We’ve been enjoying immensely the fruits of our labor in the Mill Pond garden. Canning peppers for salsa, trying out new recipes for cabbage salads, and the tomatoes this year are outrageous! Liz served up a batch of fried green tomatoes (which she, in her inimitable style of scrambled speech, once referred to as “free grind tomatoes”… Hey, when they turn out that great, she can talk like Yogi Berra for all I care). Pure veggie goodness… it just doesn’t get any better.
Wikipedia’s article on heirloom vegetables reminds us that “in modern agriculture in the industrialized world, most food crops are now grown in large, monocultural plots. In order to maximize consistency, few varieties of each type of crop are grown. These varieties are often selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides.” OK, these are some pretty clearly-defined criteria… none of which have a blessed thing to do with real, tomatoey goodness.
So that got us thinking about this “goodness”… In this corner, we have these “ugly” looking veggies that are bursting with flavor and nutritional excellence. Well, they’re not all ugly… the thing is, they’re a pretty mixed bag, looks-wise. When I visit my parents in Florida, they give us heirloom fruit from their grapefruit tree… none of which is much to look at, but every one of which is ‘perfection’ in terms of true citrusness.
And in this corner (the corner of the supermarket, actually) we have genetically engineered, “beautiful” fruit which has all been selected because it meets some sort of standard. Those strawberries “look delicious” – but they taste like water that had a red Crayola dipped in it. They pass muster on some sort of standard of “imitation, artificial” goodness. But they don’t come anywhere close to hitting the mark on what’s important (ripeness, taste and texture)… but they look really good. Picking out a veggie that meets this standard is easily done from halfway across the store.
But the “true veggie goodness” of the “funkier” fruit is a little harder to “objectively” define… but, WOW, you sure know it when you bite into one! Actually, I’m not convinced that it’s just not impossible to define perfectly the essence of what makes Liz’s Roma tomatoes “truly excellent”… those criteria seem to be freer, more open. The imitation, artificial goodness is definable… it has to be in order to become an honest-to-“goodness” commodity…
We all crave “goodness,” “rightness” – but feel there has to be some sort of quick-and-easy standard. The problem is that – with fruits and veggies, at least – the only standards that are quick and easy are only actually helpful to people who want to make a lot of money on something that bears, at best, a superficial relationship to any “true goodness that really matters.”
So what do you think? Are we looking for “imitation, artificial goodness” anywhere else? How about my own “goodness.” Am I seeking to “measure” up to some “objective standard” set by God-knows-who in order to see that I fit into the right box? Or am I seeking a “true, genuine goodness” that might be harder to pin down, but comes from my faithfully reflecting the grace and wisdom – the essence – of the One who made me – which someone might observe at a surface level and think, “Hmmm, it’s not what I was looking for.”
How about what passes for “exchange of ideas” in this culture… are we seeking “real, genuine” goodness of human interaction, or the “imitation, artificial” version of “dialogue” only with those who reinforce our points of view? Not only do we impoverish ourselves by denying ourselves the zesty flavor of true, genuine fellowship, but we push those other voices to the margins… the cultural equivalent of dumping “unlovely” carrots in the dumpster out back.
See, we don’t just have a need for diversity, we were created for it. The Eternal Creator in God’s own divine essence cannot be pinned down to a singularity… God is revealed as TriUnity, interdependent fellowship in essence… so why are we so obsessed with getting it right instead of getting it together?
This celebration of pluralism is not the same as epistemic relativism. It’s just that neither you nor I can pin truth or goodness down, without remainder, in only one voice* any more than we can decide, in advance of tasting a tomato, what constitutes tomatoey goodness… or decide in advance that a particular tomato does or does not possess “true tomatoey goodness” simply by applying a totally “objective” criteria at a distance. (Tip-o-the hat to Mikhail Bakhtin*)
Let’s get practical: As a NorCal organic farmer once pointed out, “If we picked our friends the way we selectively picked and culled our produce, we’d be very lonely.”
The thing is… in many ways we do. And we pay the price in lives that may look good on the surface, but our happiness is only the “artificial, imitation” kind. While we’re dying for “real, genuine” happiness that only comes from embracing the Other as other.
News item: French supermarket chain Intermarché is making money big-time selling “ugly”-but-perfectly-good produce to customers who can’t afford to eat the recommended allotments of the “cosmetically excellent” stuff at full price. If even a supermarket can see the value of “inglorious” fruit, maybe there’s hope for us yet.