Which is better: fruit or vegetables?

straight to compost photo: Donna P Feldman

straight to compost
photo: Donna P Feldman

Honestly, sometimes I think I’ve had it with buying fresh fruit.  Based on the nasty, dried out and tasteless oranges I bought recently, I can’t even trust fruit that’s in season.  They look lovely on the outside, and don’t feel mushy.  But as soon as I started peeling one, I knew it was going straight to the compost.  Completely horrible and a waste of money.

I had a similar unhappy experience with what I thought were fresh picked apples from the local farmer’s market last September.  The apples in the little bag looked lovely.  But only the two on top tasted like fresh apples.  The rest seemed to be storage apples: mushy, dry and tasteless.  But how to prove they’d been in cold storage for the past year?

I can’t think of many times I’ve had this problem with vegetables.  Lettuce, spinach, chard, peppers, potatoes, radishes — for the most part what you see is what you get, all year long, from the grocery store or farmer’s market.  Even tennis ball tomatoes fit the description: you know they’re not going to taste like much because they look so bland.  The only exceptions are cucumbers and avocados.  I’ve definitely purchased cucumbers that turned out to be gross.  And avocados can look fine, but be brown and spotty inside.

But with fruit, it’s a roll of the dice.  The appearance of fresh fruit tells you nothing about the taste or texture, whether or not it’s in season.  I’ve bought peaches and nectarines in summer that were stringy and awful.  Strawberries in spring that were tasteless.  Oranges in winter that are dried up and inedible.  And apples all year round that are bred to be pretty but completely lack flavor.  The only fruit I can think of that’s at least consistent is bananas.

I know the conventional nutrition message is “eat more fruits and vegetables”, and in a perfect produce world, that’s a great idea.  But not if the fruit is tasteless and disagreeable.  I’m guessing lots of well-meaning people buy terrible fresh fruit and conclude that fruit is gross.  I don’t blame them.

So can you forget fruit and just eat vegetables?  Nutritionally speaking, yes you can.  You get plenty of the same nutrients from vegetables — fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, other minerals and vitamins.  In some cases vegetables provide more of certain nutrients like vitamin A, folate, iron and calcium.  The key is picking vegetables with the most nutritional bang for the buck.  If your choices are limited to iceberg lettuce and tennis ball tomatoes, then not so much.  Right now, in this season of questionable fruit, I’m focusing on greens, lettuce, peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, winter squash and sun dried tomatoes.

I feel bad about this fruit problem, because great-tasting fruit is delicious and adds refreshing variety to your day.  One solution: buy frozen fruit.  Strangely, the frozen fruit available now is far more reliable than fresh in terms of quality.  Canned fruit isn’t bad, but buy the varieties canned in juice or labeled “lite” to avoid extra added sugar calories.  Unsweetened frozen fruit can be used in smoothies, on cereal or as a quick and really easy fruit salad.  Just put pieces of a variety of frozen fruits in a bowl and thaw in the frig for a few hours.  Way easier and cheaper than buying fresh fruit, peeling and cutting it up, only to find that some or all of it may be inedible.  Your grocery money should be used to feed you, not your compost pile or garbage disposal!

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