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1 February 2011
Fresh fruit in February as cultural artifact

Ah, blueberries with whipped cream. One of the world’s simplest and best desserts. Maybe we should cut up a few strawberries, too. They explode with ripe, juicy, tangy sweetness in your mouth . . .

Whoa. Wait a minute. What exactly is going on here? It’s February. Residents of most of the continental United States trudge to work and school across tundra-like expanses of frozen ground and slippery sidewalks. But in their grocery stores, berries wait on the shelves, luscious and succulent.

Residents of the southern hemisphere, and of southern California, indulge the rest of us for a moment. This is a cultural artifact well worth pondering. Our food—not just our berries but pretty much all of it, this time of year—arrives from far away, making us the beneficiaries of a vast network of cultural processes all the more powerful for their invisibility. What exactly does fresh fruit in February make of the world?

1. What does fresh fruit in February assume about the way the world is?

It assumes that fossil fuels are cheap and plentiful.

Paul Grant

Sorry to be a little sarcastic, but that we’re surprised to discover that the whole world isn’t North America, Europe, or Russia? The tropics and Southern Hemisphere have fresh fruit because it isn’t winter.

—Christine

We assume that things we desire will be available with little effort.

—Laura Childs

It assumes that my experience is everyone’s norm.

—John Witte

It’s funny (ironic?) that the fresh fruit pictured above is blueberries because I have a pint of blueberries sitting on my desk as I type this. And, being in Toronto, they are definitely out of season. I remember thinking, as I bought them yesterday something like, “Blueberries are on sale. Tasty. And full of antioxidants.” What is the assumption behind that? Maybe that the world, for all its goodness, is still “in bondage to decay”, and that we need to do what we can to protect against the process of decay? Or maybe, I just like blueberries?

Chad
2. What does fresh fruit in February assume about the way the world should be?

The assumption is that local flavor is bad for business; that all grocery stores, from Arizona to Wyoming, should look the same.

Paul Grant

Could blueberries in February be a reminder of the way things were, or will be for everyone, for eternity?

—John Witte
3. What does fresh fruit in February make possible?

Fresh fruit in February makes blueberry pancakes at Sunday brunch in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada possible.

BJ Smith

Fresh fruit in February makes a more-developed world and increased/improved lifestyle possible for parts or the world where it was nearly unheard of before.

Keith

I live in a country where fresh blueberries [my favorite fruit] aren’t available in any season.  I’m back for a visit in cold snowy New England and when I came upon them in the grocery store, I succumbed to the temptation and bought a pint. A few days later, three-year old Lucy asked me for a treat, expecting I’d give her a cookie or ice cream. Instead,  I gave her some blueberries, telling her that these were special blueberries that flew on a plane. It sounded silly to her that the blueberries flew, but she understood that eating them in the middle of winter was a real treat—even if they didn’t taste as good as the ones she picks in the summer.

Annie
4. What does fresh fruit in February make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

I’d say it makes it more difficult to mark the passage of time by what we’re eating. Not only are the more boring seasonal and long-storing forms of produce tantaizingly easy to ignore (here’s lookin’ at you, turnips!), but the possibility of blueberries all the time, ironically, makes the joy and novelty of the first blueberries of the season impossible or at least irrelevant (“woo-hoo! they’re ... a bit cheaper!!”).

—Nate

Quite frankly, ‘fresh fruit’ in central PA which has been imported from warmer climates makes it more difficult to eat healthy.  While at the grocery store on Monday, Theresa passed up the South American grapes that were on sale because she learned at a seminar how soft, fragile fruits retain the most pesticides.  We’re likewise not buying imported blueberries, which (along with strawberries) never approach the taste of fresh picked, in-season berries in the supermarket.  We opt instead to stock the freezer with strawberries, blueberries, and peaches when they are local and in-season during the summer months.

Our family is trying to make small steps toward more in-season, local foods and canning some of our own foods for year round.  Even if we’re not always successful, we’re conscious of it.  Theresa did buy the Mexican avocados that were on sale this week.  And bananas are a staple at our house.  But we’re trying to make small steps toward change, living more simply, more connected to the seasons, and with greater health.

Thomas & Theresa Grosh

Fresh blueberries in February allow me to have huge but utterly tasteless and mushy fruit on my nightly bowl of Grape Nuts.

—Matt Woodley
5. What new culture is created in response?

A new culture is created in which 8-year old children (and sometimes 18-year old adults) don’t know where their food comes from, and believe that fruits and vegetables grow from the shelves of huge, fluorescent-lighted supermarkets.  In this new culture, we eat what we want when we want it instead of practicing healthy self-denial by looking outside our window and realizing the strawberries are still a long few months away and that they’ll taste better right off the vine!

—Sarah

We don’t prepare.  We don’t set aside time in the summer and autumn to prepare for the cold months of winter.  We lose touch with the joy of preparation.  We build houses with lots of space to store Christmas decorations and no space for shelves of food, dried and canned by our own efforts, made with hope and love that one day in the middle of winter we may surprise our family with the bounty of last year’s harvest.

—Laura Childs