Truck Drivers and Vegetables

Rape ... white beets? turnips? They're good, whatever they are

The trucker drivers’ strike in Italy is revealing. The supermarkets in my Roman neighbourhood are struggling to keep their shelves full of processed foods and their produce aisles stocked with the many non-Italian fruits, vegetables and nuts that they normally sell. Of course, they also sell industrially-grown Italian produce too, but the strike has made it difficult to transport all that fresh food out of the south and into the centre of the country.

When I heard the report of food shortages, I thought I better not be late getting out to my local fresh produce market. The news reports said some vendors were closing their stalls because they had so little to sell. In the market where I shop, almost everyone was open but some didn’t have much to sell. It was the ones who rely on large industrial farms for their supply who were struggling the most. Those who sell their own produce grown nearby, however, seemed to be fine. There’s a married couple from Umbria who sell their own onions, potatoes and green vegetables, but they didn’t have the apples from the north or the oranges from the south that they usually stock.

Then there is Loredana and Domenico. My friend Marjorie Shaw (who runs her own travel business called Insider’s Italy) introduced me to them a few years ago. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they come to my neighbourhood market in Monteverde Vecchio and set up a small table. They only sell what they grow on their farm out toward the Fiumicino airport. They grow vegetables and, at this time of year, lemons. In summer they sell the most amazing melons I’ve ever tasted, though Domenico said they are in fact grown by his brother.

Loredana said they don’t use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer (other than manure from nearby livestock farmers). Their produce tastes incredibly good, but that might be partly because Loredana always takes my arm and makes me listen to her instructions for cooking them. The rape pictured above was delicious peeled, boiled in a little salted water along with the green tops and then all mashed together with a little drizzle of olive oil. And the brocoletti I boiled for just a few minutes then drained and served with olive oil, lemon and a sparse sprinkling of coarse salt.

The best part is that Loredana says they pick what they’re going to sell early in the morning, load it right into their truck and then make the half hour drive to the city. I’m grateful, at a time like this, that they still do this. It takes a strike like this one to make you realize how even the fresh food markets have become so reliant on industrial agriculture.

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