Like many people, I grew up shopping for vegetables with my mother. She was the one who taught me what too much give in a tomato meant, how to choose my cucumbers, and whether the lettuce was starting to wilt. I watched her do it and learned from her; from a pile of veggies, she could always select the ones that would be good long enough to eat at home that week.
It’s hard to compare my produce with that of the grocery store, though. Especially this late in the season, I pick anything that isn’t ruptured, covered in molds or scars, or full of worms. My tomatoes and squash have little imperfections, and are sometimes covered in cobwebs from where insects tried to make their homes in the vines. I wash them, trim off the spots of disease or damage, and cook them till they are all alike. The home-grown flavor is the same whether the original tomato had a big spot I had to cut away.
These days, I’ve noticed more than the beautiful produce at the grocery store – certainly, if I’m going to buy an avocado I’m going to pore over the pile before I select, but I also notice half-price lettuce that needs to be eaten, or the piles of older potatoes that have been marked down so they’ll sell fast. I’m starting to see the marginal foods as beautiful too, because the truth is that the worst spots can be cut away and we don’t waste the rest of the food connected to those spots. My mother’s knowledge still guides me to keep myself from eating things that will make me sick, and I’m sure most people reading this are also grateful to someone in their life for guiding them toward foods that will help and not harm them, but more and more, I find myself drawn to use creatively that which would be unappetizing to others.