I ate half a watermelon tonight, in spite of its inferiority. Better than pretzels, a substitute for dinner.
Summer food makes me happy. Squash and zucchini and berries, fresh tomatoes.
I was raised in a farming community. The reality of my Food Lion shopping life is so very far from the days of my childhood, when we always had something growing in the garden and would fill our freezer with the meat of the cows that roamed the pastures for a year or so before they “disappeared”. One of my sweetest memories is digging potatoes out of the ground, rubbing off the dirt and eating them raw. My mom canned tomatoes and green beans every year. We ate from our garden, and from my grandparents’ and other relatives’ bounty as well.
My kids have hardly experienced this reality, knowing the backstory of the food that finds its way to their plates. However, we have grown a handful of things in accidental gardens. Several years ago, while living in Ohio, we made jack o’ lanterns, carving fat pumpkins on the front stoop and tossing the slimy, seed-filled innards into the 4′ by 4′ patch of soil by the front door. The next summer, we had huge, healthy pumpkins filling our “garden” – a springtime surprise from October. When they were younger, the Easter bunny would often bring the kids seed packets (along with the requisite candy basket). We’d grow flowers, mostly. We’d decorate the small terra cotta pots, fill them with rich, dark soil and each kid would plan their own seeds. Set out on the front steps of our suburban Ohio home, we’d hope for the best – but, in truth, we’d forget about them, ignore them and move on to other projects.
One year, when David was just beginning to toddle throughout the house and find interesting ways to amuse himself, he found the five little pots filled with dirt. Like any two-year old, he only had one reaction: dump the dirt. Come spring time, we had a crazy but fruitful patch of dirt by the front door. That was the year that tomatoes grew up in the cracks of the driveway pavement. Later that summer, David hid my cell phone out in the flower garden.
My kids know what it’s like to bring in our own watermelon or pumpkins, to eat the bounty of fresh tomatoes growing (in the driveway, of all places). But we live like we have no idea – or interest – in the origin of our food.
One of my summer reads is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite authors). The book is well-written, a good read, but it is messing me up. I guess that’s an expected outcome of good literature or truth – it worms its way into your soul, twists in like a fish hook and doesn’t let go. This book disturbs me, because it illustrates how far we are from the honesty of knowing where our food comes from. It convicts me because I generally – to this point – don’t think twice about simply driving to Food Lion to buy, and then eat, anything I crave. It bothers me because it makes me think about what I crave, and how far those cravings often are from “real” food.
I love that summer brings with it an opportunity to buy onions and squash with dirt still on them, to pick out the oddly misshapen squash from a bushel basket by the side of the road. Exchanging currency for the fruit of a local farmer’s labor tastes good. It feels good. But it’s not enough, not for the long term.
I see a patch of land in the place that we hope to call home in another year or so. I’d like to think that I would have the discipline and the passion for a garden in our future. Perhaps my kids don’t know much more than driveway tomatoes, but there is a possibility of grandchildren somewhere down the road. Therein might lie my redemption.