Like many people, I’m always seized by a sort of romanticism about the land around this time of year. After the long New England winter, at last, we see the first fruits the warming earth will bear! In the market you can find the coiled fiddleheads, the slender ramps, extracted from the secret, wild caches of the foragers.
“The market,” for me, is Whole Foods. And every year my yearning for these scavenged treasures is shocked to stillness by their price. Every year I decline the ramps at $13.99. I walk by the fiddleheads, which start at $19.99, and wait till they bottom out in their abundance, at $9.99.
It’s not that I so hate to splurge. But it strikes me as faintly obscene that these foods, once richly gathered into the hands of the winter-starved and needy, should go to market–and at such a price!– for the pleasure of consumers who don’t need them. Then again, who knows? maybe no one depends on foraging in this era of cheap food. And lobsters, after all, were once the food of the poor; equally, you can spend $19 a plate for what was peasant food in the Old World in numberless upscale restaurants. Food cycles up and down all the time–except when it’s so scarce that the question isn’t what, but how to eat.
Does a food become less meaningful if you don’t really need it? I don’t know. But I know it always bugs me, just a bit, when what once was a necessity becomes, in the end, nothing more than a choice.