Strawberries in springtime…

1 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ellen van Stichel |

Strawberries in springtime…

Ellen van Stichel

I always assumed that strawberries were summer fruit – at least for my part of the world, namely Belgium,  in Northern Europe… But in recent years there has been an increasing tendency to sell the delicious fruit in spring season, as I noticed on the 21th of March – technically speaking the beginning of spring. While I was shopping with my children, a man was so kind as to offer them a strawberry for free. In the car they were still enjoying it, expressing their appreciation through sounds like the ‘mmm’ of the 19-months old one. Our eldest one asked me whether we could go to the store to have some more. ‘I’d rather wait a few more weeks, dear.’ ‘Why so?,’ he observantly asked. ‘Because they are not yet as nice and tasty as in summer,’ I responded. ‘Oh, but this one was very tasty though,’ he responded alertly.

This seemingly insignificant conversation raises a few moral issues for me. To begin with, my decision not to immediately respond positively to his request. Though he is young, he is at an age that he can understand that all his wants cannot be fulfilled instantaneously; by now he knows that he cannot have toys just because he asks for them, but that there are special occasions for receiving gifts such as his birthday. ‘Seriously?!,’ one might ask, ‘we’re talking about strawberries!’ Yes, even with strawberries. The reason is the following…

Since social justice, globalization and the care for more awareness of our interdependencies in seemingly anonymous economic transactions belong to the main focus of my theological research, I try to be conscious about what I or we buy and consume as a family. (Not that I’m a saint, nor a freak – but I try to take certain issues into consideration to some extent.) The choice to buy mostly seasonal products, regionally and often organically grown, through an economic interaction which builds relationships with the producers, is a result of that attempt to be conscious consumers. (And for the more exotic things, I prefer fair trade – realizing I’m privileged to able to pay for it. But I cannot stop wondering:  yes, organic and fair trade products are more expensive, but does this not go to show that our other food is just too cheap?) For I feel for local European farmers who can hardly compete with cheaper products from countries where labour circumstances matter less. I also think it is a shame that our food has to be transported from so far, at very expensive prices, as it has to be kept cool etc, while we can get some food just across the corner of our streets which even has a better taste because it is fresher. Though none of this is supported by a nationalist tendency to favour one’s own community and economy, i.e. the Belgian agricultural sector – rather the opposite. For involved is also a consideration that to buy local is better for the global: ‘Think globally, eat locally’ as the slogan goes. For is it not the case that if everyone ate more locally produced food, also the poor farmers in the South would be better off who now have a hard time competing with imported agricultural goods from Europe, the States, … and face changed food habits so that their own people are not used to eating and cooking with homegrown product any longer? Maybe my fellow ethicists in the global South can fill me in on this… But until proven otherwise, I consider these acts of resistance against certain aspects of our global economy an expression of my love for the neighbour, even the distant one on the other side of the world. And of course I know it is just a drop on a hot plate, where to start elsewhere than at this small scale?

Moreover, how do we as parents deal with social and peer pressure with regard to consumption?  Of course, I’m well aware that I should be happy that it was something as innocent and healthy as fruit they were asking for, rather than expensive and maybe completely superfluous or even useless consumer goods… because things will get even more complicated as they grow up. Do I really want to refuse them to enjoy something as good and small as strawberries – especially since they are still so young? Am I too much of an ethicist to not immediately agree with his request? But on the other hand, if they do not learn to become conscious of the larger impact of such small and seemingly innocent issues as eating strawberries in spring time at this young age, how will they ever get a sense of the bigger and more complex issues at stake in other, more significant considerations with regard to consumerist behavior? When would be a good age and what would be a good case to start raising that awareness? Anyway, I was happy that I could go on my own to the grocery store that same afternoon, not having to go through the same conversation all over again. But it is just a matter of time before it pops up again. And what will I do next week? What should I do? 






  1. Anne E. Patrick's avatar
    Anne E. Patrick
    | Permalink
    These are difficult issues, where concerns of health and environmental and social justice converge. It is good to think them through at any season, and to let the next generation know they are troubling to adults. There may not be a perfect "solution" in this globalized economy, and we may want to add the daily prayer for forgiveness commended by Jesus to our grace before meals.

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