It was nearing closing time at the farmers' market last weekend. I was I buying a bottle of olive oil from a young farmer and she offered me two small pomegranates along with my change. They were knobbly things, scarred and dusty. Some had even burst their seams in places, spilling out their gorgeous ruby arils. 'Do you want these pomegranates? They look funny but they taste wonderful.' I said yes, with great enthusiasm. Yes, yes, yes! And so she handed me three more.
The farmer was probably giving away her fruits because the market was almost closed and because conventionally speaking, they looked a little odd. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and to me they looked beautiful. I'm less dazzled by perfect looking fruit these days and can even find those supermarket piles of perfectly shaped, highly polished specimens kind of creepy. So the pomegranates were far from rejects in my world, they were a true treasure.
As humans, we're both blessed and cursed to yearn for what I call the god realm, (god in the mythic Greek and Roman sense.) We have a fascination with perfection, for the pinnacle, the best of the best. We see this in our obsession with competitive TV shows and perfectly turned out movie stars, and indeed in the grocery store with our piles of unblemished carrots and symmetrical lemons. We are dazzled by the surface and like Snow White, we reach for the bright, shiny object that in the end sells us short. Very short.
Because here's a secret: sometimes, the uglier the fruit, the better the taste. Often scarred fruit is sweeter due to the fact that the bacteria that created that scar when the fruit was younger flourishes in sweeter environments. Some of the best tasting apples have roughish skin and wonky, uneven shapes. And we all know the story of heirloom tomatoes, once considered so ugly and unsalable that they were almost lost to us until we discovered how delicious and superior they were. Now when we look at them, we see them through fresh eyes and what was once knobby and misshaped is now a thing of great beauty, something to be celebrated.
I get that uniformity, symmetry, smoothness, familiarity are compelling for us humans and that we are almost hardwired to want to touch, even briefly, the perfection we associate with the vaulted land of the gods. But next time you're wandering the farmers market, just as an experiment, just to humor me, ignore the sexy and dazzling stuff and look for the dusty, crooked treasures hidden in plain sight. Talk to the farmers about their thoughts on perfect produce and what makes something delicious. Educate yourself on the less obvious choice, the thing you almost overlooked or let go.
What would happen, what can we discover, if we turn away from the tug of perfection and partake instead in the less perfect but probably more satisfying riches of the rough and unpolished? What would happen if we touch our own imperfections in this way, turning towards their rugged scars and maybe finding unexpected beauty there? Maybe we'll find that we're a little sweeter and more available than we thought. Maybe we'll discover that we're like a pomegranate when all its sugar and life force has split it open and its beauty can no longer be denied.
(Image: Dana Velden)