Breeding for convenience

When we changed from being strictly hunter/gatherers to becoming farmers, we decided that the natural world was not enough to support our needs, and we decided to focusing on making food more convenient for us. At first, it was probably mostly being more conveniently located, and ensuring that those items in the convenient location have the best chance for survival and growth. As time went on, though, we gained the skills and knowledge to modify what we grew to have different traits. Some of this was from selecting the seeds of various plants that we liked the best, and continuing to select seeds from later generations that more accurately matched our desires. In other cases, we would take a natural process of cross breeding, as happens with grasses, and diversify grains into things like corn and wheat. Both useful, both grasses, both very different.

When the advent of high-speed trucking, shipping, and freight-hauling hit its peak, food growers realized that they could expand their market by selecting some traits, such as ability to withstand damage, over others, such as flavor. The big example in this case is the tomato, which went from a delicious fruit/vegetable thing to becoming a tasteless bit of watery ornamentation that goes on top of a sandwich. When convenience is chosen over flavor, the food suffers.

This is not to say that convenience and flavor are mutually exclusive, or that with enough work, we can't create a series of tomatoes that can survive shipping *and* have all sorts of different, and good, flavors. However, each additional variable adds a lot of extra complexity, and it becomes less profitable to bundle it all into one. This is why year-long, grocery store tomatoes are not likely to be as good as locally-grown, farm fresh tomatoes without being much more expensive. Worse, that's likely to remain the case for many, many years, if it ever changes at all.

I also think of this whenever I eat a fresh concord grape. They are packed with all the flavor in the world, but their seeds and skin leave a little to be desired. Seedless grapes, on the other hand, are really easy to eat, but have a flavor best described as, "insipid".

So be cautious of the compromise you make when choosing your food. Putting forth a little extra effort, or waiting until the right time, will almost always give you significantly better flavor than choosing the convenience route. Which is not to say that you can never choose convenience, just know what you are giving up.

Kind Plus Bars

A couple of months ago, I get an email from a man named Phil asking if I would be nice enough to review an energy bar product. This was exciting, not only because I might get an opportunity to review a new product, but because it allowed me to test my Blogger Integrity by pointing out that, while I would be happy to accept some samples to test, not only am I not promising to give a positive review, but I am not promising to do a review at all. After all, I still have some 2 year-old gum base that I've done nothing with, and am kind of afraid to use now because I have no idea how long gum base lasts before it goes bad. Even so, Phil was quite confident in his product and braved my indifference, laziness, and/or displeasure. I think Roger Ebert would disapprove even so, but I'm no journalist, so I'll accept my free review copies where I can. Some untracked time later, but well before the end of 2008, I received a batch of Kind Plus Bars. The general theory behind kind bars is, to quote:
KIND Fruit + Nut bars are delicious snacks for a heart-healthy diet. Our handmade bars are packed with whole premium almonds, Brazilian nuts, walnuts, peanuts, and chunks of all-natural dried fruits held together with honey.
The ingredients were mostly things accessible to the home cook, with the exotic ingredients being soy lecithin, glucose, and linseed chicory fiber. I know: it's scary. The rest is all fruit this, nut that, honey, flaxseed, blah blah blah. In a pinch, you could probably reproduce the bar at home if you were of the mind. I don't know that I'd say the same about a Power Bar. The taste is, by and large, fantastic. I tried the Mango Macadamia Kind Plus bar first, as it "won 'Best New Product' in the food category at Natural Products Expo East in Boston about a month ago." I figured, why not be impressed out of the gate? Ahh, ethics. KIND Plus Mango Macadamia, aside from being tasty, is overflowing with umami. At least, I'm pretty sure it was. I can't find any evidence that macadamia nut nor mango are particularly umami-laden, but I can't really explain it any other way. In any case, it's so good. Throughout the line, I find that the chewier bars are better. The only fruit and nut bar I wasn't all that excited about was the strawberry one. The all-nut bars, also not that great, and the sesame chocolate bar (which I bought with my own money) was likewise uninspiring. However, most of the bars were outstanding. I understand they're a little pricey in the store, but they are less than $2 each on average when you buy in packs of 12 on Amazon, and in many cases close to $1.50 each. To summarize, we have gone through most of our free samples, and are buying our own, so Phil's confidence was well-placed. Still, don't expect that I'll review your product as favorably if you send me a copy. Presume I'll hate it and make fun of it mercilessly, or just toss it in a corner and ignore it. Could happen. But for now, I eat my Kind Bars.

Seasonal Ingredient Map


Seasonal Ingredient Map: "Epicurious has created a handy, interactive map of seasonal produce by state. Select a month, hover over a state, and a list of in-season ingredients is displayed with links to the ingredient descriptions and recipes....

I was looking for one of these a couple of years ago, and this one seems pretty good. It does a little grouping, I've noticed: when it says that this month is good for spinach in Virginia, it really means leafy greens in general (we get quite a bit of kale, mustard greens, and the like as well). With that minor quibble, it's a lovely tool. I am actively working to become in tune with seasonality, and we are attempting the noble goal of eating a family's share of CSA vegetables between the two of us (and whichever guests we happen to have over). While this tool won't change much by way of what we do, it will be nice to know what to expect when, and hopefully reinforce the memories of which point of the season we get which fruits and vegetables.

(Via Required Eating.)