strawberry shortcake forever
Thanks for all the input, everyone. Here is a copy of my letter to AJC:
>Date: Fri, 14 Mar 1997 14:38:21
>From: Lance Howard <email@example.com>
>Subject: strawberry shortcake forever
>First, let me commend you on the idea of a monthly feature on "Southern
foodways and the people and places behind them." Jim Auchmutey's piece on
Roy Parke and his "Strawberry Kingdom" was surely a wonderful fantasy well
complemented by Walter Cumming's illustrations. Born in Northern Ireland,
Parke's life rehearses a path traveled by the ancestors of many white
"native" southerners, hence his rise to fame and fortune provides a nice
model for your readers. He is also presented as an innovator of strawberry
culture in Florida, "pioneering techniques for for growing, shipping and
preventing freezes." If all this were not enough, Parke is also endowed
with folk knowledge regarding the weather ("the Sunshine State's own
weather groundhog"), and as a family farmer, with a roadside market
operated by his daughter.
>A mortal reality is given to Parke at the end of the feature, however,
when it is revealed that due to a "medical condition" Roy cannot partake in
the "indulgence" of his market's signature product: strawberry shortcake.
In fact, he rarely eats his strawberries at all ("When he has to taste a
strawberry to evaluate its flavor, he'll spit it out like a wine taster.").
Somehow this revelation shifts the flavor of the story to the kind of
fantasy we associate with Disney World, a comparison made earlier in the
story ("a strawberry-red throne that looks like it was jettisoned from Mr.
Toad's Wild Ride..."). The reader should begin to wonder what kind of
machinery can make this fantasy possible.
>Alas, there is a darker side to commercial strawberry production, about
which Autmutey is conspicuously silent. 97% of Florida's strawberry acreage
is fumigated with methyl bromide, an EPA Category 1 acute toxin associated
with damage to human brain, nervous system, respiratory system, kidney,
liver, eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and skin. Although methyl bromide is
applied as a pre-emergent herbicide before the strawberries are planted,
30-60% of what is applied gets into the air, where its drift has caused
health problems in residential areas and school playgrounds near strawberry
fields in California. Because the State of Florida does not require
reporting of pesticide use, the potential danger of operations like Parkes'
cannot be estimated. Methyl bromide is also a serious depleter of ozone,
4-5 times more effective than CFC's, which have been banned for that
reason. Methyl bromide is scheduled to be banned from use in the US by
Jan. 2001. Strawberries account for the most intensive use of methyl
bromide of any crop. Once planted, strawberries receive frequent
applications of other pesticides, such as paraquat, another herbicide,
methomyl, an insecticide, but mostly of fungicides like captan (used on 99%
of Florida strawberry acreage), considered a probable human carcinogen.
All these combine to give strawberries the highest levels of pesticide
residue of all supermarket produce. Roy is, therefore, well advised to
limit his consumption, as are your readers.
>Some strawberries are grown commercially, without methyl bromide and the
other host of toxins. The 1996 National Organic Directory lists Albert's
Organics South in Winter Haven, as a wholesale organic distributor in Roy's
area (there are no listings in Georgia). However, strawberries are most
dependably fresh, delicious, and safe, when grown at home, or, even better,
when gathered wild in the meadows of the Piedmont and Appalachian
foothills. Although they won't be the size of "tennis balls," they will
have a concentration of flavor drawn out of the real Earth, unequalable by
Parkes' "intravenous"-like methods of culture.