5 Tips to Thrive at a Farmer's Market, Week 5: Perfection

We’ve been trained to expect flawless food.  Think about it: when you’re in the vegetable aisle at the store and the celery in your hand shows a brown spot on a green rib, you put it back and pick up a different bag.  I admit I’ve done it.  The offending brown spot causes the whole bag to be continuously tossed back on the pile until it finally settles to the bottom of the empty box, abandoned and eventually trashed along with dumpsterloads of other scuffed and dinged rejects.

At the store, there is always a truck out front to restock and satisfy our desire for perfection, and a garbage service in the back to quietly haul away the tons of perfectly good food we chose to throw away each day.  Picky behavior can carry on unchecked because industrial logistics deftly cover the foolishness of our expectations.

Wastefulness doesn’t work as well at a farmer’s market.  Food from a grower-vendor is precious; mindlessly tossing a lightly bruised apple in the trash permanently eliminates a piece of specialty production from the food chain, and there isn’t a global shipping network to smooth over the deficit.

Unfortunately, our collective ‘unlimited’ mindset spills out of the slick automatic doors at Whole Foods and travels, in cars, vans, and SUVs, to the lot hosting weekly farmer’s markets.  We inadvertently layer expectations from one paradigm – industrial, global food networks – onto an entirely different model: single-family growers with limited seasonal production.

My friend Aaron Sturges tells me regularly about people who complain of slight marks on his otherwise perfect fruit.  One man rejected an apple due to a twig mark on the skin (a lightly discolored line where the branch touched the fruit while it was on the tree), laughing that his son won’t eat anything blemished.  Friends, that’s not funny.  I’ve encountered a huge number of folks who won’t buy beef from us because a Strip steak isn’t cut precisely the same way every week.  Some people refuse to buy brisket that isn’t trimmed to exacting standards.  Our ground beef is roughly 80/20; quite a large number of people have walked away because I couldn’t guarantee computerized precision.

Where the heck are our priorities?  Expecting perfection supports an industrialized, worldwide system that’s dependant on chemicals and technology, which are the only tools available to override reality and sterilize our meals into faultless consistency.  Real food from real people isn’t absolutely perfect, and, by embracing that imperfection, we find wholesomeness.

Goodness, I think we can all use a dose of wholesome over fake flawless.  I yearn for a little reality on the dinner table – do you?  We can find it on farms around our hometowns.  It takes a change of thinking, from wasteful to grateful.  From unlimited to precious.  From convenient to just a tad hard to find.  But it’s worth it, because, if you’re reading this, you share a desire to change the whole world by eating better.  Leave the nitpicking to the grocery store managers and abandon the quest for flawless; by ‘lowering’ our standards we’ll find the best food we’ve ever eaten.