Nova čitanja

You are what you eat

When the spaghetti blossom

Enes Kurtović

05.03.2023

How important is knowledge about food production?How important is knowledge about food production?

Foto: Enes Kurtović / Školegijum

Key word: Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) – an annual vegetable plant related to the potato, as it belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae). It is traditionally classified as a vegetable, although in terms of botany, it is a fruit plant. 

On 1 April 1957, the BBC show Panorama featured a report on the harvesting of spaghetti in the south of Switzerland. The report explained how the mild winter and eradication of the spaghetti weevil positively affected the growth of spaghetti-bearing trees, making the uniform length of the spaghetti and their quality above-average for that year’s harvest. Of course, this was an April Fool’s joke that had to be explained to the thousands of people calling the BBC to inquire about where they could get spaghetti tree seedlings and how to grow their own spaghetti. 

Chocolate Comes from Cows 

Ignorance about what we eat every day abounds. Modern life has put supermarket shelves between nature — which provides food — and us, the people who consume that food. Our busy lifestyles leave us little time to look beyond the shelves at how the food we purchase and eat is produced. We settle for watching commercials and trusting food labels. If, during the war, Sarajevo children used to say that milk came from Merhamet and the Red Cross, today their milk comes from Konzum and Bingo. In this story, cows are purple and provide us with chocolate. Domestic food production is weak, disorganized, and uncompetitive. That’s why we eat plums from Chile, cucumbers from Turkey, and apples from Slovenia and Poland. 

The fifth grade curriculum for the subject of Nature includes the following topics: Importance of Plants for People, Wild and Cultivated Plants, Plant Cultivation and Protection, Animal Cultivation and Protection. The titles indicate that general information is provided to enable children to, for example, differentiate wild plants from cultivated plants, and describe the appearance and use of plants by people (Nature, 5th grade curriculum, Sarajevo Canton). 

What Happened to the Tomato? 

Older people still remember a time when tomatoes were a seasonal vegetable that could be obtained from mid-June (early Macedonian varieties) to late September (from domestic gardens). Tomatoes were soft and quickly spoiled in the summer heat, so they could be kept on market stalls for only a day or two. The tomatoes from that time had a taste our palates rarely encounter these days. Today, we can buy tomatoes year round, with slight variations in price, but a constant dearth of its long-ago forgotten good taste. New tomato hybrids give fruits that align with interests of trade: they are durable for transport, attractive in appearance, and have a longer shelf life in the supermarkets. These are the characteristics traders are interested in, and the producers had to adapt to them in order to sell their products. Consumers have to eat, have to buy food, and have to choose among what is offered. Trade determines supply and there the story starts running in circles. The real taste of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables remains only in the memories of older generations. New generations have only ever known the taste of supermarket stock. 

How Do Peanuts Grow? 

How much do new generations know about the production of fruits and vegetables they find on their plates every day? Do our children know the relationship between crisps and potatoes? Would we be surprised to find out that our children, having grown up and gone to school in urban areas, are convinced that tomatoes grow on trees? Why would it go without saying that children know what a tomato plant looks like simply because they eat its fruit every day? Is couscous a type of grain or a type of pasta? Did you know that the peanut is a type of legume that forms above the soil following blossoming and pollination, and then falls to the ground where producers cover it with soil so that it may ripen? Did you know that you can grow your own peanuts in BH? You didn’t learn about this in school? 

Textbook Knowledge 

In lower grades, the subject of My Environment includes lessons on fruits and vegetables, and food production with illustrations of the most important sorts. Thus, pupils in third grade, having learned about the Importance of Plants in Human Nutrition, should be able to undertake simple work in the garden, orchard and field and independently or with the help of others grow flowers in the classroom (My Environment, 3rd grade curriculum, Sarajevo Canton). In higher grades such lessons are rare because it is assumed that by this time children can differentiate apples from oranges. Information from textbooks is all that education offers. Someone who wants to know more will have to visit relatives in the country or study agronomy when they’re older. Few schools have their own gardens where pupils can get their hands dirty growing fruits and vegetables. There is not enough space, resources, plans, or initiative. In the garden of our education, not enough is in great abundance. Too bad it’s not edible. 

A Garden in Every Schoolyard! 

The second term, the period from February to June, provides ample time to organize sowing or planting of radishes, spinach or lettuce. It doesn’t even require a lot of room. Dedicating a small part of the schoolyard to this isn’t much of an investment. Even a small plot, with good organization, can yield different fruits and vegetables, or at least some herbs to begin with. The Internet has plenty of information about how to grow your own food on your balcony, on your windowsill, or in flowerpots. Urban gardening has become a trend in large cities where people want to learn about how to produce food and grow plants, and where they want to eat something they grew themselves, against all odds. The education system should devote much more attention to food production and nutrition because they relate to a vital human need. Without this knowledge, we are left to the tyranny of the market deciding for us what we will EAT, our food quality, and pricing. Without that knowledge, we trust commercials recommending top-quality products and healthy food, but whose labels are rife with small-print mysterious E-codes. 

Without that knowledge, we are liable to swallow anything, even a story about spaghetti growing on trees.

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