Bremen in May means asparagus. Every morning, my mom jumps on her bike and returns a little later with kilos of the stuff, right from the farm. We recently ate asparagus for a whole week, every day. This makes me relaxed enough for a candid report about my asparagus life at home in Bollebygd.
For the past few months, I have been monitoring the Bolle’s green asparagus, which, according to the mailing address clearly printed at the side of the packages, is imported from Italy. Italians are rightfully proud of their fabulous vegetables, and just as proud ought to be the Bolle’s veggie boss, when she can offer quite fresh Italian asparagus for a reasonable price. And yes, sometimes it was fresh, and we were happy (sometimes, some of it was not fresh at all). But not a single time, according to the ever-changing labels with which the shop announces the price of the day and the country of origin, did Bolle’s green asparagus actually come from Italy, no matter what the packages said. Have fun learning geography: Italian asparagus comes from Spain, it comes from Turkey, Hungary, Chile and, yes, El Salvador.
Quirky label-making humor (for that must be it; it is unlikely that the person who makes them cannot read) is not the real danger here: like in the box with mushrooms, the peaches and wherever else you care to look closely, Bolle’s old Italian asparagus packages and their new Italian asparagus packages get merrily mixed together; grab the wrong package and the asparagus tips might well disintegrate into a smelly dark-green mush right where you stand in the shop. A true Italian foodie would have a day-long ranting fit of dismay about those – Bolle just keeps selling them.
And if you should be looking for alternatives, beware of the (genuinely) Greek white asparagus. Stems of less than half a centimeter in diameter normally count as soup asparagus – they are sold here for a price that equals Class A in other parts of the world. Between Greece and Bollebygd, they shrink into quarter-centimeter-diameter sticks, even if the ends are stuck into a cute protective little bag of decorated soft plastic. If we take away the base-protecting plastic we see that the ends are not only shriveled and brown but also richly covered with (Greek, no doubt, but nevertheless) bright turquoise mold that extends well over a centimeter upward. Hunting for vegetables has again become a matter of survival.
So here I sit with a powerful urge to set things right for once and all. What could I do? Well, in a side tab on the Hemköp Bolle’s website, shop owner Lars Wiss invites the general public to send their comments in order to “help us get even better.” But what can I write to this otherwise kind and amiable man about their asparagus, that isn’t too impolite for a civilized exchange? You are not supposed to sell rotten food. You are not supposed to mix old and new food. You are required to label the origin of vegetables correctly. You’re supposed to show some pride about what you sell. Someone there should be able to figure these things out even without the kind aid of the general public.