The Irresistable Berry
I gave in and bought berries.
I'd been working on the spiritual practice of eating in season. It helps me remember my connection to and dependence on the well-being of creation. The practice encourages me to be mindful of the people my food dollars support and the environmental impacts of my food choices. It also means my morning cereal had been devoid of berries for many months. I was ready for berries.
Climate change had another plan. Weather extremes are exacerbated by overall warmer global temperatures. This year parts of the US have experienced extreme late spring and early summer heat, while other parts have experienced extreme late spring and early summer coolness. I live in the latter. Spokane set a record for the latest day on record to hit 70 degrees. It still hasn’t hit 80 degrees. Strawberries should be in season by now, but they’re not. Every week I go to the Fairwood Farmers Market and ask, only to be told, “maybe next week if we get some warmer weather.”
Then one day, standing in the produce section of a grocery store, I noticed the berries. I couldn’t resist looking at them. I read the labels, in an attempt to resist buying them. Product of Mexico. Product of Mexico. Product of USA. What?!?! Actual US berries?!?! In the moment I convinced myself they were local and bought them. It helped that the label “Farmer’s Own Organics” made me feel connected to the farmer. I’ll give them credit for good marketing.
The berries are wonderful on my cereal! It’s amazing how good something tastes after you’ve been without it for a while. The berries reminded me of the tendency to devalue and take for granted something when I have it every day, making it easy to over consume the gifts of creation.
Feeling a bit guilty about buying the berries, I researched Farmer’s Own Organics. I was pleasantly surprised to find it’s a brand of the Pacific Northwest that started as a farmer’s co-op. Farmers markets aren’t the only place to get local and regional website! The Farmer’s Own Organics website makes the company sound good, but I really don’t know. What I do know is the blueberries were grown closer to me than Mexico, and that matters for many reasons.
Large national and transnational food corporations are importing an increasing amount of fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Most of the fruit and about a third of the vegetables bought in the US are imported from Mexico. The reasons are complicated and intertwined. Consumers accustomed to what they want, when they want it, demand year-round produce. Corporations make more money on produce grown in Mexico due to lower labor costs and lax environmental enforcement. US subsidies to the oil and gas industry makes it artificially cheap to transport produce from Mexico to the US. The broken US immigration system makes farm labor unpredictable, at times threatening the ability of farmers to make a harvest. Even when produce is in season in the US, many consumers shop by cost alone, while others are in economic situations that require they buy the cheapest food possible. (Random thought: I wonder how things would change if the US government subsidized fruits and vegetables instead of oil and gas.)
I can’t say that I understand the economics of delivering fruits and vegetables to US consumers, but I know enough to see the injustice of this system. The growth of fruit and vegetable production in Mexico for export, 80% of which goes to the US, is driven by unsustainable water use. The water used in Mexico to meet contracts for produce delivery to the US is not available as drinking water or to grow crops for Mexican communities. Here in the US, instead of curbing our desire for year-round fruits and vegetables, and solving the problem caused by concentrating two-thirds of our fruit and vegetable production in drought-prone California, we are exploiting Mexico’s resources to continue our lifestyle. At the same time, we’re causing our farmers to struggle, and I wonder about the long-term wisdom of out-sourcing our food production to another country.
All of which brings me back to the spiritual practice of eating fruits and vegetables in season. Buying local produce, or at least as local as possible, naturally follows, since it is only available in season. I get the bonus of truly enjoy the taste and variety of food, as it changes throughout the year.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, I’m a small part of a bigger problem, but my part is what I can control and what I’ll do. Maybe giving into the impulsive blueberry purchase wasn’t so bad after all. It caused me to do some research, which reminded me of why this spiritual practice is important.