In the pilot episode of Firefly (one of my favorite series of all time), Shepherd Book pays for his passage on the spaceship Serenity by sharing some produce he’d grown. Among his offerings were strawberries, although we as viewers don’t know this until we see Kaylee, the engineer, in the kitchen. We first see her handling a small box as if it’s the most precious item in the world. When she opens it and pulls out a large, luscious, perfectly ripe strawberry, her expression is childlike in its wonder and delight. And when she takes a bite - ! She is transported into bliss, and we know she will savor each morsel of that delectable berry.
This image returned to me recently as I experienced my own strawberry delight. I started the morning by going berry picking with a friend, each of us picking close to ten pounds. I then spent quite a while cleaning and husking many of them for freezing, but also eating quite a few. The imperfect ones were my primary sustenance, not wanting to put something bad into the mix for storage, but a few perfect ones joined them, making my belly gurgle with contentment, my fingers and arms pinkish from the juice.
And so I thought about how we value food. For Kaylee, on a space ship, anything fresh was a welcome relief from canned or dehydrated or frozen foods. But for those of us land-bound, in a society where we’re so divorced from the origins of our food, how much do we value it? Do we truly understand how important it is to us? It’s easy enough to go to the supermarket and buy frozen strawberries any time of year, but if you do that, do you truly understanding everything that goes into the production of that food? How much do you appreciate it, when it’s always available and you have no direct connection?
I think about this a lot in general, but strawberries strike me particularly because for a long time I couldn’t eat them. When I was very little, I got hives if I ate them, and for years I avoided them assiduously because I didn’t know what my reaction would be. I don’t even remember quite when I discovered that strawberries were no longer forbidden fruit, but whenever it was, I was instantly smitten.
I probably most appreciated them first in things like strawberry-rhubarb pie, or fresh strawberry jam on homemade bread. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t still like those forms of the fruit. Like Kaylee, though, I’ve come to appreciate the individual berries as well. Part of it is taste – although blueberries still edge out as my favorite berry, it’s hard to beat the sweet, juicy burst of flavor from a strawberry, warmed by the sun, its texture firm but yielding, the slight crunch of the seeds.
But part of it is also from knowing first-hand what it’s like to pick and prepare them. I’ve still never grown them, but somehow they seem even better knowing that I took the time to seek out each berry, turning over leaves, spending an hour in the hot sun, and then another two hours sorting them.
We can’t all learn to appreciate food by being on a spaceship, or by harvesting it ourselves. But I am trying to make more of an effort to imagine what goes into my food before I eat it, in the hopes that I, too, will be able to savor each bite of all my food as much as Kaylee did her strawberry.