As I sit at work, ho-huming silently to myself, i have plenty of time to think. Watch, and think. I check my bank accounts, monitor the weather (political and meteorological) in the Middle East, explore Micronesia on google earth and visit Canadian ski resorts for virtual tours. I look up sesquipadalian words in the dictionary and find an inspiring recipe for later on. I email people. I feel like a naughty little imp, glibly tapping my friends and real workers on their shoulders, distracting their deep and reverential streams of commercial, worldliwise thought. And, finally, apart from annoying my co-workers, I write this blog.
There’s a supermarket that tells us proudly that one of their smoothies is made with Andean blackberries. Forgive me, but aren’t blackberries one of those quintessentially english fruits? So much so that they’re practically an institution. They’re big over on the Emerald Isle too, or at least Seamus Heaney certainly thought so. They’re married to apples and they are everywhere – from greying railway track verges to tower-block-shadowed allotments. So, why oh why are we flying them to England from the Andes of all places?
Granted, it sounds pretty romantic, berries growing with a view of Macchu Picchu, their complex flavours informed by Incan terroir. Truth is, they have most likely come from a scrubby foothill on the outskirts of Lima, peed on by feral dogs and planted cheek-by-jowl with the local guinea pig farm. Underpaid mothers and daughters shuffle along the hedgerows, their enormous skirts pumping up already massive backsides, dodging families of skinny over-breeding cats and ripping dusty plastic bags from the thorns. Underripe blackberries are drowned, thoroughly, in industrial-strength Milton and packaged in protective atmospheres before being shipped across hemispheres, oceans and continents. And then a supermarket packages them all up nicely or squishes them into a 2-day-old ‘fresh’ smoothie and charges you double the lady with the big bottom’s weekly wage.
I am not completely anti-air-freighted fruits and veggies – I certainly wouldn’t give up my thai holy basil, lebanese eggplants, Pakistani mangoes and Sri Lankan pawpaws without a fight. The trouble here is that we are importing ingredients that are local – not just in their indigenous proximity but in our collective conscience. I just don’t believe that an Andean blackberry is worth more, experientially, than a fresh one picked just down the road. If I’m wrong and the little critter in question does turn out to be plumper, juicier, more tangy and sweeter, then I take it all back.
If not, it all makes that crumble on Sunday taste just a little tart, doesn’t it?