If it isn’t perfect, I don’t want it
26 December 2012
About a week ago I asked the chef in my guesthouse if I could tag along the next time he was heading to the local fruit, vegetable and meat market. I was met with an ecstatic and excited response! He was thrilled to be able to take me. He popped his head into my room yesterday while I was immersed within the book I was reading and asked if I wanted to go today, “of course” I replied. I got my things ready and headed off downstairs. He asked me if I could drive a motorbike because he can’t, this made me laugh a little and I wondered how on earth we’d get there if I didn’t know how to. Riding a motorbike in Nepal is another story and I could write a whole post on that particular subject, let me just keep it simple here and say on the way to the fruit and vegetable market I had to share the road with other motorbikes, cars, trucks, buses, goats and cows. Another motorbike rider had a fury animal on his lap, a fully-grown goat. I think it’s pretty clear as to how I would be able to write a whole article on the eventful motorbike riding activity.
Back on topic – We arrived and it brought nothing but a smile to my face. It was a exciting and bustling atmosphere with traders and customers bartering over how much was in the bag or how much to pay. There was an abundance of beautifully looking fruits and vegetables on display and towards the back there were sacks filled with seeds, nuts, spices and chillies. The chef from the guesthouse was doing his thing and getting what was needed for our Nepali version of a Christmas dinner and he said that I should go explore and explore I did. The strangest looks and gazes were coming my way by shoppers, I don’t think that they see many foreigners in this part of town, it was really really local, the looks were far from threatening, instead they were rather curious. The shopkeepers and traders were all desperately trying to get my attention in the hopes of selling some produce to me. I had my sights set on so much already!
You’re probably wondering what the meaning behind the title of this post is. Well it is really a comparison of the way shopping for produce back in conventional western supermarkets is compared to traditional markets. One thing that is strikingly contrasted is the abundant varieties of fruits and vegetables here in these markets, you will never find uniformity here, each vegetable and fruit is a different shape and size, and they come accompanied by spots and dots. Whenever I visit these markets it brings a smile to my face as it is such a refreshing turn around from the uniformity you find in supermarkets back at home where there are only a handful of varieties that have all been sprayed with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides to achieve that perfect shape and colour and on top of this there are no seasons in a western supermarket, for example strawberries, traditionally a winter fruit is now available in summer. The mentality of “if it’s not perfect, I don’t want it” really shines high and bright in western society.
Throughout time and history, nature has never worked in the way of uniformity and monocultures. There has always been diversity, not just in fruits and vegetables but every single living and non-living thing on this planet. Think about it: a diverse climate and landscape in turn led to a diverse ecosystem and a diverse ecosystem leads to a diverse array of species that all thrive and benefit off one another. This interconnectedness is vital in the fragile and complex web of life. This extended towards humans when we came on the scene. Throughout human history we have manipulated nature to suit our needs, but that manipulation worked with nature and diversity was at the heart of that manipulation. The very invention of agriculture was to meet our needs, but before the modern systems of today were in place we worked with hundreds of varieties of foods, which was a smarter and ingenious strategy to safe guard our food supply. More varieties equalled a better resistance and protection against natural shocks within the system that ranged from a drought to disease.
In our highly mechanised way of life in the West we have somewhere along the track lost our connection to the food we eat and we have gained a mentality that views nature as the enemy rather than the guide or provider of a good standard of living. This can be seen in the modern supermarket where if a fruit or vegetable isn’t shaped perfectly, it is discarded. But the old way still remains in Asia. It is a beautiful sight to see a dozen varieties of carrots for example in all shapes and sizes and oranges that have spots on them. The best part about this is that they taste better by a long margin and are much more nutritious than much of the produce you’d buy from your major chain supermarket.
Today was a just a reminder to me that we live in a diverse, complex and interconnected system that is life. I know that there are plenty of markets like this back home and the numbers are growing each day as the demand is increasing and these are the places I get my produce, but it is unfortunate that the notion of perfect food still exists in the mindsets of thousands, if not millions of people. I spent over an hour here with the guesthouse chef just buying things from different traders and I walked away with 3 backpacks full of fruits and vegetables, which we later cooked together and ate together, enjoying the fruits of nature. It was a Christmas that I will surely remember as being full of life and diversity; uniformity was something of a distant memory, at least on our dinner table.
Merry Christmas all
*Note: The photos used here are actually from Vietnam. I brought my camera, but stupidly left my memory cards back in my room!