Vegetables. What do you have? A stroll through my local Safeway market’s produce aisle reveals a very typical, if small, selection of vegetables. Bell peppers. Cauliflower. Broccoli. Romaine red leaf and green leaf lettuce. The nutritionally empty iceberg lettuce. Tomatoes. Spinach. Ears of corn “with their shirts on” in season; shucked ears of corn out of season. Carrots, cabbage, and a few others.
It seems that the selection is always the same and it all seems very boring to me. I can’t imagine what it looks like to my wife.
Filipinos have a very wide variety of vegetables to choose from all year long, whether you shop at the palengke (public market) or the mall supermarket. Menchu is a vegetable lover and loves her pinakbet and chop suey. She’s frequently disappointed by the selection of vegetables at the American market.
Even when we shop at the local Asian supermarket where they offer many vegetables that the American markets don’t, Menchu is often disappointed. Bok Choy, upo, sitaw, sayote, kang kong, talong. She keeps looking and looking for more vegetables than this but she always winds up disappointed and shaking her head.
Even though Washington State, where we live, is considered one of the leading states for vegetable growing (and certainly for fruit such as apples), we’re still trapped by the American business model. Generally, big farms that grow uniform types of crops are more profitable than small farms that grow a diverse number of crops. That leaves us with very cheap potatoes, for example, but very expensive spinach. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Seattle, you have the chance to visit a dozen or so farmer’s markets in various neighborhoods to augment the bland selection at your local supermarket. That is, if you have the money. The vegetables (and meat, cheese, fruit and much more) are beautiful, nutritious and diversified at the farmer’s market but they’re a lot more expensive than the same old same old at the Hugeass Mart.
It seems just the opposite in the Philippines. There, small crop farmers are plentiful and they grow a wider variety of things. So the palengke is less expensive because that’s where the competition on price is. It’s the vegetables at the supermarkets that cost more.
A rule of thumb that I think I coined goes like this: “In the Philippines, if it’s handmade, it’s cheap. If it’s machine-made, it’s expensive.” Here that would apply by saying that the working farmer, breaking his back in the sun produces less expensive vegetables to sell at the palengke than the big, factory farm with their machines and trucks hauling food to the supermarkets. That’s just the opposite from America.
Lucky for people like me who want to relocate to the Philippines, handmade is often so much better! I would rather buy a vegetable from the hands of the grower than the shelf of a supermarket any day!