While I was in high school, I worked on a vegetable farm during the summer months.
Of all of the vegetables and fruits across all of the acres on the farm, I spent most of my time with tomatoes.
Cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and regular round tomatoes. The biggest of the round ones we labeled as “Hanover” tomatoes. The infamous Hanover tomato. The county of Hanover was a stone throw away. The soil was the same. But when folks came to the fruit stand to buy produce, they’d always ask something along the lines of, “Do you have any Hanover tomatoes in today? Them Hanover tomatoes are delicious. Nothin’ like it.” We’d direct them to the “Hanover” tomatoes, and when they returned the following week, they’d say something like, “Your New Kent tomatoes are good, but they ain’t got nothin’ on those Hanover tomatoes.” And then they would pay extra money, for just a slightly bigger than normal New Kent tomato, and swear up and down they could taste the difference, and it definitely tasted better.
Perception is reality.
Picking tomatoes was hard. Picking anything was hard – I was bent over, the sun beat on my back, my body ached – but picking tomatoes was unlike anything else because it put a film of grime on my hands that was impenetrable. As a teenage girl overly sensitive about my looks, seeing the dirt filled crevices of my scraped up hands put me in a state of social anxiety. I did not want anyone to see my hands like that. The first time I realized this layer of grime would not disappear with soap and water, I stuck my hands in between the bristles of the conveyor belt we used to clean vegetables. Imagine cylinder shaped bristle brushes that circle around your vehicle in a car wash – it was like that, but on a much smaller scale. If these brushes could clean the vegetables, maybe they could clean my hands. Did I worry about my hands getting caught in the conveyor belt? No! My vanity had the best of me. Dirt could not be visible.
After several seconds with my hands between the brushes, I pulled them out, ready to see them looking as good as new. No luck. I still saw dirt.
I don’t know if I came up with this next idea, or if it was my sister. Maybe it was one of the older women we worked alongside. Regardless, the next step involved pouring bleach all over my hands. Did I consider the possible side effects? No. Did I have a smart phone with the internet handy to tell me that bleach could irritate your skin, and, if left on for prolonged periods of time, cause tissue damage? No. And if I did know, would I still have bleached my hands? Yes. Teenage me would have still bleached my hands. It worked. I could now spend time with my peers without the fear of them noticing my dirty hands. I didn’t care if the dirt was actually gone, but I was satisfied that it was at least invisible.
So whenever I picked tomatoes, I knew a good bleaching was in store for me that evening.
How often do you think about the hand that picked your food?
If you’re interested in seeing an image of the conveyor belt I described above, check out this link: http://www.fao.org/docrep/009/ae075e/ae075e07.htm