the birth of a food

Most of the time, I just eat without thinking too hard about where the food is coming from. I avoid processed foods and work to get fresh fruits and veggies into my body every single day. It’s one of the lasting effects of living in Vietnam, where processed foods were nearly impossible to find and fresh foods were everywhere.

I eat zucchini and potatoes, pineapple and bananas, artichokes and avocados, feeling blessed that I have access to so many variations, but rarely thinking past the grocery store or the imagined, universal, farm. The truth is, I don’t even know how some of these plants grow. I’ve never seen an avocado tree or the flowers that cashews grow on. I’ve yet to see peanuts to grow. I have been lucky enough to see pomegranate trees and bananas grow from flower to fruit.

On our drive through California in July, I got to see lots of things growing, plants I’d never seen, or maybe just never taken notice of, before. I drove through Castroville, home of the artichoke, and were awed by the acres and acres of big bushy plants topped with a single ball of artichoke. Strange looking plant, to be sure. I saw olive trees grow, ashen green and sad, along the edge of I-5 for miles. There were orange trees and onion farms. Gilroy smelled intensely of onions and garlic. There were hundreds of acres of corn and I wondered if any of the unidentifiable crops were soybeans, a plant I have eaten plenty of yet never seen.

I love seeing these plants grow here as much as I was thrilled to see coconuts on the trees in Thailand. There’s something so interesting about seeing where our food comes from, how it grows and is harvested. And it makes me a little sad how detached I am from growing it. Someday I’ll remedy that when I have some garden space. For now, I’ll continue to be amazed at how food grows from the ground, in such mass that only a small percentage of the population is in charge of producing all the fruits, vegetables and grains for the rest of us to consume.

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