THIS week, my toddler is learning about vegetables at school. I’m quite relaxed about his attitude towards green, leafy things, because “this is a tree!” actually worked with him; my daughter, bless her intellectual giantism, pointed out that broccoli had no bark and therefore, she wouldn’t bite.
Vegetables are life’s big business venture. We’re always being told to steam them, eat five a day, choose carrots over cake and mentally prepare ourselves for the moment when we’ll finally accept salad as a hearty lunch.
I was vegetarian for 10 years, but I’m no rabbit. Pushing lamb chops and chicken off the menu was easy – I gorged on cheese and carbs instead. And that’s the fattest I ever was, since sugar also isn’t an animal.
So I’ve never been a domestic farmer, either, despite being quite a health activist and corporate conspiracy theorist. If people want to sow seeds in tyres in backyards, they’re welcome to it – and I’ll part with silver to share the bounty, without getting muck on my hands. As much as I value organic, cruelty-free and “local is lekker” spinach, it’s obvious that someone who kills a 40-year-old fern just by looking at it, isn’t going to raise a litter of radishes and tomatoes any time soon.
But I feel a little guilty about being such a supermarket-supporting sloth. Sometimes, when I bag a tray of pre-packed mealies at R30 for four, it seems criminal that my grandparents casually harvested their own, by the dozen, inbetween raising three sons and several chickens, building a house and running a business. I’m a lazy consumer – every retailer’s dream. And it’s the lazy consumers who keep vegetables rocketing in price – including the rocket, which has to be the most expensive piece of trendy weed ever to grace a plate. Thankfully, I hate it, so I’m not forced to pay its outrageous selling price.
I do like cauliflower though – and when I read this week about a farmer who’s being fleeced by a very popular, well-known and supposedly humanitarian-minded retailer, I nearly bought a pack of GMO-free seeds in protest.
It goes like this: Mr Farmer spends thousands to produce his cauliflowers, which end up on said retailer’s shelf at up to R45 a head. Now here’s the crazy bit: he gets R4 per head for his efforts (the bang-on cost to produce each head), while the retailer not only rakes in a fortune – but takes up to 60 days to pay Mr Farmer.
This means that the nice man who grows your cauliflower – which is even more popular now, thanks to the carb-free dieting craze (cauli-rice, anyone?) – isn’t making any money for doing so; which means that the bulk of your cauliflower budget is going straight to the suits.
Something is suspiciously wrong with this picture. And part of it is the nonsensical idea that to counteract the evils of The Big Corporate, we need to grow our own cauliflower.
What we really need to do is hire a mini-bus and take turns fetching our veggies from Mr Farmer down the road, perhaps on a Saturday – with a discount for picking our own.
I may not grow veggies, but I’m a dab hand at organising lift clubs. I’d enjoy the irony of packing my hand-picked veg in empty supermarket packets. Who’s with me?