyone that it took her a long time to get used to the food here (and that was in the 70's).

(I also grew a potato once when I was little, and I swear it was the best potato I've ever eaten.)
posted by lisawin at 10:17 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Everything Dee Xtrovert said holds true in much of the developing world and many other parts of Europe (assuming you are buying local, not at the local hypermarket). As a general rule, the fresher the food, the better the taste; the more animals run around outdoors and eat a varied diet, the better the meat (and eggs). Industrialized food has a lot of benefits -- it is cheap, convenient, stores well, cooks predictably, doesn't usually give you parasites, etc -- but there is a real cost in flavor and texture.

But these days in the US it is really easy to buy locally produced meat where the animals lived reasonably good lives, and the quality can be very good -- maybe not as good as the best Argentinian beef, but so much better than the crummy stuff sitting in the plastic wrap at the supermarket. (And if you have a freezer, buying in bulk can be astoundingly cheap.) Good fruits and veggies can be harder to get, because they don't store or travel as well, but still better than the dark days a few decades back where "salad" meant iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots.
posted by Forktine at 10:25 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of varieties of vegetables and fruit at the super market are grown not for their taste, but for how uniform they are, how well they ship, and other industrial considerations like that.

I buy from a local farmer's market when possible and the difference in taste between that and generic supermarket stuff is amazing.
posted by bradbane at 10:30 PM on January 26, 2008

Yes, there are a fair number of books and articles all explaining why. I'm the first person to lambast the people who keep talking about crime rising (it's going down) and complaining about kids these days (they've got some Sumerian tablets saying that) - but when it comes to food in North America, they are totally right.

(on preview - some of this said above)

- grain-fed meat is both not as tasty and not as healthy (due to kinds of fats) as grass fed.

- meat has a lot of water added to plump it up

- vegetables like tomatoes, etc, are bred (not GM'd, but selectively bred) for durability in
mechanical picking and shipping - they are not selected for taste

- furthermore, both fruit and vegetables are increasingly bred for appearance and size, again not taste; in Florida, a tasty tomato called the UglyRipe was actually banned from export from the state because its appearance would reflect badly on Florida, despite the fact that its taste was apparently amazing (and it was being sold to posh shops and restaurants)

- large scale marketing cannot handle the variety of produce that we once had in North America, thus most stores only carry 5-6 kinds of apples, not the dozens of types we used to have

Since we still have examples of these varieties and methods of production around, we can do an honest comparison. And they are really much, much better. Local strawberries from a couple miles from outside town....mmmm.
posted by jb at 10:31 PM on January 26, 2008

I would like to add that genetic modification doesn't automatically have this effect - you can GM for a variety of characteristics.

But the current GM industry is not interested in taste (or in sustainability), mostly in yeild and resistence to pesticides. So it's not going to help the situation much.
posted by jb at 10:33 PM on January 26, 2008

Some of it probably is magical memories -- my mother's not much of a cook, but any lasagna I eat compares poorly to hers, because that's what I grew up on.

The varietal argument holds true -- I've done a number of tasting events through work and through just general foodie-ism, and it's absolutely possible to tell the difference between heritage turkey and butterball -- but it cuts both ways given that the heritage varietals are often still available. If you're willing to spend the time and the money seeking out varietals and breeds that haven't been selectively bread for the mass market, then those, through advancement of farming methods and selective breeding for taste, are probably better than anything that was generally available in the good old days.

You live in the Bay Area, no? The Farmer's Markets there can be pretty amazing, and chances are, if you're shopping at them, you're getting better produce now than you would have 50 years ago. If you're shopping at WalMart, not so much.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:44 PM on January 26, 2008

Another thought on this, though, this one specifically from a grass fed beef tasting I attended -- we had one sample of grocery store corn fed beef, and that's the one that most people preferred. We're accustomed to the sweeter, fatter corn fed beef and thus most people prefer it. So, while modern food is objectively different, it's not necessarily always the case that it's objectively worse.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:59 PM on January 26, 2008

Read up on Argentinean steak, and spare a moment between drooling on your keyboard to note how their cows have wandered around grass pastures since they arrived.
posted by casarkos at 11:02 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Omnivore's Dilemma goes into this in a lot of detail (and is a good read, to boot.)

The one-line summary is, basically, as others have said above: produce and meat today are generally bred for rapid growth, easy harvest and durability in shipping, not for flavor. But if you're interested in the details I can't recommend this book highly enough.
posted by ook at 11:06 PM on January 26, 2008

"is there any way to determine objectively whether this is so?"

It's easy to tell this objectively with apples. Apple trees live a long time and a tree's fruit doesn't change much over the years. Find some place with a variety of 75-100 year old apple trees and compare the fruit to that which you get from the store. No contest in most cases.

For example: My Grand-mother-in-law had something like 21 different apple trees on her farm and they were all planted there in the 60s. Only about a 1/3rd of them are best for direct eating. The others were selected for storage; pies; canning/freezing; cooking; apple juice/sauce; etc.

The eating apples in season are to die for, the early season Jonathans especially. Much better than the bred for storage apples you get in super markets. Some of the apples you buy in supermarkets have been in storage for a year. That's right, the Red Delicious apples you buy during apple season were often picked the year before.

I imagine at least some other fruit trees are similar but apples are such sluts and are so easy to graft they show the greatest variety.

I also believe this to be the case for heritage tomatoes. You can't get the direct comparison available with apples but they do breed fairly true year to year. Several of the varieties I grow ship/store very poorly but are divine when eaten fresh. You'll never see them in supermarkets because our supply chain can't handle them.
posted by Mitheral at 12:25 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a chicken soup the other day. I was eating the chicken and couldn't beleive how flavorful it was. This is in Egypt, where I'm guessing chickens aren't necessarily free range but probably still are given a more diverse diet and life than in the factory farms of the states.

Baladi (country) eggs are also wonderful. They're very small -- about 1/2 to 2/3rds the size of a normal egg. The shell is so think you have to whack it 2 times with a knife to get it to open (a light tap on the edge of a bowl is not going to do the trick).

The produce here is mixed. Fruit is generally wonderful, although Egyptians tend to like their fruit sweeter, so their varieties are generally less tart naturally. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are pretty clearly following in America's footsteps. While occasionally you'd get the odd vendor selling "ugly" tomatoes (not really ugly, just very ridged, with overlapping lobes or something), in general Egyptian tomatoes are uniformly round and look like your "vine ripened" variety.

I remember when I was in Italy I'd eat something like a salad, or a sauce made with nothing but tomatoes and salt and be blown away by the flavor. There's no question in my mind that produce in the US is effectively flavorless in comparison to what's available in some places in Europe.

But I don't know how much of that blame is exclusively on farming practices, or whether perhaps the soil just isn't right for those vegetables in some areas. After all, most vegetables that we're accustomed to here in the States are actually native to different locales. I imagine if someone made a nice rich composted garden and then planted nothing but native local varieties of plants, you might get the best flavor of all.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:34 AM on January 27, 2008

Seconding the Omnivore's Dilemma. Excellent and informative read about this topic and more.
posted by ejoey at 1:06 AM on January 27, 2008

Here in the UK, the tomato trend is the opposite. About five years ago, all the tomatoes in supermarkets were flavourless globes. These days supermarkets have a choice of a dozen different varieties, bred for flavour as well as good storage.

I think it's basically a matter of trade-offs: price versus flavour versus storage.

With chicken, as I understand it basically the older the chicken the more flavour it has. Modern battery chickens are bred and fed to reach acceptable size as quickly as possible. They definitely have less flavour than the premium free-range chicken that's on sale. But because you can produce more chickens per square meter per month, they're a lot cheaper.

I think if you look around you can get foodstuffs as good as you did in the old days. But you have to pay the same relatively high prices you did in the old days, which may mean you can't afford to eat meat every day, and you have to have smaller portions.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:21 AM on January 27, 2008

Were produce and meat really better in the old days?

Produce, probably. Although things are changing for the better: most of the big chain stores are starting to see the financial benefits of stocking "local produce" that appeals to the anti-big-farma isolationists in us. Truth is, most people would rather spend an extra dollar if they're guaranteed that what they're getting isn't filled with preservatives, pesticides, hormones and genetically modified DNA.

But meat? I think Upton Sinclair would disagree with a lot of you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:40 AM on January 27, 2008

Mitheral-Some of the apples you buy in supermarkets have been in storage for a year. That's right, the Red Delicious apples you buy during apple season were often picked the year before.

I am seriously shocked. How on earth do they keep them in good condition to be sold an entire year later!
posted by evariste at 1:43 AM on January 27, 2008

C_D, Upton Sinclair was writing about the abuses that corresponded with the first age of industrialized meat production. I think a lot of this conversation is about methods of meat production that are much older than industrialization.
posted by evariste at 1:44 AM on January 27, 2008

Kitchen Literacy offers a great historical perspective on the subject, explaining in detail how it became necessary (in the US) to ship food long distances as people moved from farms to cities, how storage and waste became problematic, the compromises that were used to solve those problems, and how the marketing industry (the term comes from special sections of periodicals that advised people where in the city to buy their groceries) developed to convince people that they should eat stuff that would've been discarded back on the farm.

I was once fortunate enough to rent the second floor of a house from an elderly couple that kept chickens in the back yard. Though they were thrown the occasional handful of grain, these chickens were primarily scavengers. They produced more eggs ("recycled earwigs") than the couple could eat, so I would occasionally get a margarine tub full of half-size eggs with dates written on each in pencil. As Dee Xtrovert mentioned, the color of the yolks was a deep orange, and the flavor made every supermarket egg I've ever had seem like a cheap imitation.

I've also grown my own tomatoes, both heirlooms and modern hybrids. The differences in flavor and texture are not subtle. Unfortunately the grocery stores in my area sell the tough and tasteless hydroponic tomatoes all year, even when good local versions are available at the farm stand just down the road.
posted by jon1270 at 3:58 AM on January 27, 2008

Picked-up a package of chicken breasts in the store lately? There's a reason the big packers are starting to inject the meat with broth before shipping. Beyond merely making the meat abnormally juicy, it adds enough chicken flavor to mask the fact that factory chicken has very little taste.

Most fruit is harvested long before they are ripe. They are then placed in cold-storage for months at a stretch. They are also treated with a variety of chemicals to bring-out the expected color of ripe fruit, without actually ripening it. Ripe fruit doesn't travel well (or far). As long as the color is right when the produce reaches the mega-mart, the flavor doesn't much matter. Most consumers have no idea what a peach is actually supposed to taste like, anyway.

If the food industry really wanted to screw with people's senses, they could easily, through the use of artificial flavorants and chemicals, slowly train the population to believe that peaches actually taste like pork.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:43 AM on January 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

8) In Sarajevo, food is seasonal. You can't get strawberries year round. The seasons for a lot of fruits and vegetables are sometimes short - but everyone knows when they are, and for a couple of weeks, they're eating incredible amounts of peaches or beans or something because it's "their" season.

This is probably the biggest "false remembering of the past". People remember the good fruit and veg, but don't remember that they only had it for a short time each year. The rest of the time you had to deal with poorly canned substitutes if you wanted it. I don't know that this is changed: we still get good, local apples here in the supermarket, but only for a month in the fall. The rest of the time it's Red Delicious and Granny Smith.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 AM on January 27, 2008

How on earth do they keep them in good condition to be sold an entire year later!

Apples are cooled immediately after picking, stored at 0C, with high humidity and lowered oxygen to keep them edible all year. More here. They do degrade in flavour and texture, but then apple harvest season is only 3 or so months taking into account all sorts of different varieties and much shorter if you only consider one variety, so apples are going to have to be stored in some way if you want to eat them all year.
posted by ssg at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2008

smackfu: "This is probably the biggest "false remembering of the past". People remember the good fruit and veg, but don't remember that they only had it for a short time each year. The rest of the time you had to deal with poorly canned substitutes if you wanted it. I don't know that this is changed: we still get good, local apples here in the supermarket, but only for a month in the fall. The rest of the time it's Red Delicious and Granny Smith."

This isn't false remembering. Dee was totally right in saying they ate the food seasonally. Here in Egypt people look at you funny if you talk about trying to eat certain foods out of season -- it's basically unthinkable. Right now it's strawberry season, so there are strawberries. In the rest of the year, there are no strawberries. But you don't mind, because instead there is some other fruit that you eat instead.

True, in the States we have variety, but it is a variety of crap. I rarely taste a good strawberry from the supermarkets anymore. The lone exception are the "wild"-style strawberries you can buy in mid-spring from the Farmer's Market. Tomatoes in stores are never good, no matter what time of the year. Most cookbooks and online cooking shows regularly recommend that you give up on fresh tomatoes and just use the canned variety, since either there is no improvement over canned or canned is better.

Personally, I think the ideal thing would be for all of us to give up on this charade that fresh is better. It isn't, not always. Instead, go ahead and make the fruits and vegetables ugly, barely portable, and with poor long term storage. Then, freeze or can most of it. Sell the rest fresh only during its season. Then we'd have the best flavors for everything -- fruits and vegetables appropriate to the season, without being bred to last in storage for months.

I guess I'd miss oranges. But apples do keep well naturally, and I don't necessarily see any downside to having long-term apples so long as these are only made available when apples are no longer in season.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2008

...although actually I lasted all through spring, summer, and a good chunk of fall without oranges here in Egypt (because, of course, they weren't in season). I gorged myself on grapes and delicious mangos instead. Somehow, you live with it.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2008

Our local mega-mart often gets red bell peppers imported from Israel, of all places. The damn things are almost always hard as rocks. Slice them open and you see that the red color is a paper-thin outer layer and the rest of the flesh is practically white. Just horrendous, flavorless crap.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:57 AM on January 27, 2008

This isn't false remembering.

By "false remembering", I meant that people say "we used to have great fruit" and they say this in the middle of the winter, when they did not used to have great fruit.
posted by smackfu at 9:11 AM on January 27, 2008

Spend a few weeeks in Italy. It's like going back in time, foodwise, to the way it was here in the states. It's simply because they're not allowed to do the things we do to our food.

Over the past few decades, food companies here have been given more and more freedom (deregulation) to screw with everything- from apples to chickens to cookies and milk- in order to maxmize profits.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everybody. Just to respond to a couple things, I do often get local, in-season fruits and vegetables from local farmer's markets. (And, most especially, wonderful artisanal cheeses from the Cheese Board.) I'm actually planning on gardening this spring for the first time ever so that I can have better tomatoes. My question was more whether there's objective evidence that there was a time in the last forty or fifty years when the produce and meat in city supermarkets was about as good as the produce and meat you get from farmer's markets and local independent suppliers today.

Sounds like the answer is "yes." I'll be reading The Omnivore's Dilemma shortly.

Also, really interesting stuff about food in other countries. Maybe this will get me to travel at long last.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 10:01 AM on January 27, 2008

I am seriously shocked. How on earth do they keep them in good condition to be sold an entire year later!
My family would pick apples every year growing up. In a Buffalo winter, a bushel would keep in the unheated garage, or even a basement, for an amazingly long time. And even here, it rarely goes below the teens in the dead of winter. If that will keep apples from September or October straight through until spring (late April or so), I can imagine a colder temperature would do more.

I have farmers in my family. Small scale small town type farmers. I swear, the beef from my uncle's farm can't even be compared to the grocery store. It's like a different animal.

And yes, seasons of growing are restrictive. However, I'd take a bell jar of the tomatoes and peppers my grandmother would grow and can herself over anything in a tin from the grocery store any day of the week. Or even the fresh produce imported from god knows where.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2008

Heirloom tomatoes are amazing. I highly recommend getting a variety package of them from your local Whole Foods or Harris Teeter (or whatever you have local). Just a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar and olive oil is all you need. It's almost like you've never had a tomato before compared to the watery beefsteak tomatoes.

In general, if you're buying tomatoes for cooking, you want them canned or jarred, not fresh. If you're buying them for eating raw, you want heirlooms.
posted by empath at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2008

By "false remembering", I meant that people say "we used to have great fruit" and they say this in the middle of the winter, when they did not used to have great fruit.

This is true, but on the other hand, there were certain fruits and vegetables available throughout the winter (or much of it), and more important, people made preserves and jams and jellies and dried fruit when it was in season - so these things could be enjoyed for a longer period of time, and with superior taste to what one generally gets in America. I can't remember ever eating canned fruit, or even seeing it for the most part,

Part of the fun was eating a seasonal diet. We really looked forward to the arrival of certain things, took delight in them and got to "brag" if we were the first to discover that this or that had finally come in. This seems largely lost in America, though Thanksgiving has become a favorite "new" holiday for me, because there are still remnants of this seasonality built into the tradition. (Well, I don't know much about cranberries or turkeys as such - but at least Thanksgiving "feels" seasonal!)

Even in the relatively short I've been here, I've noticed heirloom tomatoes and other "lost" food items being sold more commonly. It's a nice thing to see, and I want to say to anyone wanting to garden this spring to take time NOW to look for heirloom varieties, rather than just buying the same old seeds and plants at gardening stores. You'll be happy you did.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:46 PM on January 27, 2008

You must read The Call of the Wild Apple by Michael Pollan. There's actually a tremendous interest right now, as Dee says right above, in heirloom varieties of produce.
posted by dhartung at 12:58 AM on January 28, 2008

I have to mention that I almost didn't click on the link to "The Call Of The Wild Apple," as I assumed it was a book and, well, I've got a stack of about 100 to read in front of me.

But I'm glad I did click. It's only a three-page article, and extremely interesting reading.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:41 AM on January 28, 2008

The original strain of eating bananas died out in the early years of the last century. Apparently they tasted somewhat like the cousin stock we eat now, only more...well, more.
posted by Iridic at 1:10 PM on January 28, 2008

Good answers. But sometimes it's subjective too.

I hate grass-fed beef, I think it tastes like shit. Literally.

Pork, turkey and tomatoes are probably the biggest examples of foods that have been blandified. They have bred all the fat out of the darned pork! Now it tastes like chicken... Same with turkeys. They don't even make you tired anymore!

My grandfather worked for [giant canned food concern] and he was around for some of this (dubious) progress. I mean, prior to a lot of this commodification, you simply couldn't get inexpensive produce available year-round. The trade off was, no tomatoes in winter, or bad tomatoes in winter?

Anyway. They were trying like hell to get the engineers to make a machine that could pick tomatoes. The engineers simply could not do it. It would either be slower or more expensive than just having people do it. So, the engineers told the farmers that since such a machine was impossible, they ought to just develop a tomato that could be picked. And so they did.

And now you know, the rest of the story.
posted by gjc at 6:45 PM on January 28, 2008

I hate grass-fed beef, I think it tastes like shit. Literally.

FYI cows have been fed on grass for most of their lives and then finished on grain for a long time. It does taste better.
posted by melissam at 9:25 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Hey PSP, stand up!   |   which comes first? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.