Marc Carlisle: Why I feel guilty about eating baby carrots
Left to my own devices, I am very much a creature of habit when I shop for groceries. Tony the Tiger is a regular at the breakfast table, and for dinner Ive had so much chicken and turkey that I wouldnt be surprised by pinfeathers. For snacks, I buy microwave popcorn and milk chocolate M&Ms, and I consume four or five pounds of those little baby carrots every week. Ive never been embarrassed to be caught buying Frosted Flakes, a cereal more healthy that most granola which has more sugar and less fiber, but Ive always been uneasy about buying baby carrots. Certainly, carrots are more nutritious than bags of salty snacks, but clearly those little orange nubs are as much the result of mass production as any bag of chips, right down to the artificial coloring that leaves a faint orange cast on my incisors. And like unsalted chips, they have little taste; if I close my eyes, my mouth has a tough time differentiating between a baby carrot and the red delicious apples I also buy in bulk. Like most fruits and vegetables, texture and taste take a back seat to cost and durability at the supermarket.Fall is a favorite season, and fresh produce is a part of why I think so. In my yard, I have fresh strawberries and grapes, and while I rarely buy either, Ill eat em when I can pick em. Moreover, at the grocery store, while the October carrots look and chew just like the February crop, hidden among the tasteless gala and pink lady apples are oases of macs and jonathons. The macs, short for macintosh, are two-tone, red and green, and look a bit worse for wear since they dont travel well unlike their inbred cousins, but once out of sight inside my mouth the flavor carries the day. Jonathons look little different than a red delicious, but one bite will pucker your mouth and please your palette in a way no Washington red could ever do.Perhaps youve never had either variety, and you think the red delicious is the zenith of the apple tree. In a way, thats lucky; this way, you wont know what youre missing. In this country the varieties of carrots readily available has dropped in the last century from several hundreds to 21, apples from more than 200 to a bakers dozen. Uniformity at the grocery store extends not only to the layout of the aisles and the fixtures conformity includes the inventory. Whether the store is in California, Colorado or Ohio, every store has red delicious apples that look and taste the same every day of the year, just like Frosted Flakes. Stocking better tasting but less durable apples like macs and jonathons is more time-consuming and more costly; nevertheless, some stores still made the effort to provide those choices, although now I suspect that store managers dont even have those poor choices. So far, Ive found macs in a single Safeway in Bailey, and jonathons in the organic section of one Kroger, and even those seem less savory than I remember. Maybe Im just looking for them too early, but Im sure the day will come when I wont be able to tell the seasons from the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, or whether Im in Colorado or Maine or Arizona, because it will all be the same all the time.In every nation seed banks collect samples of the hundreds of thousands of varieties of fruit, vegetables, grains, trees and lesser plants once readily available. Their purpose is to collect and preserve seeds against disaster, such as a drought, that might eliminate plants native to one area or another, or global warming, predicted to reduce the variety of plant life on the planet by 40 percent. But while the seeds are preserved as museum pieces, the tastes and texture they represent are but a memory if the seeds arent planted. Over the weekend, as I foraged for jonathons and macs, my friends 9-year-old daughter held up a blister pack holding four lumps. Theyre good, she said, as she read the label aloud. Looks like an apple, tastes like a grape! For her, ignorance will prove bliss, and for me, I found the first good reason to be happy to be 49 and not 9, an age when a grapple may be the best shell ever taste.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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