Supermarket fresh produce should be just that – fresh. Yet recent investigations have shown Australian supermarket fruits and vegetables to be months old.
When a study by the Australian Sun Herald exposed supermarket apples to average 10 months, the term “fresh produce” became an ironic anomaly. Coated in wax, blasted with fungicide spray and stored in specific cold conditions, these apples take anti-aging to new levels. Imported fruits may be even older, with many grape varieties leaving US shores up to a year before arriving on Australian shelves. Packed in the preservative sulfur dioxide, the plump, juicy nuggets hanging from healthy vines appear deceptively fresh.
Fruits and vegetables are seasonal, meaning they grow in abundance at particular times of the year and show dismal production during other times. Purchasing produce out of season almost guarantees a hike in price as well as in distance, with some produce spending two weeks in transit.
A 2010 analysis by IBISWorld shows fruit and vegetable imports to be worth $1.7 billion; representing almost 1/4 of fruit and vegetable consumption in Australia. This generous influx of foreign fruit is predominantly found in canned goods while “fresh” produce is grown within our borders.
Fresh produce may be months old
As a large country with a diverse climate, Australia prides itself on its agricultural abilities. As a leading exporter of meats, most supermarkets contain almost 99% Australian meats. Aside from our taste for foreign fromage, the supermarket dairy aisle is predominantly filled with Australian dairy products.
While apples may be historical landmarks by the time they’re plucked from the shelf, they are seasonal between April and June and likely to be more youthful than in warmer months. Bananas are grown in Australia all year round while most berries are seasonal to summer. For a thorough breakdown of seasonal fruits and vegetables not only nationally but in each state, visit the Seasonal Food Guide website.
Aside from the fresh factor, seasonal produce is often cheaper as transportation costs are lower. When apples are close to celebrating their first birthday, it may be time to reconsider the importance of purchasing produce during its harvesting season. Furthermore, seasonal produce is more likely to retain higher nutrient levels as prolonged storage of produce results in a loss of many vital nutrients.
The organic industry cottoned on to the detrimental environmental impact of imported and far-travelling fresh produce. When fruit has more frequent flier mileage than the individual eating it, the environmental effects become noticeable.
“Food miles” is the term referring to the distance from source to seller. Truckloads of fresh produce travelling miles contributes significant carbon emissions as well as the cryogenic storage facilities requiring large amounts of energy to ensure birthday apples appear as youthful as their infantile companions.
Buy organic fruits and vegetables
Organic produce also celebrates the notion of natural aging. Unable to hide behind pesticides and fungicides, these fruits and vegetables are unable to be stored for lengthy periods of time without turning rancid and inedible. While they frequently do not appear as cherub as standard fresh produce, organic fruit and vegetables are more likely to be seasonal, environmentally friendly and naturally tasty.
Frozen fruit is a simple, albeit expensive option for increasing the likelihood of fresh produce in fruits that are off season. Supermarket freezers are packed with frozen raspberries, cranberries and various other fruits while frozen vegetable packs are often cheap and come in any style from Asian stir-fry to simple peas, corn and potatoes. The produce is usually placed in freezers immediately after harvesting, ensuring nutrients and freshness are literally frozen in time.
Supermarket convenience and cost may be attractive, however, if fresh is a food feature you value highly, it may be more worthwhile purchasing organic produce from local grocers. Farmer’s markets and seasonal produce from the local corner store may deliver the freshest produce available at reasonable prices. Don’t allow your carrots to see more continents than you have. Buy local, celebrate seasonal variations and splurge on the occasional organic orange.