Saturday, May 19, 2012

strawberry! strawberry!

There is a lusciousness to this time of year.  It differs from August's decadence, when the tomato bounty sometimes borders on the obscene.  I think spring must have invented words like “crisp” and “tender” to welcome the first sentinels of asparagus that arrive, like proud soldiers leading a delicate parade of lettuce, snap peas and spring onions to dinner.   

That's cause enough for celebration, but you know you’ve hit the real paydirt of spring when the berries start to come in.  Bright, succulent, and so fresh you can taste the aura of outside that still lingers about them.

This is what my kitchen sink looked like on Thursday:

 And soon after, my kitchen table: 

All said and done, I cleaned and hulled 33lbs of strawberries.  And the week before?  22lbs.  We freeze them, eat them, jam them, eat them, bake them, eat them, eat them, and eat them. 

But why so many at once? What’s the rush? 

We are lucky to have a connection of sorts.  Like the guy in prison who can hook you up with anything from girlie magazines to suspicious cigarettes, we have a strawberry connection--someone who can get us local and organic strawberries—for a price.  If you’ve ever been in the market for these, you know they are hard to come by.  That’s a huge big fat shame because strawberries are one of those things you don’t really want to eat unless they are organic. 

By coincidence, as I cleaned and hulled, NPR did a story on strawberries.   I listened with pink fingers and red-rimmed cuticles as they explained that 80% of our strawberries come from California growers who regularly sterilize the soil with fumigants such as methyl bromide.

Check out this pic of a strawberry grower, looking sort of like a scary government worker from the movie Contagion—except, instead of a bacterial pandemic, the outfit guards against a pesticide.  

Photo: An Oxnard resident picks strawberries at that city's Cambry Farms.
Credit: Los Angeles Times
November 25, 2012

If a farmer needs to wear a space suit to grow it, do we really want to eat it?  And even if you believe a strawberry grown in this way is safe to eat, the environmental detriments of spraying this toxic stuff are indisputable.  Go ahead and spray it in your backyard to guarantee your own high yield strawberry crop, then say goodbye to your little piece of ozone, your lungs, your eyes, and your skin.  But don’t worry, according to the EPA, you won’t get cancer, so I guess that makes it ok. 

The EWG Shopper’s Guide lists strawberries as one of the top three “worst” of the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables for pesticide contamination.  Damnit.  That sucks, doesn’t it? 

According to EWG, some strawberries tested for up to 13 different pesticides.  In his cookbook The Healthy Kitchen, Andrew Weil explains that strawberries absorb pesticides out of the soil, so you can’t even hope to wash them off. 

Suddenly, that beautiful California strawberry looks like a little red toxicity grenade, just waiting to go off. 

It kind of makes you want to go California Screaming! 

Why do big farmer’s think so small?  Why can’t they see past crop yields and profitability projections to the real point of their work:  to feed people?  Do I really want a person in a gas mask to pick a strawberry and hand it over to my kids?

Indulge me while I go a little retro and ask you to look at this little guy (a 14 year old with strawberry all over his face doesn't come off in the same cute way).

yes, that is confectionary sugar. 
it's a family tradition, what can i say?

I didn't know anything about organic berries when I took that picture 12 years ago.  I wish I had.  And the one below: shockingly out-of-season berries (see the fall leaves on the window in the back?).  She requested them, and although we tried to eat foods in season, I hadn't yet learned about methyl bromide.

olivia turns 4

Even though our food options have improved dramatically in the last decade, I know a lot of people still do not have access to organic strawberries.  Does this mean they are lost to you forever? 


Maybe just eat them like a lessatarianWe have so much power as consumers.  If we eat them in season (NOW!), eat them local, and pester our grocers about our desire for organic berries, we can send a message to big growers.  If they cease to make big money, they’ll find another way—hopefully one that takes the gas mask out of strawberry. 


  1. I agree...local is key! Part of the problem with strawberries is that growing the massive ones that Americans favor means picking varieties that don't have as much flavor and are prone to bugs. I often find someone selling "ugly" little berries that were locally grown that put the big ones to shame! Far too fragile and unappealing to the majority of consumers to ship, fantastic flavor.

    1. you are right, the little ones are better. my father-in-law has a strawberry patch that he keeps without pesticides. those little berries are like candy!

  2. was at farmer's market this weekend. asked one farmer if their produce is organic.

    farmer: "Nope. We like our bugs dead."

    Like his humor would talk me out of wanting our people dead??

    How awesome you have a strawberry hook-up! And those pics are adorable (except for the gas mask one. yikers.)

    1. good for you for asking the farmer. the more people ask, the more they'll think about it!