A tale of two strawberries, and what they tell us about the way of the modern world: one was part of a box bought in a Fred Meyer supermarket not long ago, nicely packaged in a plastic container that described its California origins. Large, red, attractive. And quite tasteless. The other came from a half flat of local berries bought last Wednesday from the people who park their pickup near the junction of Liberty and Commercial streets. Smallish, a darker red, slightly blemished. And sweet beyond words. Yet, I just read that Oregon strawberry growers are finding it tough to sell their superior crop because other producers are cheaper, and their berries travel better.
As a strawberry aficionado, I find this deeply disturbing. I can tolerate global warming, destruction of the ozone layer, burning of the rain forests, extinctions of species. But if globalization and bottom-line-oriented factory farming ends up putting Oregon strawberry farms out of business, I’ll find a black anarchist hood and a baseball bat, and head for the plate glass windows of the nearest branch of the World Bank. This is serious stuff, strawberries. We simply can’t allow our children’s children to grow up not knowing what a real strawberry tastes like.
Sustainability really hits home when it impacts your taste buds. So many environmental and ecological concerns are abstract, far away, distantly removed from us by time or space. But to eat a local berry just hours from the vine, bought from the back of a beat-up pickup truck, handed to me by real people with red stains on their hands and a smile on their faces—that is what sustainability is all about. It’s crazy that we put up with tasteless food shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, when much better produce is grown just a few miles away. Every time I go into Fred Meyer (a Kroger store) during strawberry season in Oregon, and see the piles of California berry boxes, I’m struck by the absurdity of modern economic life.
Of course, I’ve been known to order a book from Amazon, delivered to my door by UPS from a warehouse halfway across America, when I could have gotten it from Jackson’s Books in downtown Salem. So I’m as bad as Kroger, though not on the same scale. Local isn’t always good, and far away bad, but we all do need to think about what we’re doing when we make a supposedly innocent purchase. Stop at the next roadside fruit stand you pass. Stroll into your local bookstore. You may pay a bit more than you would at the supermarket or Amazon, but what you get will have that sweet personal taste of locality.