Sister Time and Little Green Caterpillars in the Broccoli

I bet you’re wondering where I’m going with this.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about perfection/imperfection, in the context of this blog and local food.

Fairly often during the summer, my sister and I spend part of the weekend cooking most of our meals for the coming week. Nothing fancy, just egg/meat/grain or egg/potato bowls for breakfasts, meat/veg bowls for lunches, and sometimes we add some favorite childhood recipes to put away in the deep freezer for winter. It can seem like a lot of work while we’re doing it, but it saves a lot of time and energy during the coming weeks and provides quality grownup sister time. We share many fond memories of food from our childhood, and time spent in the kitchens of our mom and grandmothers. Now that we’re both in our 40s, and living as geographically near each other as we have since our 20s, it’s fun to see what we remember and enjoy making.

One of the things that came to mind as we were prepping broccoli last year (and drowning a bunch of those ubiquitous green caterpillars!): prioritizing local food has meant broadening or changing our expectations about the food we buy.

Produce in the grocery store tends to be brightly-colored, shiny, uniform, unblemished. They’re visually appealing, right? I’m sure marketing agencies have done studies about what most appeals to consumers, and what they’re likely to buy — even what sizes and packaging are most attractive. And as consumers, I think maybe we’ve come to prize so many surface qualities without necessarily thinking about whether they’re the qualities that matter most to us.

On the flip side, I think we’ve been conditioned to expect the lack of anything else living in our food.

I’ve been dealing with these little green caterpillars in the garden for so long, it doesn’t bother me at all to find them in our locally-grown market broccoli. I bring it home from the market with an awareness that it was cut only yesterday, cut from a plant still growing in the ground just down the road. It’s just from a bigger garden, and whatever I expect from garden produce pretty much translates to farmers’ market produce. At worst, it’s an extra step to dunk the broccoli and dispatch the green guys when they float up. At best, it’s a fun sort of game to find them all. Regardless, the rewards of the richer, fresher, sweeter broccoli are so worth it.

If I brought home a head of broccoli from the grocery store and found caterpillars, it would probably be quite a shock. As much as I love to garden and cook and eat vegetables, I don’t think about the living plant in the ground when I shop at the grocery store. And that’s bad for farmers because it means that as a grocery store consumer, I’m probably a pretty typical consumer, with typical “it’s so shiny!” expectations.

After a year of ruminating on the little green caterpillars, I’d hoped to organize my thoughts into something more profound, but this is all I’ve got: buy the less-shiny, less-perfect produce, and don’t be afraid of the little green caterpillars!

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