The peaches looked perfect. They were big, round and unblemished. A slight softness hinted at ripeness, confirmed by a peachy fragrance. And they were in season, piled in a bin at a “farm market.” My sister and I rejoiced, imagining a dessert of peach Melba for our extended family of 17, vacationing at the shore. The reality? Inedible fruit that had gone straight to mealy without passing delicious. Next stop: rot.
Not much else at the market turned out to be either tasty or local, with the exception of some fine corn. The produce we’d brought from our own gardens had run out, and soon we were eating from the supermarket.
I’d forgotten what it was like to depend on food not grown at home. We made do with bland tomatoes, peppers and cukes. The spongy figs were nothing like the ones I once coaxed to honey-dripping ripeness in a plastic-covered home greenhouse. All the vegetables and fruit looked fine, but the flavors seemed diluted, with only a tantalizing hint of the way they were supposed to taste.
Some people find it snobbish, elitist or even unkind to suggest that people are better off when they grow their own food, as if it were an activity like photography or golf that only the affluent can enjoy. When you point out that it’s something everyone once did and that the poorest person can grow food if given a patch of yard or a community garden plot, you are told that this is patronizing and that food security is the ability to earn money to buy plenty of cheap, government-subsidized supermarket fare. But it’s not.
I don’t care how much you earn, how fine a car you drive or what college your child attends. If you eat flavorless food, low in nutrients, grown in lifeless soil, you are poor. If you don’t know the difference, if you don’t know what real food tastes like, you are poorer still, because there is nothing to which you can aspire.
“But look, little foodie,” they will tell you. “You can’t turn the whole system upside down. Nobody wants to grow their own food. No one has time, because they are working long hours, and you can’t teach or motivate them to do this overnight.”
Yes, you can. It has happened before. During both world wars, Americans quickly learned to plant victory gardens (called war gardens in World War I) and soon were producing half of the food the country consumed. One of the small but lasting gifts from those years is daylight saving time, which began in the United States in 1918, that one extra hour of light, after work or school, when a family can tend its garden. And that is all it takes: one hour each day. One hour not spent mowing the useless lawn or following the grim economic news on TV. It seems like a very small price.
Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of The Garden Primer.