The process of modern food distribution is a gas. If you walk into a supermarket in February with a wind-burned face, kicking slush off your boots, you’ll find yourself surrounded by mountains of tropical fruits and vegetables that show their sweet faces every different month of the year. At any given moment, as you sit at home watching shadows on the wall, someone in the hemisphere is picking the green beans we attribute to July, the peaches and sweet corn we relish in August, the apples we pick in October, the asparagus that sprouts in April or the cherries we devour in June. Logging in more travelling miles than a pharmaceuticals salesman, these waxed, polished and brilliantly lighted beauties beckon you like a lunatic’s dream of supernatural substance.
I realize complaining is futile. I realize that our ancestors staggered into spring on the edge of scurvy, sick of the half-rotted cabbages packed in sand in the root cellar. I realize that “local produce” is a romantic myth I cling to despite the fact that I’ll be the first one grabbing limes for my ceviche, even though I’m pretty damned sure there are no lime trees to be found in northern Jersey. But I miss the ritual of seasonal eating, when oysters needed a month with an “r”, bock beer needed April and the turkey was the grand master g of Thanksgiving and not a year-round source of cheap, bland, low-fat protein.
Having to wait is ceremonial. Waiting folds you into the orderly rhythms of life, much like baseball and football. There ought to be an intimate connection between food and time. Peaches taste like summer; summer tastes like peaches. Having eaten the peach, and wiped our chins, a proportion of our bodies becomes summer, too. A winter peach is meaningless–it’s Christmas in July. And besides, it tastes like the poor starved thing it is, without enough sunlight in its days, picked green in some unimaginably foreign climate and sent off to ripen during its journey. It puts us out of touch with our food.
We don’t have anough ceremonies in our lives as it is, and we can’t afford losing more. Eating a sweet cherry in June should be a sacred event, sucking its sweet juices and staining our fingers. And nothing is more decadent than a tomato you grow yourself, and eat at its appointed time, still warm from the day’s sunlight. The distributors, amazing as they are, still can’t quite bundle up the seasons and truck them around the country like a Phish tour. Sometimes seasons still travel under their own steam, carrying their own food, and it tastes more important for having been waited for.