Tonight at the supermarket I had a difficult time touching my vegetables with my bare hands. I was almost paralyzed for a moment. I know how silly it sounds since everyone touches, squeezes, and caresses their fruits and vegetables before selecting just the right ones. But after grocery shopping in Italy where touching veggies, even ones you’re going to put in your bag, is a big no no, I’ve started thinking more about it.
At the street markets you point to what you want and the green grocer bags it for you. At a larger ‘supermercato’ you put on a plastic glove and march around the produce department with your hand sheathed, free to man handle whatever you want without a commitment to buy. It seemed odd at first, but after seeing the Coop in Siena packed out with people wearing their gloves like it was no big deal, I realized how brilliant and sanitary it was. Now, when I see someone pick up a lemon, squeeze it, and put it back I cringe.
The other interesting thing about European supermarkets is that you weigh your own fruit and veg in advance of going to the cashier. Also brilliant, it allows you to weigh your item, select it by number or from a photo (depending how fancy the market is) and print off a little sticker with a barcode. It’s great because the poor kid at the checkout stand doesn’t have to look at you bewildered and ask what kind of onions you’re buying, they just scan and move on. I bet those efficient Germans came up with that one. If you’re sneaky, there’s no reason you couldn’t print a sticker for a cheaper produce item and slap it on. Not that I would ever do such a thing, but feasibly it could happen.
Hopefully this feeling that my food is somehow unclean, because of the lack of glove wearing shoppers in North American, will wane with time. I could write a book on the differences between food in Italy and North America, but this no touching the vegetables thing really made an impression on me. Yeah it’s a waste of a glove, but considering what I’ve seen some people do with their hands I think it might be a good idea to implement here.