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Oranges from California?

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Sabine Schneider
Sabine Schneider

I was innocently peeling the sticker off an orange this morning when my eye caught the word "California".

One of my teenage visitors from Oz had brought it with her and hastened to justify its presence by saying it came from a hotel. I forgot to ask whether the hotel was in Oz or New Zealand, but it doesn't really matter, does it? In both countries oranges are grown by the ton and both countries are orange exporters.

So why on earth would anyone buy an orange from California? Because it's not in season here? Okay, here's another question: Why on earth would anyone want to eat an orange when it's not in season? Because we're used to eating anything anytime? Okay, here's yet another question: Have we completely lost our minds together with our tastebuds? I could go on like this for quite a while, but you get my drift.

Food jetting around the world (whether on so-called bio fuels or not, see Rob West's blog) is an abomination. For example fruit: It's usually picked unripe, so it's completely tasteless. It is also cooled, sprayed and/or waxed with chemicals, dipped in poison and/or gassed. And even if it's organic - it's still tasteless with loads of superfluous packaging.  The only ones who benefit from this idiocy are the shareholders of large supermarket chains. And please don't give me that lame excuse that you simply HAVE to eat peaches and tomatoes between June and September.

If you don't know what's in season watch this space - a regular list of fresh seasonal produce is coming soon. Because we still don't have a CoOL regime (Country of Origin Labelling) many shoppers are simply not aware of buying imported fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets have improved somewhat by labelling fruit and veges as "imported", but it's not good enough. Everything that isn't packaged should have its country of origin on it. Can't be too hard, can it? All this song and dance about the cost of labelling - rubbish! In other countries not a single supermarket has been driven into ruin by adding this info, why is our government so utterly stupid about it?

My elderly aunty from Germany rang me the other day and said, somewhat exasperated, you know, the world has gone mad, we now have to buy onions from New Zealand. ONIONS, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, she shouted into the phone. She's old enough to remember life without bananas and fresh pineapples. Oranges were rare treats for Christmas - even I remember finding Spanish mandarins in my Santa sock. But she remembers eating at least ten different kinds of pears, countless varieties of local apples and plums with unpronouncable names, such as reineclaudes and mirabelles. And onions naturally came from the market garden down the road.

Of course, my aunty didn't have to buy imported onions at all, but the fact that she now has to make an effort to buy local onions greatly annoyed her. I think she's right. We shouldn't have to go to any trouble to make sure we don't buy meat from China, wheat from Canada or oranges from California. But there it is. I hope to be preaching to the converted when I say: We can only vote with our hands. Reach out for local, seasonal produce. It's better for you, it supports local farmers and thus the local economy, it's environmentally friendly (to say the least), it might even be cheaper and without a doubt it tastes much better.

By the way - oranges are not in season right now. Winter is their time. Even without them, January is the month of abundance. In season right now are apricots, strawberries and cherries (for another week or so), raspberries, blueberries, avocados, peaches, pears (just starting), very early apples, beetroot, celery, cucumber, green beans, kumara, leeks, peas, new potatoes (to die for), radishes, silverbeet, sweet corn (almost), tomatoes (early), aubergines and zucchini - among others. And did I mention the tons of plums I've gone through recently?

Have a very good new year 2009 with local fruit and veg. (No, alas, I'm not paid by Horticulture New Zealand.) If you want to read more about this riveting issue: Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence, published by Penguin.

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