Sunday, April 09, 2006
If food were flags
If food were flags then a tomato boat carrying a wedge of feta as cargo under the full sail of a basil leaf would represent Italy. The colours are right and the taste is right too. For the lion rampant of Scotland you would have custard and strawberries. The English would have milk and beetroot juice, and the Americans would have a blueberry pie topped with a triple helping of double cream, and an obscene amount of glazed cherries.
The sad thing is that things are being grown for looks rather than flavour. Shelf life is more important than taste. It is a given that tomatoes are red, but what is the point of selling nice red tomatoes when the price is all wrong. If you have a glut of tomatoes on the market then you get rock bottom prices for them.
So what you do genetically engineer them to remain green on the vine for a longer period of time, and when the price is right you pump ethelyene into the green house and have them ripen overnight, and then sell them at top dollar. They might be rock hard and taste like sewage, but they sure as hell look good on the supermarkert shelves.
If Peru had a flag it should be shaped like a potato, and potatoes should be knobbly with vivid strange colours, just the way nature intended, but no they need to have a certain shape if they have to be made into Walkers crisps, and Walkers will only buy certain types of potato which means that growers will only grow certain potatoes so they can sell them to Walkers. The end result is that the old varieties disappear.
The same is true for wheat and rice. Varieties are bred to be high yielding, but only if you use lots of fertilizer. This is why the big chemical companies are buying up seed companies, since seeds are being designed to grow well with chemicals. Who cares about the diminished gene pool? Who cares that the genetic heritage of the generations is being fed to pigs, because modern seeds give better yields and more profit. Who worries that there might be huge swathes for land devoted to mono-cultures of corn or rice. With mono-cultures the risk is that if they are hit by disease like a fungal rust then there exists the distinct possibility that entire crops will be wiped out from japan to India.
I am all for genetic diversity. I am all for taste. I want wierd shaped fruit with stange colours, that does not have a shelf-life and needs to be eaten fresh. Give me a basil tomato boat with a cargo of feta, floating on a sea of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Give me taste.