Wet veg, everlasting salads and other mysterious secrets of the American supermarket

The organic food-market is an extraordinary thing. Supermarkets always claim to be providing what their customers want, and so since a large number of people are growing increasingly concerned about the chemicals shoved willy-nilly into our food, supermarkets provide organic food.

But you know their hearts aren’t in it. All the mass-produced, completely supply-reliable, unrottable, choose-your-shade-of-green foodstuffs that the multi-nationals supply them with make supermarkets’ lives much, much easier. And so supermarkets cheer themselves up by ripping off organic customers, charging an even greater mark-up on organic produce, and making their mass-produced products look more and more like the organic versions.

In the UK you can tell organic food because it looks weird. All bumpy, misshapen and vaguely threatening. It’s been pulled out the ground for chrissake. No beauty competitions underground, believe you me. As we speak, the chemical maniacs that produce most of our food are inventing new fertilisers that distort vegetables sufficiently to pass the ugly test but still just creep in under legal toxicity limits.

So I thought organic food would take the same design in the United States. But no. In the US, organic food still has to look as if it is an Oscar nominee and has been in make-up all morning. The crucial differentiator in the US is: organic food comes dripping wet.

Spade-like hands

Not wet like having been pulled out of a bucket, but wet like a huge farmer has filled up one of his huge hulking spade-like hands with water and then scattered on top of his glorious produce.

Everything’s wet. To the extent that you have to shake it when you pick it up – sending water flying over everything else. I have they have good drains underneath the veg racks. And, of course, not to be left out, the non-organic stuff also has *some* water sprinkled over it – but not as much. That’s how you tell.

Call me paranoid but I’m pretty certain that some supermarket big boss up there is enjoying this water-loading as a terrific joke against his customers that insist on continuing to buy organic produce. Two-thirds of a cent extra thanks to the weight of the water, he’ll be chuckling to himself. And they think it’s healthier. Broahahahahaha.

And then, on the other end of it is the pre-made salads in a bag.

These bags already have a notoriously poor reptutation. They are rinsed in all sorts of chemicals to make sure no bugs make it through and then they are sealed in nitrogen bags to keep them fresh. The result is: utterly tasteless nonsense. But I still buy them on occasion because I eat such little salad that if I buy all the ingredients (leaves) separately I know I will end up throwing most of it away.

So I bought a “Spring mix with herbs” bag a few weeks ago to occasionally grab at and shove a few leaves next to the meat and veg on the plate. I then spent a busy week in the office, a week in Rio at a conference, and two days sick with flu, and while cooking yesterday, noticed the bag at the bottom rung of the fridge. Carefully picking it up to avoid the leaf sludge, I was bemused, exciting and then appalled to discover that aside from very slight curling, it was in almost the exact same condition as when I left it.

I don’t know what the hell they’ve done with leaves but the fact that they’ve done it and the end products are still somehow digestible is testament to what mankind is capable of when faced with enough profit incentive.

Tubs

I don’t know where Americans got their love of sauces from but my god. It’s not the Land of the Free, it’s the Land of the Sauce. The more the merrier. And plenty of it. Why restrict yourself to a smattering of sauce that you dip your food into when you can smother it in that shit – and add another two on top. The more sauces, the more taste!

The aisle devoted to sauces is in turn impressive and depressing. I have a big problem with pre-created sauces. They always but always lose what makes a sauce – the delicate blend and punch of different flavours. You simply cannot stick a ton of ingredients into a monster vat, stir it up, shove the results in thousands of tiny bottles, stack em on shelves and expect them to taste anything like a sauce knocked up for the job alongside the meal.

But it’s far worse than that. What I’m describing is the best sauces. Most of the sauces in supermarkets over here are one-flavour e-number plastic gunk-fests. And to prove it, they come in enormous jars at ridiculously cheap prices. Don’t worry about the taste, feel the weight.

On the other side

But enough bitching and moaning. This is the US of A, which means that everything dreadful is balanced with something extraordinary.

In this case, it is choice. And high-quality choice when it comes to things Americans like. It may seem like an odd thing to say but the choice of ice creams is like nothing you’ve ever seen. Yes, ice cream isn’t *healthy* but then that doesn’t make it any less tasty, and there is the most tremendous array of ice cream. And most of it is extremely nice, bordering on sensational.

Likewise pizza. I don’t really like pizza (small bits of food on tomato and bread) but every now and again it’s a tasty and easy snack. Pizza bought from a supermarket everywhere else in the world is a pretty poor affair – floppy bread, plastic cheese, watery tomato. In America, the pizzas are often better than what you get in restaurants. Yes, they’re fatty, but they’ve got decent ingredients and they are, well, tasty.

But perhaps most importantly – and maybe it’s just California – the selection of wine is tremendous. It doesn’t cover the world as much as I’d like but there is a huge array with lots and lots of Californian reds. And they’re pretty good. I’ve been sampling at different prices and I’ve yet to hit a dud. A slightly different experience in the UK.

Plus of course many of the shops open for much longer hours – the Ralphs nearest me being open 24 hours. Yes, you can buy soaking wet lettuce at 4am if that floats your boat.

But what’s the biggest secret?

It has to be the hot plate with ready-cooked meatloaf and chicken-roasts. Yes they may be poor quality food and yes they may have been there all day, gently, slowly wasting away from heat exhaustion but buy one, tuck into it and against your better judgement, you’ll find it’s a taste revolution.

Am I serious? No. They look and smell absolutely disgusting. I’d rather cook a dead dog over a candle. But hey, so long as I never have to spend too long in a room with someone who eats this stuff, it remains a glorious bizarre blend of foodstuffs.

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