Every year, my summers at home in Japan are marked first by cherry season, then peach season, and as the days grow warmer, watermelon season. Back in America, I sometimes find it difficult to express the taste of those Japanese fruits to those who have never tasted them. There is a type of sugar produced in Japan called wasanbon that has an incredibly delicate, gentle flavor; perhaps this sugar comes closest to the taste of the fruit which Japanese farmers work endlessly to grow and harvest each year. Of course I have had good fruit in America too, but I am often disappointed by its commercialized, mass produced nature, in its surface that is polished with wax and displayed in piles, only to turn out bland or bitter.
A couple of days ago, my good friend, Elisa called me to tell me that although peach season was coming to an end in California, a local peach farm that she knew was open for visiting. I happily volunteered to go with her. We left Pasadena and drove for over an hour on the freeway through the typical balding, dry Southern California landscape, finally arriving in the small town of Acton. The owner of the peach orchards, Chris described the farm that he had created, talking about his dedication to sustainable practices and safe, healthy cultivation techniques while still producing the best, most delicious produce possible.
Clean farming and wholesome products were a staple in our childhood, but modern mass production that values money over taste, covering its produce in pesticides is in no way only limited only to fruit. I was reminded of a line from a movie I used to watch with my children, an animated, Japanese film titled, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The protagonist is a young girl trying to save her world from a human race that has poisoned it beyond repair with chemicals, war, and other harmful practices. In the film she says, “The very Earth itself is sick, the soil is dirty.” Talking to Chris, I not only felt the painful reality of Nausicaa’s words, but also the immense urge to support this person who was, in the shadows, fighting so hard to preserve what was left of good farming, good soil, and good practices. Although the peaches I brought home are different from the ones I know in Japan, they taste just as sweet in their own unique way, partly because of how they were grown, but also perhaps because of what they stood for. What tastes good isn’t just a singular, flat thing; delicious things are delicious also because of their story, their process, and what they mean to us.