What to Unlearn to Buy Local Produce

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The slogan is so easy: Support your local economy! There's a certain contemporary romance about being a regular at your farmer's market, a certain Michael Pollantude that confers good living. But there's a difference between the gorgeously photographed ideal and the actual gnarly reality of nonstandard produce. And even if it tastes the same, a lot of us aren't totally ready for it.

Researchers from Lehigh University, Cornell University, and the University of California, Davis, have been looking into diversifying broccoli. It's not as silly as it sounds at first: More than 90 percent of the broccoli that Americans eat comes from one county in California. Given California's ongoing battles with drought and climate change, it's worth figuring out how to disentangle our dinner tables from agricultural monopolies.

There is a strain of broccoli that grows well on the East Coast, but it has a problem. Consumers think it looks weird. The buds are all different sizes and it doesn't look as uniform as California-grown varieties. While this may not be an issue for individual buyers, this is a definite concern for grocery stores and wholesalers. Our gut decision is to reject weird-looking broccoli.

This isn't quite the same issue as the perhaps-superfluous ugly produce movement, and if you're the CSA-joining type, you probably already have an idea of what real variety looks like. For the wider consumer market, it may be a matter of simple exposure. People tend to accept new recommendations with adequate explanation. If you understand why you're hesitating about that head of greens, you're more likely to know that they'll taste just as good.