The other day, my father gave me a bag of kale from his garden. It was beautiful, fresh, earthy and pleasantly bitter, and it came to be in a bag the size of a Fiat. I sat on the couch with my husband and picked the leaves off the stems so we could make the world’s biggest batch of kale pesto. There were hardly any blemishes, dark spots, or heat-shot yellow leaves. But there were aphids.
Were there ever aphids! No mass infestations, but plenty of tiny little clusters on the undersides of leaves. Some clinging valiantly, on their own, along microscopically-nibbled edges or perched by holes hardly larger than a pinprick. I was picking them off with my fingernail, crushing them with paper towels, discarding leaves with large clusters outright. Reading that a hot water wash will help dislodge them, I tried that tactic instead of my usual cold water rinse; and left the leaves sitting in their bath in my panic. Which of course, wilted and even partially cooked some of the kale. All in the name of “cleanliness”.
The degree of my distress was irrational. (A) I don’t really mind aphids. I mean, no one likes aphids, but I don’t mind them as far as bugs go, and in their element. (B) Just that day, I had eaten a handful or two of the raw kale without thinking about it, without washing it, knowing it was spray-free and finding it delicious. Surely I had already ingested a few of the buggers. (C) I always say I want natural foods, whole foods, food grown by real people, food the way food was meant to be.
And that food has bugs on it.
I suppose that’s what I had to face. My own little rotten core of hypocrisy, where I say I want no-spray apples but I definitely do not want to find a worm in my Macoun. I say I love wild foods, but find washing fiddleheads almost unbearably tedious. Pasture-raised chicken only, but I frown at the few feathers still stubbornly clinging to the wholesome skin. (I’m okay with unwashed, room-temperature eggs, though.)
It was what they call a “learning moment”, I suppose. I witnessed how silly I was being and let myself be silly, while delivering a stern internal lecture (not to mention trying to take my husband’s teasing in good humor). I recognize that I have been raised on food that has been carefully selected for its uniform, beautiful appearance, not to mention bred and/or genetically modified for said appearance, not to mention scrubbed and varnished and sprayed to preserve said appearance. (This French supermarket campaign for ugly product is a wonderful answer to this issue, by the way.)
This power-washing of our food system is undoubtedly tied in with our society’s antiseptic obsession and its attendant health problems. I prefer the aphids I can see to the super-bacteria I can’t. So I will eat the kale from the garden…after washing it very, very carefully.