Tomatoes, corn, basil. The summer trifecta. The real summer ephemerals. Daily happiness for about 1 or 2 months, then gone for another year. Everyone has the experience of looking forward to and waiting for your own county's tomatoes and corn to be ripe - because they are the best. Wherever you are, the ones from the farmstand down the road are the best in the entire country. Period. They just are.
What I wonder about us as Americans, is why we're so easily pacified with inferior substitutes for keen pleasures like these? Why do we accept woody corn from the supermarket in February? And by extension, why is watching tv an adequate substitute for having a daily experience, even if it's sitting outside talking to the neighbors that pass by? Are we so brainwashed that it we can't identify what's meaningful about making a real meal for people we care about? I have to think that there is something about food that is more primal than the other parts of our brains that the advertising agencies can enter at will.
So should I always reject inferior substitutes? Is there a virtue in waiting most of an entire year, every year, for the one season when my own tomatoes are here? I can't live most of a year without tomatoes and the organic cherry tomatoes from Mexico taste pretty ok to my winter-weary tastebuds. I know that they've traveled too far to be able to eat them with a clear conscience - but just a few saves me from becoming dogmatic and incredibly grouchy. Righteousness is never an attractive quality. I'm aware of their being inferior and I also know I'm not made of stern enough stuff to spend a winter eating only root vegetables and storage apples. Much as I love both of them.
What I'm wondering is if my refusal to move toward the all-or-nothing local food approach is causing me to miss something subtle. Whether I'm so used to a Prozac nation, where all senses are smoothed into a mediocre middle, that I fail to recognize that the flip side of voluntary deprivation is very keen pleasure. And that eating locally, like everything that requires sticking to something that is hard to do, is really about who I choose to be in the world.
It's not a single choice then, but a process of getting closer to an ideal. If I want to experience the piercing joy of appreciating the first sun-ripened fruit from my own home place, I have to have done something to make myself ready for that; have to have prepared the ground so to speak.
This year, that preparation includes growing my own tomatoes for the first time. Starting my heirloom seeds in March, worrying over the tiny babies, planting outdoors, and tending them until they have grown taller than me. Now I make a daily round to inspect the green fruits, some quite large, as they sit there taunting me and refusing to turn ripe and red. This is the part of the meditation where humility and patience are practiced. Where letting go of attachment to needing a ripe homegrown tomato will suddenly result in a red and green early Christmas gift. And when it does, inevitably and inimitably, I intend to go outside with the salt shaker and eat it hot off the vine with the juice dribbling down my chin. That is a pleasure of summer that pierces the heart and for which there is no substitute.