Fruit Flies, Crop Dusting, DDT, Eastern Europe
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My 80-year-old mom is sitting at the kitchen table dissecting a banana as if it were a biology specimen under a microscope. I watch her for a few minutes intently before I ask her what she is doing. With a scientific look of Eureka discovery on her face, she tells me, she is looking for worms. Worms?
She is 100 percent sure; the bananas I just bought at the grocery store have worms, especially since they had ripened enough to be extra sweet and mushy. She is peeling away and separating the banana core into smaller segments, believing that the tiny white fibers are worms.
I started to explain that they are not, but I stopped short. Mom spent most of her adult life in the Eastern European block where fruit flies were rampant and uncontrollable. Insecticides such as DDT, although banned in this country, were used on most crops and vegetables low to the ground, but it was difficult to spray powder on fruit trees in order to kill the pests that loved fruits as much as we did. Crop dusting by aerial spraying was not something the communist regime did. There was plenty manual labor around. The population needed employment in spite of the meager wages. Workers dusted or sprayed the chemicals themselves without masks or any protection for that matter.
I do not remember ever eating a fruit that did not have worms in it. Fruit flies deposited their eggs that grew into tiny, white worms that wiggled out of cherries, apples, pears, prunes, peaches, apricots as we took bites out of them. We could try to extricate the worms by cutting the fruit into sections without parasites in them, or could just eat it whole and unwashed, not worrying or thinking about the worms. They constituted, after all, extra protein, and we were starved for protein all the time. We were not vegetarians by choice. Meat was so hard to find except at Christmas time when country folks slaughtered pigs and the government supplied stores in town with extra meat in order to pacify the starving urban proletariat.
There were a few orchards slated for communist elite consumption or export and those were tended to carefully. The fruit was whole and untouched by parasitic fruit flies.
During Christmas holidays, small shipments of oranges and bananas came from Greece, Israel, and people fought over them in long lines at the state grocery store. Such rare delicacies were rationed to a few pieces per family. We were so excited to get the exotic fruits and free of worms!
There were no 10 pound bags of oranges similar to those we buy at Sam’s Club and no neat rows of perfect oranges or bunches of bananas like those that we find in American grocery stores every day. We take the abundance for granted because we have never experienced shortages of anything. We trust that whatever we need, will always be there, someone will grow them and ship them to our markets. But will they?
Mom finished her inspection of the “imperfect” banana. She threw it out with a huff, convinced that it had worms. Mom is blessed to have plenty of other food or fruits to satisfy her hunger. By the grace of God and a stroke of good luck, she lives in the land of plenty. She does not have to worry about her next meal. She has the luxury of throwing away good food that she mislabels wormy, tainted, or rotten. After all, there is so much food in this country and so cheap. Will we always be so lucky and have this luxury forever?