And yet, there was one lonely, perfectly fresh vegetable that still languished on the shelves in abundance: celery.
It was as if hordes, panicked by the inclement weather, had rushed from their homes, had seen the celery, and decided they’d rather be hungry.
Baffled shoppers stopped to laugh and take pictures. Anecdotal reports on Instagram have shown shortages of similar products – with the exception of celery! – at Whole Foods establishments in the city, from Brooklyn to Harlem and the Upper East Side. Other social media users from various grocery chains in Los Angeles and San Francisco that were generally high in food were reporting the same thing: no greens and nothing but celery for days.
“Poor celery, doing his best,” comedian Fred Armisen said after I sent him a picture of the stage at Whole Foods. “I mean, can you imagine people going ‘No’ to each other? It really made me feel bad for all that celery. I’m like, ‘Sorry, guys.’ “
He and his comedy partner, Carrie Brownstein, got into the vegetable spell in 2014 for their “Portlandia” sketch show. In “Celery” (spoilers ahead!), Steve Buscemi plays a beleaguered celery seller who struggles to keep his floundering product from being overshadowed by the ancestry of Brussels sprouts and kale. He hasn’t had a new idea since ants on a log (“What’s that? 1955?” Asks the Brussels sprouts rep), and he’s desperate enough to put a deal together. of type “Indecent proposal” to exchange a night with his wife to associate with the smarmy, type billionaire Bacon.
The sketch had just seen follies growing around certain vegetables and wondering what it was like to be left out. “It was like, ‘Okay, what the hell is a veggie? The one who is never in fashion? And the celery is just the one that came, ”Armisen said. “It’s not like no one loves him. It never lent itself to this thing where everyone is like, ‘Oh, there’s a new twist on this.’ “
After all, once you’ve dipped it in hummus or smeared it in peanut butter or tossed it in a tuna salad or put it in a soup because the recipe told you, really, what’s next? “You can’t be passionate about celery,” he says.
The sketch ends with celery becoming the most consumed vegetable in the world. “It’s not based on a true story,” read one disclaimer. It all rings as true today as it did seven years ago.
Celery once had a noble life in this gentrified New York neighborhood, where brunch reigns supreme. It came out high and proud of Bloody Marys and happily accompanied warm wings, so you could tell yourself you had eaten something healthy. But in these times of pandemic, brunch and sports bars no longer reign there. Children don’t go to school with Ziploc bags of cut vegetables in their backpacks. And, yes, a celery juice craze could have ignited in California in 2018 and 2019, but there aren’t many New Yorkers currently stuck in apartments with enough counter space for a press. -citrus.
Is the perceived unpopularity of celery a construction or a fact? Or maybe just something out of extraordinary circumstances?
“It’s actually one of the top 10 best bought vegetables,” said Nichole Towell, senior director of marketing at Duda Farm Fresh Foods, a nationwide product distributor and the world’s largest celery producer. When the celery juice craze hit three years ago, she said, “I think a lot of people were surprised.” Prices skyrocketed and the supply chain collapsed because farmers couldn’t keep up with demand. Even after the trend passed, sales of celery continued to increase.
“Celery is consistently one of the best performing products today, across the board,” said Jeremy Taylor, vice president of sales and marketing at distributor DNO Produce. (Although according to the Q4 2020 report just released by United Fresh, an industry trade organization, celery is only one of the top 10 vegetables when it is ‘value added’, it which means someone already cut it for you.)
So if celery is stable or increasingly popular, what was going on at Whole Foods on Valentine’s week?
Consider the circumstances. Most of the green vegetables that hit the shelves of grocery chains across the country during the winter come from Texas, Mexico, Arizona or California, according to distributors. Texas was snow, and trucks carrying products from the other three origins had to pass through there, or through the wall of snow and ice in the middle of the country pounding Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. A five-day route to get produce from West to East has turned into seven to ten days, Towell said.
Trucks that were successful in making deliveries could not return to the Texas and Arizona warehouses to restart the process. “We have a retailer in Texas who has 100 trucks that he cannot unload because he has no electricity in his warehouse,” said Mark Bassetti, COO of Duda Farm Fresh Foods. in an interview on Thursday. “These are 100 trucks that should have unloaded, picked up product and maybe brought it back to California. And this is just one retailer among many. “
According to Whole Foods cashiers in Brooklyn – and a representative for the company, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly – the chain several national systems failed last Tuesday during the power outages in Austin, where Whole Foods is based. The interruption was brief and the representative said about 98% of orders were delivered on time; any product shortage was the result of an “aggressive type of customer buying” in anticipation of further inclement weather.
But Caleb Burgin, co-owner of distribution company Burgin Farms, said: “If they don’t have a supply chain problem, why are their shelves empty?” Bread, milk, eggs, peanut butter, and beer are the first foods people grab when panicking shopping. “Who is panicking buying zucchini?” Got a zero degree time coming up, and the first thing you say to yourself, “I’m going to make zucchini bread!”? “
Also, “there are a lot of products on the market,” said Mike Bonito, co-owner of Gold Medal Produce at Hunts Point Terminal Market in New York City, which was fully stocked on everything but cucumbers last week. (Note to self: buy cucumber futures.)
The product problems will only get worse. According to Produce News, the unexpected frost in South Texas is expected to affect up to 40 products, and especially greens, ending growing seasons two and a half months earlier. People in the industry call it the “Valentine’s Day Massacre for the South Texas Fruit and Vegetable Industry.” Cabbage, however, has literally weathered the storm. So get pumped for that.
As to why celery was the last vegetable standing on grocery store shelves, that’s because celery makes good sense to also grow in Southern California and Florida at this time of year. It is therefore one of the few vegetables that can still go up both coasts when the middle of the country is covered with ice.
Still, it is undeniable that celery has a perception problem. When I mentioned that everyone seemed to be running away celery, a wave of jokes poured in.
“Celery is only used for certain things, right? You make celery sticks, you make juice. You put it in the soup. You don’t roast celery in an oven, ”said Bonito, a celery juicer himself, which points out that it is not considered incredibly versatile or used in crops around the world like tomatoes, potatoes and corn.
For celery-loving chef Joshua McFadden, the vegetable is misunderstood. “Nobody knows what to do with it,” he said in a text message. “I don’t think people view celery as an ingredient, but rather as something that is added to a tuna salad, a mirepoix, etc.”, using the French term for diced aromatic vegetables (including including garlic and onion) which forms the basis of many dishes. At his restaurant, Ava Gene’s in Portland, Oregon, he sells a celery date salad that he is so proud of that he featured it on the cover of his award-winning James Beard book, “Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables ”.
“I like it, clearly, because of its flavor and texture,” he continued. “I think it also smells amazing and adds a lovely scent to the dishes. That’s one of the reasons he’s been in mirepoix since day one. That’s why classic chicken soup tastes the same. “
Armisen, for his part, said Buscemi’s moving portrayal of a beleaguered celery seller transformed the cast and crew of “Portlandia” into, if not celery lovers, at least celery sympathizers. “I think we kind of got excited thinking it was pretty good,” he said.
Still, he’s no surprise that people seem to be avoiding him. “There are some vegetables that I don’t like anymore,” he says, “but for me it’s like eating water, with a slight taste of celery.