From the Summer 2014 issue of The Wise Mom: http://issuu.com/wisemom/docs/june14?e=1857030/8420845
A few years ago, when I was pregnant and working as a teaching assistant for a women’s studies course, a colleague told me, “Don’t eat strawberries.” She had worked with farm laborers and researched methyl bromide (as well as its substitute methyl iodide). “That stuff’s awful, you don’t want it,” she said. “Plus, the work is back-breaking—bending over to the ground all day? And the women I worked with, they wouldn’t talk about it, they never said it, but so many had been raped by a supervisor.”
Much of this I knew already. I had been interested in farm labor since I learned about civil rights as a second-grader, and wondered, what are the injustices of my time? I had been concerned about pesticide use since I was in high school and a close family member survived a life-threatening and rare form of cancer. And I knew that women in poverty are more vulnerable to violence. Yet having someone I knew tell me all of this again, to my face, made a difference. Strawberries—so often on the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list of produce with pesticide residue—coalesce so many of the problems with our current food system. And I can do one thing about it: not eat them.
This isn’t to say that I never buy strawberries. As a consumer, I’m not perfect. And my daughter loves strawberries. I bought some really tempting, non-organic strawberries at a farmstand last summer, made popsicles with them, and my daughter even ate them. But then I avoided that last popsicle, knowing that it most likely contained too much pesticide residue. I buy organic strawberries at the store sometimes, but every time I guilt-trip myself, thinking about the people who picked them.
When I think about the people who pick strawberries, the mostly Latino/a farmworkers who face so many challenges in our country, I also think about the women and their children. Their experiences with sexual violence, their children exposed to higher rates of pesticides, even at school. And I think about why I’m choosing to be a WAHM.
I have enormous respect for my former colleague and the people I’ve met who follow her path. She both creates art and works as an activist. She goes into the fields, learns about what’s happening, and organizes to help. She does performances that reimagine what being a woman and a laborer means. I have enormous respect for other academics, but I’ve found that’s not what I want. I’ve always been too shy to organize as an activist, weeping the day I tried to stand on a street corner and get other students to donate to an environmental group. And I don’t want to work full time and put my child in daycare for many reasons, one of which is that I feel I can do so much more that matters to me—grow strawberries, make bread, clean my house, walk and bike more—with the time I have as a stay-at-home parent. It’s not for everyone, and I’m proud of the graduate student moms I know who are pursuing an academic career. They are such important role models for girls. I just know that staying at home is for me.
Most of all, what I love about staying at home is being with my daughter every minute. We learn so much together. When she goes out on our patio, she says, “pick. . .eat!” She loves watering the plants and would do it for hours. She’s almost two, and when I call her a “super gardener” she marches in circles singing and dancing to “sup-er garden-er. . .sup-er garden-er.” Gardening and staying at home aren’t easy, but they can be magical. Just this year I arrived late to a garden exchange and ended up with dried fava beans. They flourished in my container garden, more than any other plant. That led me to realize that all my strawberries had verticillium wilt, something that as a novice gardener I’d never heard of. I couldn’t afford to throw those pots away, but I could rotate in lettuce, beans, calendula, or sunflowers, to name a few. And now I know my daughter loves fava beans. Fresh, sweet, and tiny, she’ll eat them straight out of the pod, doing an ecstatic hand-clapping dance when we find another one. They’re the healthiest thing she eats, and I’ve realized that, for me, this is the healthiest way to make a difference.