[Another old Proximity post… this one feels quite timely, given how summer-like this spring has been. I’ve been raking the leaves from our garden beds and clipping back all the old, dead growth all week.]
Winter brings a slew of stews, root vegetables, beans and rice. Winter brings homemade pizzas and baked seitan, any chance to turn on the oven, heat escaping creaky metal seams and heating up our kitchen. Winter brings pots of boiling water for pasta, warm and heavy foods to insulate our bones. Winter brings frozen bags of vegetables from last year’s garden, nothing fresh from the frozen ground. Winter brings foods of survival.
But now. With summer, our table overflows. Dinner means plates of fresh tomato. Dinner means sitting on the porch with a pile of carrots, the dirt brushed off, the satisfying crack, straight from earth to mouth. There are few things more satisfying than knowing where your food comes from. I’ve known these carrots all their lives. These tomatoes, too.
We don’t live lavishly. We are almost painfully frugal. But at the dinner table, we feast like kings. “If people knew that broccoli could taste this good, they’d give up steak,” Joe said last night. Food from the ground tastes nothing like the grocery store clones. They may look something alike. But in your mouth it’s a different story. This is a cross-cultural revelation, something people probably used to know intuitively, back when growing your own food was just what you did because you needed to eat.
We were at the community garden, and a little boy maybe 6 years old came hopping down the path.Our dog, Milo, was leashed at the entrance of our garden plot. “Can I pet him?” the little boy asked.
“Of course,” I nodded.
“My name is Gerald,” the little boy said. “Do you like strawberries?”
“I love them,” I said.
“Then come on!” he said, turning around and heading back in the direction he’d come from.
Gerald led me to his family’s garden. His mother, one of our garden’s many Hmong gardeners, was turning the earth and methodically whacking at weeds with a garden hoe. Gerald and his sister bent down in a tangled corner, searching for ripe strawberries. They emerged all smile and handed me a fat berry, bright red and bursting.
It was the best strawberry I’d ever eaten. “That was amazing,” I said. Gerald’s sister nodded. “The thing is,” she said, “they don’t taste like what you buy in the store. These strawberries are more strawberry.”
I think of Gerald’s family and their strawberries some nights at our own table. Everyone should eat this way. Food of substance, food that’s more food than preservative, food that doesn’t require a can or a cardboard box to get from field to table. Food like this should be a right, not a privilege.
The problem, though: We can’t keep up. Tomatoes, squash, carrots, lettuce, collards, herbs, leeks, broccoli and okra sprout from our garden in mess-hall quantities. When the corn, spinach and potatoes arrive in a few weeks, we’ll be giving food away on street corners, leaving baskets at our neighbors’ doors.
But we don’t complain. Fall is creeping into the air, in cool nights and shorter days and faded leaves on the trees in the yard. Beyond that lurk scarves and snow and barren branches, cold lungs and boiling pots and a farewell to the carrots and tomatoes. Until next year…