Thursday, June 19, 2014

Everything All the Time

A few years ago, or was it a few decades ago, Garrison Keillor included the following idea in one of his monologues. The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a season for everything—a time to be born, a time to die, a time to love, a time to hate, etc. Then he pointed out how differently we view things today. There used to be a season for everything: a time for squash, a time for tomatoes, a time for okra, a time for sweet corn. When they were ripe, we ate them, and the rest of the year we looked forward to eating them. You could always can the vegetables and fruit, but eating canned goods only made you look forward even more to the time when fresh produce was available.

But now everything is available all the time. You can have any kind of produce any time of year (except, usually, fresh okra) at the supermarket. It is always spring or summer somewhere, and in these places, western corporations hire poor natives to work in vast pesticide-drenched fields to raise food for us so we can have fresh tomatoes and sweet corn in January. (Well, if you can call those vaguely reddish blobs in the store “tomatoes.”)

This can be very good, of course, but it can have a massive impact on the Earth and on poor people. Large landowners in Mexico and Central America can make more money raising sugarcane for us than food for poor people in their countries. (There is also an epidemic of kidney disease spreading among sugarcane workers that may be associated with their working conditions.) If you wish to read more about how poor laborers are dying to provide us with food, I recommend Angus Wright’s book The Death of Ramón González.

It’s nice to have fresh produce in January. Eating leaf lettuce all year has helped me maintain a healthy weight and enjoy doing so. But it comes with two price tags: first, the economic oppression of the world’s poor; second, the loss of seasonal expectations. Many people keep their homes the same temperature and wear shorts all year, perhaps only vaguely aware that the seasons are changing outside. Instead of winter, budburst, flowering, squash, corn, barbecue, pumpkins, pecans, autumn foliage, and Christmas, some people’s annual cycle seems to consist of Non-Christmas, barbecue, and Christmas. I enjoy bundling up in a chilly house in winter and sitting under a ceiling fan in summer, with just enough heating and cooling to keep my house between about 62 and 85. And I enjoy watching the seasons. I enjoy spring budburst and light green leaves during their brief season. In my world, of which I am sensually aware and in which I rejoice, there is a season for everything. And it is also a world with a lower carbon footprint than I would have if I insisted on everything all the time.

1 comment:

  1. You are right on! I grew up close to the land, and you ate very seasonally, always happy when favorite seasons arrived: berries, sweet corn, and the like. I still find it hard to eat certain things out of season. The locovore movement is pushing things back toward seasonality, generally a good thing.