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Rotten tomatoes: null points for Hong Kong’s supermarkets

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Reviewing frankenfruit and other unappetising imports, Peter Sherwood gives supermarket produce a 0% rating.

There is no such thing as fresh fruit and vegetables. Once cut, picked or plucked, it’s dead. Same for slaughtered beef, lamb, chicken, pork and fish. Now to the antithesis of ‘fresh,’ even as a figure of speech – the freakish, grotesque fruit and vegetables sold in local supermarkets. The impossible has been achieved: imported produce better suited for display at the Hong Kong Museum of History.

How come out of a bag of six oranges, I regularly find three that are juice-free and as solid as marble? All six look alike, but 50% have been touched by the devilish hand of a Dr Frankenstein.

How do they create frankenfruit? Why, they load them up with chemicals before sending them on the long voyage from South Africa or Chile.

Wouldn’t it be wiser to eat oranges that have been grown closer to home? At a posh supermarket in Central, I’ve seen small, very ordinary Japanese melons, the stuff they feed to pigs in Australia… for HK$300 each. But at least they’re edible.

What about the magic avocado, that blogosphere nutrition sensation that can cure everything from warts to paranoid schizophrenia? (Interestingly, this miraculous health food, a flowering member of the Lauraceae family, was for a few thousand years the staple diet of Central America – when the average lifespan was 23.)

What used to be a cheap Mexican export is now a prize fought over by crooks and cartels south of the US border and in faraway New Zealand. Recently, a supermarket in Brisbane, Australia, posted this sign: No cash or avocados are kept on the premises overnight.

Fruits of antiquity

If ‘fresh’ is a bit of a misnomer, what of ‘still fresh?’ Simply, it is a note from the supermarket that the item is pretty tired. After journeying halfway round the planet and then sitting on a shelf for a week, it should be disposed of – but preferably at our expense.

In Hong Kong, the avocado presents two options: rock hard for eternity or rock hard for a week, while black and rotting in the middle. What alchemy is afoot? Millennia from now, archaeologists digging in an ancient Lantau landfill will mistake these petrified avocados for dinosaur eggs.

At least half of all locally available avocados and oranges should be sold to the Chinese Army as mortar rounds.

Bananas, black and green with age and mould, can be considered marketable, if only to malnourished monkeys. And there are bananas that stay green for months, and are harder than a North Korean prison sentence.

In the murky world of the supermarket, ‘still fresh’ meat is the Russian roulette of mass-marketed food. It might be OK, but then again… Would you risk ptomaine poisoning to save a few dollars?

I take it all more seriously than most. After months on the upper Amazon River circa 1968, I returned home ill and spent a month in hospital with suspected beef tapeworm. What this demon is, and how to be rid of it, is not for this page. Google it.


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 18 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.


Image: Olivier Miche

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