My household is living through the lettuce glut. Lettuce is one of the first things to come to maturity in my Georgia garden and due to the fast onset of warm weather and the southern latitude with its long days, it bolts (goes to seed) quickly. So to beat the clock, we get it in as early as possible, and start eating it while still young. There are still over 20 heads left –- romaine and curly leaf — even though I have been giving some away and we have eaten half a dozen in the past 10 days or so. The race is on. We have only days left before the warmth and sunshine give the signal and suddenly the leaves turn bitter and an elongated stalk pushes its way out of every head.
During the lettuce glut we eat lettuce. We make salads, of course, sandwiches with layers of lettuce as the main ingredient, tortillas and taco salad loaded with shredded green stuff. And we get tired of lettuce. But we still eat it. Complaining is not allowed. It’s family policy. Or at least it’s my policy. It’s solidarity with those who can’t always eat what they want. Sometimes we need to just eat what is there. Even if we prefer something else. Even if we are tired of what is there.
Lest you think it is all deprivation, during the lettuce glut we also have asparagus. It’s not a glut, but a steady supply for about 6 weeks. We love asparagus. But we never buy it. We eat it when it comes up and then we do without until next year. It’s not just that the freshly-picked asparagus is better. We simply choose to limit ourselves to enjoying what we can grow of it, to being dependent upon the land and upon the work we put into planting, weeding, and mulching for that particular delicacy.
We want to remind ourselves that most poor people live with fewer choices than what our lives allow. Many are very dependent on the land, on what they can grow. Even so, our chosen lettuce austerity does not mimic how vulnerable they are. Were my lettuce crop to fail –- be eaten by pests or turned to pulp by hail — we would buy something green at the grocery store. We would not go hungry.
But by intentionally growing and eating the lettuce, voluntarily limiting our choices to what we can grow at certain times of the year, we are forced to reflect on the lives of those for whom an insect infestation or hail storm do mean hunger. We train ourselves to be less insistent on what “I want,” on what “I like,” or what “I prefer.” We are helped to recognize how spoiled we are. How easily including lettuce in lunch and again at dinner grates on us so that we look out the back window to the garden and wish for the lettuce to be gone. Until we remember that many poor people in this world will eat the same poor fare day after day after day. For months.
This overweening propensity we have in this country to want what I want when I want it and to want it now, is greed. There is an argument out there that says that greed is good, that makes greed the capitalist engine of America’s prosperity and that of the world. But the desire to serve others, not greed, is the true foundation of a sustainable capitalist society in which the bottom line is not counted merely in dollars and cents, but in community and friendships.
News reports say that the economic downturn is causing many more Americans to start gardening. Even gleaning is coming back. I hope this is more than a passing fad, and that the seeds of solidarity with the poor are among those being planted.