This is berry season at Wild Carrot Farm, a CSA near my home. Each Wednesday I stop at their stand at the end of my road for such treats as fresh lettuce, cucumbers, Swiss chard, summer squash, and berries. (Community Supported Agriculture or a CSA, as you may know, is a farm where members of the community pay a sum in advance in order to ensure the farmer can grow the food we will want.)
When I carry home my boxes of blueberries and raspberries, I recall the hours of my childhood spent picking berries in the woods that were part of our farm, raspberry canes drooping with berries in the glades and under the power lines, blackberries big as my dad’s thumb, blueberries in plenty in open patches. Sometimes we brought home several pails full. We used two-quart berry pails, tying the bail to a rope around our necks. This left both hands free for picking.
Dad made a “blueberry board” to help Mom sort the berries. It was a long board, somewhat wider than an ironing board, which she could prop on the table at a slant. When she poured some berries at the top they would roll along toward a catching bowl at the end while she picked out the stems and leaves and white (unripe) berries at they rolled. Dad nailed two long inch-thick boards along the sides to make a trough, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom where the bowl waited. He provided two smaller sticks to stop the berries along the way, giving Mom time to complete the sorting.
On the evening of berry picking we ate bowls of blueberries with sugar. We didn’t yet dream that sugar was bad for our health. What we couldn’t eat Mom put up in pint jars with sugar syrup. These went into winter pies. Yum.
Now I eat my berries in yogurt sweetened with stevia. I’m not sure when sugar and bleached white flour entered our family diet. My mother and grandmother were not on the alert for any danger in these changes. They trusted the manufacturers and merchants with, we can now say, a dangerous naivete. In their place I would have done the same. Today most of us are on the alert for dangers in our food.
This summer I watched my toddler granddaughter eat strawberries cut into quarters. Organic berries were available in large boxes at the local Trader Joe’s. Strawberries grown with chemicals are listed at the top of foods to avoid. I learned recently that some chemicals may interfere with our good gut bacteria and may even damage our intestinal cilia, those tiny fingers that take nutrition into the blood stream. You can’t live without a way to move food from the tummy to the rest of the body. You can’t live without your digestion. I worry about children whose parents don’t know what is in their food. Our children are vulnerable–and utterly dependent on the care we give them. Here is my granddaughter with her caring and knowledgeable mama. She is precious but no more precious than many another child to whom life may not have been so kind.
Since my health memoir Tummy Story was published I’ve encountered several other health memoirs. It must be the year to share our detective work on the path to better health. With traditional medicine beginning to combine their tools of diagnosis with nutrition and other models of medicine, with alternative medicine increasingly available, and with the internet at our finger tips, we can find out most anything we need to know about how the body works and how to help it–or at very least how not to interfere with the wisdom that is built into our bodies. (See Tummy Story: Digestion in the Age of Processed Food and Antibiotics.)
We live in an age of miracles. When I left my home in the early 1960s, there was no such thing as a personal computer. The first computers were as big as houses. There was no chance of my wandering the yet-to-be-created internet to find what I needed to know. Maybe I was lucky to go to many places and try many ways of living. But we are lucky today to have good health guidance and much more at our fingertips.