Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Waiting for the Season
Strawberries are coming into season. At least in the warmer parts of California. As of this week, they are showing up at my farmer’s market, which is enough for me to say FAIR GAME! Of course I write this here with great trepidation, because my kind readers, being from all over the country, may hurl spite and jealousy in my general direction. But just think of what you can look forward to.
Strawberries from the grocery store just don’t do it for me. The white and mealy insides, the lack of juicyness, their ridiculous size – they smack of unnaturalness. The worst are the strawberries you buy in November. They’ve been flown from Chile or somewhere, and aborted prematurely off their vine so they can survive the flight before ripening (and rotting). But a local, fresh strawberry is something else entirely. Red all the way through, ripened thoroughly on the vine, intoxicating in their sweetness, and so delicate they will bruise in a minute, if you don’t eat them – nevermind flying them to another country. They are truly worth waiting for.
The Bible verse that most immediately comes to mind is Ps 104:27. “[all creatures] look to you to give them their food in due season; you open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”
The proper course of things, the rightness of seasonal changes, the appropriate time to receive and to eat – the goodness of waiting!
But a more ominous verse comes to mind as well. This is from the wilderness wanderings, Numbers 11:4-6: “The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”’
The truth is, we can get our cucumbers and melons any season of the year, but we get it at a price. We can have raspberries on our Christmas desserts, flown on little petrochemical wings from faraway lands, to save us from the boring manna diet of what CAN be grown (or stored) locally in the winter. We get it at a price: pollution across our skies, insecurity for our own local farmers, and mealy white strawberries.
The Israelites got access to their wonderful, Nile-irrigated vegetables while they were in Egypt, and got it at a price: their freedom. It is useless to pretend we do not also give up our freedom when we allow Dole and other multinational corporations to feed us, hook us in, teach us the attitude of entitlement that keeps the dollars flowing and the strawberries flying.
Barbara Kingsolver writes in vivid terms about our lack of (gastronomic) patience, which may be said to have negative effects on other realms of society. Patience and restraint, great virtues, are only applied selectively in our culture: “…browbeating our teenagers with the message that they should wait for sex, for example. Only if they wait to experience intercourse under the ideal circumstances (the story goes), will they know its true value. “Blah, blah, blah,” hears the teenager: words issuing from a mouth that can’t even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now. We’re raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires.” (Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” page 31).
Dare to cut loose and be free. Cut loose from Pharaoh’s addictive provisions of food-with-a-price, and wait for the Real Deal. I promise (though I have perhaps not waited as long as you in colder climes will) that the strawberries will taste way better.