Nothing will give you an appreciation of summer’s bounty like the cold, gray creeping of winter. The clocks have turned back. The night begins early.
Even in a warmly lamplit kitchen, rife with root vegetables and hearty cold weather greens, it’s easy to dream of the plentiful season that’s passed. Perhaps curiouser is how under-appreciated the wealth that nature provides can be.
I think of Atlanta in July. Astride many urban streets are trees, trees laden with fruit. More startling than the presence of fruit in a city setting are the number of pedestrians who walk past without even an exploratory pluck. On occasion, these fruits are on private property, often times not.
But no one has time for anything in the city, let alone picking available food, right?
Does anyone contemplate where their food is coming from? People who never question where their organic avocado or tomato come from are just as guilty of food-related ethical blindness as their grandparent who never questioned what a loaf of white bread was made from.
On a hillside in Chile, a single blueberry is picked and placed in a basket with other blueberries that make their way onto a tractor that dumps them onto a generator-powered conveyor belt that eventually drops them into boxes that are loaded onto a truck that is driven to a port where they are loaded on a boat that delivers them to Florida where they are again moved to a truck where they are delivered to a grocery store that is powered by electricity created at a dam that is slowly changing the ecology of a region.
How much fossil fuel was used to get that berry to the person who bought it at a remarkably low rate, considering the amount of ecological and environmental damage that spun off of the single berry, sold with a pint of other berries?
As we walk down the street past blackberries, blueberries, serviceberries, apples, peaches, pears, figs and muscadines, we should consider that we are presented with food, local food. The earth is gracious in its use of fairly obvious cues. If you see tomatoes growing on someone’s porch or blackberries growing in an abandoned lot, it is time to eat tomatoes and blackberries.
The complications of food ethics are vast. Do you abandon the farmer in Argentina who made a small profit from the grapes he shipped to the grocery store chain on your street? The food is there, should you buy it? Should you only support farmers markets? What about in the winter when there are only winter greens, cabbage and sweet potatoes?
How you approach the purchase of what you eat is as subjective as what tastes good to your tongue. But the next time you are on a walk and you notice some fruit that seems to be falling to the ground and rotting, why not return with a bag, fill it up and explore the various ways that the available food can be stored and used (i.e. freezing, jamming, preserving).
Further, when you buy anything, and I mean anything, think about what it took to get that item to you — the amount of fuel burned, the rivers that were stopped to create power, the nuclear waste from the plant that powers the distribution center, the amount of plastic (wrap, binds, twist ties, gloves, containers, packaging) used to get the product to you.
Food tells us a lot about the earth, the places we should and should not be. There are places in the world where water is scarce, and yet people abound. Likewise, in places where food is scarce or difficult to grow, people should alternatively be scarce.
As we continue to consume more of the world around us, why not think a little more about taking what is right in front of us, for free, willingly sprouting from the earth. Think about what it takes to get an item to you. And remember, food is a resource, not a commodity.
Story by Gresham Cash
Photos by Paige French