It’s easy to overlook where your food comes from. But when you find out it can be surprising.
We have gotten used to seeing certain fruits imported seasonally from Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, and other countries in Central and South America when they are not available from US suppliers.
But what about importing food from China? Many American consumers have come to grips with the idea that the majority of toys and other products we buy are imported from China. But they might not be as accepting of China as a food producer, given its track record of contamination incidents.
Yet, about two-thirds of the apple juice sold here comes from a concoction that starts with apples in China. Maybe you have noticed that more frozen vegetables are also coming from China.
Then there’s garlic. Perhaps more than any other food product sold in the United States, China dominates the garlic industry.
That, of course, doesn’t sit well with one local garlic farmer, Jeff Howard, who, with his wife, runs the Linabella Gourmet Garlic Farm in Oakham. Chinese garlic has a US market share estimated at more than 80 percent.
“Only certain people know it,’’ Howard said. “More and more people are starting to care where their food comes from. It bothers me, obviously.’’
The price difference is so significant, supermarkets are almost forced to carry Chinese garlic to satisfy cost-conscious consumers, he said.
“The Chinese have driven the price of garlic really low,’’ Howard said. “You’re paying more than double for something grown here in the United States versus something shipped from China.’’
Chinese garlic can last for close to a year. That’s a lot longer than the local varieties. “What you gain in shelf life you lose in flavor,’’ Howard said.
The type of garlic grown in these parts is, obviously, seasonal. It’s harder to grow and far more costly to produce. So, instead of selling heads of garlic, farms such as Linabella convert their garlic into items they can sell at higher prices, including pesto.
So, if you care about where your food comes from, check for the nation of origin. It might not be easy to find, but it’s worth the hunt.
Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.