My children grew up when the phrase “hothouse babies” was popularized. The term described the offspring of parents who enrolled their kids in every available extracurricular activity. I would be lying if I said I haven’t got residual guilt for not being one of those parents, yet the reality was that my husband and I had neither the inclination nor the money to offer our children an endless number of out-of-school activities. Indeed, I was somewhat relieved when a friend of mine suggested that hothouse babies were like hothouse tomatoes. “They look good but don’t have much flavour.”
I try to make a habit of shopping at the farmer’s market. Besides the fact that local produce is better than imported, I like to support local growers. Really nothing earth-shattering or surprising here; I am not a woman before her time but a woman who has fallen in step with her time because it makes sense to me. It is also because I am a sucker for beautiful fruits and vegetables. Only recently, though, did I discover that, even at the farmers’ market, the hothouse tomato syndrome is alive and well.
As peach season was coming to an end, I purchased several of the last of these beauties from one of the many organic stalls at the market. I bought what the farmer had marked down and called seconds; sure, they didn’t look perfect, but they tasted incredible. As she calculated the price, she told me she had a hard time convincing people of this. “They want their produce picture-perfect,” she said, “and if I put any of these in with the regularly-priced fruit, they think I’m trying to get away with something.”
As I walked away from her stall, I thought about this desire for perfection and realized that what many of us haven’t figured out is that what we’re looking for is a product we can’t have—pesticide-free fruits and vegetables with the look of those that are sprayed.
It may be that until we reach the point of recognizing that the real thing is not the perfect thing, we will continue to pursue a world that we think we want in favour of one that we really do want and, beyond this, a world that doesn’t really exist.
Hothouse tomatoes, after all, look good but have no flavour…