The Time of Strawberries

I started reading Alain de Botton’s “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” on my flight from London to Lisbon last Wednesday. I got the book after seeing de Botton in conversation with Paul Holdengräber at the New York Public Library last month. De Botton is a master in revealing the extraordinary behind the commonplace of our globalised world. In his latest book, he does just does that – wonderfully. And just as I was about to land in Lisbon I found a paragraph that talks about our warped notion of time through the life and death of strawberries. Indulge me if you will.

“Our ancestors might have delighted in the occasional handful of berries found on the underside of a bush in late summer, viewing it as a sign of the unexpected munificence of a divine creator, but we became modern when we gave up on awaiting sporadic gifts from above and sought to render any pleasing sensation immediately and repeatedly available.

It is early December and in a central aisle, twelve thousand blood-red strawberries wait in semi-darkness. They flew in from California yesterday, crossing over the Arctic Circle by moonlight, writing a trail of nitrogen oxide across a black and gold sky. the supermarket will never again let the shifting axis of the earth delay its audience’s dietary satisfactions: strawberries journey in from Israel in midwinter, from Morocco in February, from Spain in sprin, from Holland in early summer, from England in August and from the groves behind San Diego between September and Christmas. There is only ninety-six hours’ leeway between the moment the strawberries are picked and the moment they start to cave in to attacks of grey mould. An improbable number of grown-ups have been forced to subordinate their sloth, to move pallets across sheds and wait in rumbling diesel lorries in traffic to bow to the exacting demands of soft plump fruit.”

De Botton, Alain. The pleasures and sorrows of work. New York: Pantheon Books, 2009, p.42.