I’m not proud of it, but it happened.
This older woman was picking out sweet corn. She picked up an ear, tore back the husk, and set it back on the pile. Over and over again. So I walked up next to her to grab another item and said (in the nicest voice possible), “you know, when you open the sweet corn like that it dries out and then no one else wants it.” She made some noncommittal response and kept going. After putting other produce in my cart I had to walk past her again–where she was still ruining ears–and concluded with (not as nicely), “but go ahead and keep ruining it.”
I don’t normally encourage scolding strangers in the grocery store, but I was so mad. My family grew sweet corn for 25 years. I know the effort it takes to plant, grow, harvest, and sell sweet corn. I remember watching people tear through our ears at the farm stand and getting upset because they were destroying it. We eventually hung a sign banning the practice. All these years later, I now work with a food-rescue nonprofit and the fact that this woman was so casually destroying perfectly good food was infuriating.
Why do people do this? Usually for two reasons: to see whether the ear is completely filled out and to check for worms. But it really isn’t necessary. You’re not going to eat the kernels at the end of the ear anyway. If you really want to check though, you can use your hand to gently feel along the ear’s length to make sure it’s fully formed. And worms don’t always hang out at the ear’s tip. They could be anywhere on the ear, and many times you can see where the worm burrowed through the husk anyway. So you’re not really accomplishing much by tearing back the husk.
Except it will dry out. Exposing the kernels allows them to lose moisture, and shortens the self life. It also spoils it by limiting the ways people can cook it. For example, I sometimes make mine in the microwave. But it has to remain in the husk to cook properly. So when the husk is torn back, it limits how it can be cooked.
Whether you’re purchasing fresh produce at the grocery store, the farmer’s market, or a roadside stand, please respect the grocers, the farmers, and the sellers. Don’t squeeze too hard. Don’t tear off the husk. Don’t sample unless you’re invited to. Just be respectful.