When life gives you lemons: a rant on politics and food
I have mentioned before how I hardly ever buy lemons. Whenever we go to Alentejo for a visit to my mother in law's, we always pick her lemon tree and come home with these fragrant beauties in tow. I just wish she had a farm instead of a tiny garden, so I could bring home even more fresh produce. See, I'm all for eating fresh, and local, and seasonal. Unfortunately, it is not often we can indulge in that.
I live in a small town, in the outskirts of a big city . actually, the capital, Lisbon - and I have two local markets in walking distance. I don't shop there. On many visits to both I was hard faced with the reality that the produce sold there is not sold by the producers per se, and it is not local - yeah, there are no farms in my town, there are lavish parks and great beaches, but there's no fishing and no farming at all, unless on a very small, personal scale - nor is its as seasonal as one might think. If you shop those markets and then go to the local supermarkets you will find the same fruits and veggies, bought from MARL - it's a kin of professionals' only market in Lisbon that provides produce to the suburbs, be it for the local markets or the bigger supermarkets. - which makes the stallkeepers mere intermediary, having to sell their goods at higher rates than local supermarkets, because, obviously, they can't afford to buy in bulk.
Some of the fruit sold there, both in the markets as in supermarkets, has months of refrigeration, is far from local - from Spain, mostly, but also France - and far from seasonal. I could rant ad rant about this, about the fact that we as an agricultural country, produce great fruit and great vegetables, which are mostly sold out to the rest of the European Union at very low prices, and resold there, hardly ever reaching our own markets. My sister, who lives in London, always says that whenever she sees packs of pears or apples from Portugal for sale on her local supermarket, she buys them as they're much cheaper and far better than the rest of the produce she can find there.Which brings me to the thought that, contrary to other european agricultural producers, Portugal keeps selling its best products for a song, hardly ever leaving the good stuff to reach locals, especially in big cities and suburbs such as in Lisbon, and keeps buying cheap fruit and vegetables from other countries that manage to keep their best produce for internal consumption and only selling what's left, which is hardly ever the good stuff.
These will then be kept in huge refrigerators for a long time, and resold in suburban markets and chain stores, supermarkets all around my country, sometimes overly priced because of the costs in storage and transportation. And most times, tasteless, odourless, unappetizing. This makes no sense whatsoever to me, really. But politics in this country make no sense whasoever to me, the way each and every government, since the 25th April 1974, has been focused on making this a country that imports its goods, even the ones we excell in producing, making the people be forced to buy what is hardly ever local, what is hardly ever good, but selling for songs the good things we produce. To my brain, they should be doing precisely the opposite, and asking for a higher rate on what Portugal sells, and keeping the best for internal market. But hey, what do I know? (I actually do know, see.)
So I usually buy frozen. I rather like frozen veggies, see. They're affordable and good, they have a lasting life inside my freezer that makes them rather convenient, meaning I always have veggies at hand to cook with, and they never go bad, nor spoil, because they're frozen! For instance, I love spinach. I mean, I really love spinach, but I can't eat fresh spinach. Whenever I cook with fresh spinach, I get sick, and huge stomach aches ensue. This doesn't happen with frozen spinach, so I always have a packet or two on my freezer. And rabe, I always have rabe, runner beans, peas, broccoli, leeks, even diced carrots! Corn! Parlsey! Because it's all very beautiful saying one should only buy local and seasonal and directly from the producer, but the truth is most people cannot afford to. And we all have to eat. And we all have a right to eat healthy and varied meals. So if the only way you can guarantee that your family is eating a proper amount of vegetables is by buying those frozen ones, kudos to you. I will never be a detractor of people whose main concern is properly feeding their families on a very small budget, and I am aware that most families around where I live have this concern and this problem - despite the luxury cars and the high branded clothes on their backs.
Like I said, buying from those markets at waking distance near me is paying more for produce that is precisely the same as the one I buy at the local chain stores and supermarkets. I really wish I could afford to support those market vendors, really, instead of having to pour my money to those big chains - this would bring on an even bigger political rant, if I were to state my why's - but I can't. The same happens with fish. We're a fishing country and yet, most people cannot afford to buy and consume fresh fish in a regular way, especially if bought at the local market. See, just recently I saw this Instagram post by Donal Skehan who was filming in Lisbon, showcasing a fish market stall, and the prices showcased where shocking, as far as I am concerned. In a country where most the minimal wages are just a little over 500€ but where most people don't even make that much, in a country where the unemployment rates are so much higher than the numbers the government showcases to the IMF, it is a bit offensive to be confronted with those pricetags, and even more offensive to have people shoving up your face what you should be eating when you cannot afford to buy those ingredients.
It's elitistic at best, you're only someone if you can afford to buy certain overpriced ingredients, but what is worse is that you will hear all the time so called nutricionists and nutrition experts in radio or tv shows stating the importance of consumming those so called super foods and those ingredients that happen to be the fad of the moment. I do hate fads. I do hate that most people don't even have the critical mindset to question this, this brainwashing. But I do like my fresh fruit, my fresh produce, my diversity in food, and in cooking. So I do try to make my personal effort whenever we go to our Summer place, where I can just drive to the local Caldas da Rainha market, where I can usually find the freshest produce, sold by the producers who have small farms in the area, at very affordable prices, produce that is so good and so fresh, and so full of flavour and scented and downright wonderful! It's all I can really do, sadly, until the day I can move to that area for good. Until then, I will keep on pinching lemons from my mother in law's garden, at least I know those are as fresh as can be! And delicious too!