We are entering probably the worst time of year for produce. By early February farmers have mostly sold out of a lot of their storage crops. Things like garlic, squash, and even potatoes are now hard to come by. I haven’t eaten garlic for a month, and I haven’t eaten a fresh tomato since October. It’s one of the apparent downsides of eating locally.
But really the more I think about it the less of a downside it becomes. When eating seasonally and locally I experience a special level of excitement for each fruit and vegetable. Strawberries simply aren’t that special when they’re available all year. But restrict them to 2-4 weeks in June and suddenly a strawberry becomes special and “enchanting.” I have never seen children so excited as when they’d run into the strawberry patch on a farm that I was working at to pick their own. There’s something special about that.
I used the word “enchanting” above because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of “disenchantment,” a term that sociologist Max Weber used to describe the character of a modernized, bureaucratic, and secularized West. According to Weber, whereas modern society places higher value on scientific rationale, “the world was a great enchanted garden” in pre-modern society (I think these two often coexist and I don’t really buy Weber’s demarcation-but I’m still going with this). Of course industrialized agriculture is a product of the modern world, so I think by following Weber’s logic it makes sense to say that there may be some level of disenchantment associated with nonlocal food. Conventional strawberries simply don’t cause the level of joy and excitement that we see with a local strawberry in June that’s red all the way through.
Every April I like to go to West Fairmount Park to see the cherry blossoms. They’re in bloom for two weeks at best. In Japan the viewing of the cherry blossoms is symbolic of the Buddhist idea of “wabi-sabi,” which finds beauty in transience. What makes the blossoms so memorable is the very fact that it felt like they ended too soon.
While I don’t think another month of strawberry season would hurt, I think these are both interesting ideas worth thinking about within the context of local food. It’s nice that there is one type of excitement followed by another: radishes, then asparagus, then strawberries, then tomatoes, then peaches, then apples, etc…until February hits. Then the wheel starts turning anew in late March.
I took this picture at the Shofuso Japanese House in Fairmount Park last April. Pretty.
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