Oranges and Lemons, Sold for a Penny

There are times in life when even those closest to you, who you feel you know more than even yourself can shock you with a revelation. Although the subject revolved around the most simple subject of fruits, my friend of over a decade managed to sufficiently shock me. In turn, my unexpected outburst shocked both of us!

One of our closest couple friends had dropped over on my birthday. As it usually happens when friends meet, the conversation covered a wide variety of topics until we came to the point of discussing fruit intake and finally picking fruits from the grocery.

Anyone who has read my piece on Appa’s talent for picking produce would know I am quite fascinated by the whole process of buying fruits and vegetables. My in-laws were visiting us as well and myself and Amma began to talk about this one type of mandarin that’s currently available and in season and how it’s been consistently sweet and perfect to eat. Amma remarked that I somehow had the knack to pick the perfectly ripe ones.

At this my friend’s husband got up and began a pantomime. He began with “This is how my wife picks oranges…”. He began a rather exaggerated show-and-tell version (as most husbands are prone to do!) of how his wife would peel an orange from the ones on sale, taste a segment and if it was sweet she concluded all the oranges in that batch would be sweet. So far the method seemed to be foolproof.

I was speechless for a few seconds. After that, I let her have quite a big piece of my mind. It was one of my pet peeves to see these half eaten oranges (and other fruit) left in the produce section, where they eventually began to rot and turned a few more oranges in their vicinity rotten until the team managing the produce area noticed it and discarded a pile of oranges. The price paid for someone’s convenience.

At first, my friend’s reaction was very mild. She was looking at me like she found my reaction a bit over the top. She attempted to calm me down with “but everyone does it”, which of course only served to rile me up even more! Her husband said one of the supermarket chains had resorted to keeping a single fruit on a separate area with a board to taste only that fruit. Again, I guess they were hoping people will be ethical enough not to demolish other fruits in the pile.

I had heard enough. Next thing we knew, I had marched her straight to my dining table where my latest batch of mandarins shone appealingly from their basket. I showed her exactly what I looked for in an orange. Almost translucent skin, not too firm, not too soft, good colour on the peel as the rest of the batch, not lighter.

I did add a word of caution, that we were picking and choosing from nature’s bounty and no one piece of fruit resembled the other in shape, size or taste. If all else failed, we were supposed to enjoy whatever taste we landed up with!

I insisted she take one home with her and taste the result of my careful inspection before picking an orange. I also explained to her why this was one of my pet peeves and brought her attention to the fact that she was destroying a farmer’s hard work by leaving an orange open on the pile.

I remembered this incident today, after almost a month and felt compelled to pen the tale down.

I had moved on since that day and had even forgotten to ask my friend how the mandarin that I had picked tasted. I followed up today as soon as I remembered and she admitted it tasted nice but the next batch she bought from the supermarket turned out sour.

A lot of us treat produce like any other item in the supermarket, without realising it is the result of someone’s hard work and toil. We don’t really dwell on the journey that vegetable or fruit resting in our hands has taken, the efforts of the farmer who coaxed every ounce of his resources to deliver nourishment to us oblivious people in towns and cities.

It’s high time we did.

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