Perfect Strawberries

Last weekend we were privileged to be able to attend a conference at the Duke Divinity School titled “Making Peace With the Land.”  The conference title is taken from a book by the same name, recently published and authored by Norman Wirzba and Fred Bahnson (highly recommended, by the way).

Dr. Wirzba is a theologian who explores the space where theology intersects with agriculture, food, agrarianism and rural life.  He shared an antecdote about his first attempt to grow a garden.  He learned a lesson that more people need to learn.

He planted strawberries, nurtured them and waited anxiously for that first delicious bite.  Just as the berries were beginning to ripen he noticed that they were being eaten by slugs.  So he went to Walmart’s gardening section to get something to spray on the plants to kill the slugs.   He picked up a can of something that adverstised its effectiveness at that, and then he read the warnings on the label.  Don’t let children come into the sprayed area for three days, it read.  Discard or burn any clothing that comes into contact with the spray, was another.  Reflecting a moment, he decided that he ought not eat anything sprayed with such stuff.

So, still having fresh strawberries on his mind, next he walked over to the produce department to buy some.  The berries there were plump and beautiful.  Not a blemish on them.  They looked perfect.

But why, he wondered, did nothing else want to eat these berries?  Why was he, apparently, the only thing on earth that would eat them?

He decided against the spray and against the perfect strawberries.  Now, of course, he’s a well-known advocate of natural, sustainable farming.

Far too few people these days understand what garden produce is supposed to look like.  They’ve been conditioned to expect seemingly perfect vegetables.  Most don’t even know they’re sacrificing taste to have them.  They don’t think about the environmental cost of making them look that way.  And of course they don’t consider the amount of poison they have to ingest to eat such things.

A few days ago I went into a grocery store with Cherie.  While she shopped for a few things, I wandered over to the produce section.  They had bell peppers shrink-wrapped in plastic.  The peppers were all perfectly shaped and brightly colored.  They didn’t even look real to me.  I wondered how they get the peppers to grow to be exactly the same size and shape.  How do they make them so shiny?  Intellectually I knew that the commerical pepper varieties are hybrids that are designed for uniformity in shape.  I know that they polish them to make them more appealing in a store.  Intellectually I knew that the peppers are inferior in every way to those we raise naturally.  But I admit to feeling a few pangs of jealousy as I looked at the perfect peppers.  The food marketeers may not be any good at making food taste good, but they’re masters at making it look good.

But the winds are changing.  More and more folks are coming to understand what Norman Wirzba figured out about strawberries that day.  This year we’ve gotten lots of compliments on our vegetables and they rarely have the grocery store perfect look.

As I tell folks, if a bug wouldn’t eat it, neither should you.

May the day soon arrive when we all know what a genuinely perfect strawberry looks like.

Love Wins

11 comments on “Perfect Strawberries

  1. Bindert says:

    Goodday Bill!

    The work of Norman Wirzbra is absolutely inspiring. I loved reading his Food and faith. a theology of eating. Just want to say that I really like your blog. as a pastor from the Netherlands with a more than average interrest in sustainable food and agriculture, and growing our own food, you’re blog is really combining the two in an inspiring and convincing way – theology and food/agriculture. tnx!


    • Bill says:

      So good to know you’re reading and enjoying the blog! Thanks for commenting.
      I agree with you about Norman Wirzba’s work. There is some good work being done now in the intersection of food and faith. Good to know I have an ally in the Netherlands! 🙂


  2. Fox says:

    That’s a fantastic view on exactly how I always felt about our garden when I was a child. I was always upset that our carrots were these strange, twisted things, yet carrots in the stores are so straight and perfect. Of course, I’m sure the rocky soil we were using forced the carrots to adapt to their environment, but I always felt like we were doing something wrong because we couldn’t manage these perfect carrots. It wasn’t until years later when we no longer had our garden that I realized how much I missed those imperfect carrots. They tasted so much better than anything else we could find. I miss the farm stand we’d buy our produce at. They were known for growing in a natural and sustainable way. There’s something lacking about our options now. It’s memories like this that have me so excited about having a chance to get back to all of that again. Starting next spring we’ll be well on our way to a more sustainable life.


    • Bill says:

      I can definitely relate to your memories. I can remember as a child wishing we could eat “store food” like the wealthier people, rather than food from our garden. Like you, I eventually came to realize that homegrown food is incomparably better than the grocery store kind–even if it doesn’t have that “perfect” look. btw, I’d settle for gnarly carrots this year. I’m having a devil of a time getting any of mine to come up. 🙂
      Best wishes on your journey towards sustainability!


  3. shoreacres says:

    I have a friend who photographed food professionally for a time. His stories of what they did to cheeseburgers to make them look luscious on the page were amazing – and it’s clear some of the same techniques are applied to grocery store food.

    Apart from fruits and veggies,your tale of the perfect strawberries reminds me of another food journey – to white bread and back. I grew up with a grandmother who baked nearly every day. We loved her bread and rolls, but along came “Wonder Bread” – white, perfectly sliced and encased in its red, yellow and blue balloon adorned wrapper, ready to “build strong bodies twelve ways”.

    It was convenient, and it was The Thing, back in the day. Eventually, we figured out that white, spongy, tasteless stuff bore no relationship to real bread, and now, even if I buy bread, it’s from a bakery where they know what to do with flour and yeast.


    • Bill says:

      Yes,I agree that homemade bread is a great example of this. My mother made homemade biscuits for us almost every day (we being Southerners). But we kids loved it on those rare ocassions when she’d buy rolls from the store instead. What a treat we thought we were getting. Now I can only shake my head in disbelief as I think back on preferring those things to my Mama’s incredible homemade biscuits.
      Totally agree on white sandwich bread. I used to love it. Now the wonder is only why I ever wanted it in the first place. 🙂


  4. Paul Lumbye says:

    hey Bill, if you get a free moment (right!) check out The Corner at; a fellow hoo (and southsider IIRC) EAPo needs some help with his strawberries, he’s frustrated enough to be considering not growing them next year. I read his post & thought you might have ideas (he says he’s committed to organic/sustainable methods only) (His post is at 10:02 yesterday, which was Sunday 9/30/12….)

    faithful reader,


    • Bill says:

      Great to hear from you Paul. I wonder what you make of this blog. It’s not the same kind of fare you were used to seeing on the ‘box. Glad to know you’ve checked it out.
      I looked at EAPo’s post. My advice won’t be any different from what he’s already gotten. I’ll go weigh in now. Thanks for the heads up.
      Hope you’re well and continuing to offer much needed sanity and balance over on the ‘box.


  5. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Lol, we have five (six; ) senses for a reason and, so far as food is concerned, sight is merely the first…


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