Wednesday, September 9, 2009

For the Love of Strawberries

My husband and I lived in northern California for two years back in the 80s. I have wondered this week, as we've traveled the magnificent coastal highway in this state, how we managed to miss the soul of the place back then. Was it us, or was it California?
Admittedly, life for us in the 80s was urban-focused. We had a weekend "Texas friend tour" down cold that included Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, the Golden Gate bridge, Napa Valley, and our favorite little Chinese restaurant at the southern edge of the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. If you had an extra day, we could take you to Pebble Beach and Hearst Castle and deliver a very showy piece of the famous Highway 1 in the process. The culinary slice of the tour included the introduction of artichokes (still 10 for $1 this week), white clam chowder in sourdough bowls, red wine with corks in the bottles, and authentic dim sum.
What we missed back then were the working neighborhoods. We knew our produce was fresh and cheap and grown in the state, but - just like home - we never actually saw the evidence. This week, we caught a glimpse.
I must tell you, the sight of ripe strawberries growing on the ground as far as the eye can see is breathtaking. Strawberries...and strawberry stands...mile after beautiful mile.
Pacific ocean on one side of the road, strawberries ripening on the stem on the other. This surely was heaven, not just California.
But guess what? Strawberries don't jump off the plants and into those nice little green pint boxes. They have to be picked. And if you know a strawberry plant, you know a machine could not possibly do the job without ruining the fruit.
So guess what else we saw? Mile after mile of migrant worker...men, women, and children...bent over picking strawberries.
I do not assume to know the nationality or the documentation qualification of any of the workers I saw hunched over strawberry plants this week. But I can tell you I wanted to stop the car and apologize to each one of them.
To each who may have cowered in the back of a truck to find the opportunity to pick a berry in the land of the free...
To each who may have left children or aging parents or spouses to travel the California coast following the harvest season for nearly every "grown in the USA" plant I put on my table...
To each who pulls a family from town to town just to do the work many of us never stop to think even exists...
I wanted to say I'm sorry.
I'm sorry if you have felt unwelcome or "alien" in my country...
I'm sorry for the sacrifices you have made in unseen places so I could eat without thinking...
I'm sorry for a lifetime of strawberry consumption with no thanksgiving for the picker...
I never will do it again.
- From the soul of the country's garden...
Peace.

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