Monday, August 22, 2011

In Praise of Modern Industrial Agriculture

When I used to buy sweet corn at the farmers' market, or at Whole Foods, or even, god forbid, at Safeway, it usually looked a little something like this:

This didn't strike me as remarkable in any way. That's what corn looks like.

Well, now that I have been removed from the comfortable embrace of the world's most advanced agricultural system I am seeing things in a whole new way. They grow corn here too, but it's a little bit different. For starters Guinean corn has about twice as much husk as its all-American counterpart and the ears are perhaps two-thirds the size. The kernels are smaller and less closely packed on the ear. They take longer to cook and are less sweet and toothsomely tender. The ears also occasionally contain caterpillars. When I buy corn in Guinea it looks a little something like this:

Now take that difference and multiply it by pretty much everything you eat. Onions are more the size of billiard balls than softballs and frequently have to have the outside layer or two peeled off because they're soft and mushy. Carrots are better cooked than raw because they're too rubbery to get that nice crisp crack. Eggs are smaller and need to have the dirt and straw and chicken poop washed off them before you crack them open individually over a clean bowl in case they turn out to be rotten. Happened to me twice last week. Even the mangoes, while huge and pretty tasty, lack the melting succulent sweetness of the ones I used to get imported from Mexico.

And yet, despite these challenges, I'm still somehow managing to eat pretty well. A little cardamom molten chocolate cake with homemade ice cream and candied ginger goes a long way.


  1. I can't help you with anything else, but I DO have a tip to know whether your egg is good or not BEFORE you crack it open.

    Grab a glass (I use a pint usually), fill it with cold water and slowly put your egg inside (you don't want it to crack when it hits the bottom). If the egg is touching the bottom of the glass, it's good, if it's floating, even a little bit, it's rotten (when it rots it creates gasses which makes it float). It's great for when you're like me and don't consume all the eggs pre-expiration date. Sometimes the eggs are still good weeks after it expired! (I have always used this tip, and never had a surprise when cracking it open.)

  2. Thanks for the tip. I'll give it a try.

  3. I agree with the above poster, fresh eggs sink completely, eggs that are okay but beginning to turn will stand on one end, bad eggs (and eggs that have begun to develop into chickens) will float.

    Also, Carrots keep a lot better in plastic bags (weeks on the shelf in my PCV in Africa house vs days). I think if you soak them in a little water, they should crisp back up... basically they just loose their water.