"The main barrier standing between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint - virtues that are hardly the property of the wealthy. These virtues seem to find precious little shelter, in fact, in any modern quarter of this nation founded by Puritans. Furthermore, we apply them selectively: 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 in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
I am not good at delayed gratification. If self-restraint had been a class in school, I would have squeaked through with a C- at best. I find it hard to justify denying myself anything I can reasonable afford and procure if it's something I think I want or need. And nothing is as attractive to me as something I'm not supposed to have.
So you can imagine that it's been a bit of a trial for me to walk through the produce section of the grocery store these past few weeks, surrounded by luscious-looking fruits and vegetables carted in from six different continents. Avocados. Oranges. Kiwi fruit. Grapes. Bananas. A laundry list of forbidden fruits (ha ha) that all sounded much better than having another apple from the farmers' market. I made it through without buying anything foreign by chanting, "The strawberries are coming, the strawberries are coming," under my breath like some sort of locavore Paul Revere.
But the strawberries were already there, sitting right in front of me, giant and glossy and nicely displayed in their plastic clamshell packages that protected them on their journey all the way from California. "Local ones taste better, local ones taste better," became my new mantra, which worked pretty well ... until the first of the sweet cherries came in last week. Like all early produce, these were not exactly at their best, and they were pricey - I think the organic ones were close to $7 a pound.
Still ... cherries. The fruit that I most associate with summer - happy memories of pit-spitting contests held on the porch swing and giant bowls of fruit for snacking on during our yearly trip to the beach. Fruit that is never, ever cooked, because it doesn't last long enough in my presence to make it through the preparation. Halving and pitting them for fruit salad, juice staining my mother's fingernails pink, and half of them not making it to the salad, anyway. Fruit that is so hard for me to resist, I have to admit I'll be spending rather a lot of time in the bathroom during the first week we've got them, as they don't agree with me in large quantities but I just can't help myself.
Cherries, sitting there and taunting me. They're organic, so I can justify them, right? It was hot out, the porch swing and hammock were at the ready, and the cherries were right there. I was forced to avert my eyes and flee, lest I trip and knock a bag of those Chilean temptresses into my cart "by accident."
And then the strawberries came in, and they really were better than those at the grocery store, even if they were in really short supply this year. And while I was getting sort of sick of salad and snow peas and a bit of broccoli at various dinnertimes, according to my chart it wouldn't be long before more versatile veggies should be coming. Right? Right? Please, for the love of god, somebody just give me something that's grillable that I can put on a sandwich, okay?
And then today I walked into Fitch's and found local sweet cherries, which I had completely forgotten they carry and which have such a short season that Jason may miss them entirely because he's gone this week (bwahahahaha! more for me!). And I turned to my right and saw ... local green peppers. And local zucchini. Hallelujah! Grilled veggies for sandwiches and pasta salads and just to eat straight out of the fridge because we've run out of cherries again. I'm not kidding when I say I got all choked up over the bounty that was displayed before me.
And then I tried some of the cherries in the car on the way home, and I just about died. I seriously thought about pulling over so I could fully appreciate them, and I'm fairly sure that you could have dubbed my exclamations into a porn movie with no problem. They were that good.
Really? Were they actually the best cherries in the history of cherry-dom? Well, probably not. But, like anything else, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and boy, had those cherries been absent from my life for the past six? eight? months. The first bites of anything are always the best, and a week from now I'll be happy if I never see a cherry (or pepper, or zucchini) again. But for today, all the kiwis and bananas and pineapples** in the world couldn't measure up to those cherries.
And I can guarantee you those cherries wouldn't have tasted as good if I'd bought them a few weeks ago, purchased for twice the price and shipped thousands of miles farther. Sure, they would have been cherries, but it's just not the same. It's easy to take foods for granted when you can have them any time you want, and things seem to lose some of their value to us - at least subconsciously - when they're easy to acquire. That's why diamonds are expensive and quartz is not, and why heirloom tomatoes always cost more. And that's something that I never would have been thinking about, had I never decided to embark on my sustainable summer.
**Okay, I lied. If a perfectly ripe pineapple had been available, I would have committed unforgivable acts to get it, up to and including homicide. But how often do you actually get a perfectly ripe pineapple from the grocery store? Not very, unless you live in Hawaii. So the cherries win, at least until our next island vacation.