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Caterpillars and Corn

Corn is one of the pleasures of summer. A cob of fresh sweet corn (cooked in the microwave, natch) fills my belly and curbs my sugar cravings better than any pastry. Thankfully, I live within walking distance of a farmer's market. Occasionally, you can find farmers there, selling cobs of corn they had picked the night before. Then it is time to rejoice, and munch on sweet kernels of pleasure for the next three days.

Usually I am delighted to find corn at the market. Lately, though, I have been finding unpleasant surprises in my cobs: caterpillars.

Today I realized that glossy brown caterpillars had been squatting in five of the six cobs of corn I had bought last Saturday. Furthermore, I realized that several of the cobs I had bought in earlier weeks had also been infested. Now, I don't really have all that much against caterpillars, but I don't want them in my food. True, they were relatively good caterpillars, restricting themselves to the tips of the corn cob and leaving me the rest -- but they were unwelcome nonetheless. In fact, I accidentally microwaved a few of my "little friends" before I figured out why the tops of my corn always seemed so sandy. It turns out my corn wasn't sandy; it was caterpillar poop.

I don't know whether this particular corn was grown organically, but insecty-food is something you sometimes have to deal with in organic agriculture. It's called "living in harmony with nature." Good people understand that our food should not be perfect, and that lusting after perfect food is bad. Pesticides are bad, and fungicides are bad, and lush red MacGregor tomatoes infused with fish genes are bad. I am a bad person. While in theory I agree with these sentiments, in practice I have my limits. I can deal with undersized fruits and vegetables -- in fact, I prefer smaller tomatoes and pears and apples to huge ones, because they are easier to store and eat. I can deal with slightly misshapen food. My bell peppers need not be shaped like bells (unless I am stuffing them), and all my pears need not be pear shaped, and gnarled carrots don't bug me. But I draw the line at infested food. I don't want to buy rotting or infested food just because it is "organic." I can deal with a few insect holes in my spinach or kale, so long as the insects have left. But I don't want to spend three bucks for a head of broccoli just to find that each floret is infested with aphids. I don't want to find half a worm in my apple. Perhaps inspecting my corn for caterpillars and cutting off the infested parts should be no big deal -- but I don't like doing it, and I shudder all over every time I imagine accidentally chomping into one of my "little friends".

Where does it end? Should I cheerfully deal with weevils in my wheat? Lesions on my potatoes? Maggots in my melons? Ugh. Future generations more in tune with their food supply will undoubtedly have no problems either separating insects from their food, or chomping down on these nutritious protein sources. However, I am a product of my generation, and my fat-cat, First World generation grew up eating uninfested food. Sure, our food was (and is) laced with chemicals that use up massive amounts of petroleum products and may well damage our health in the bargain, but at least those threats were invisible. We could ignore these hazards if we wanted to, and eat our dinner in peace.

Organics should probably be the future of agriculture. Organic food often tastes good, is mostly chemical-free and sustains earth rather than depletes it. Some of my best friends eat organic food. Sometimes I do too. I just wish that we could enjoy the benefits of organic agriculture without picking critters out of our produce.


P.S. I don't like bugs setting up shop on my drying laundry, either. Bringing home aphids on your T-shirts doesn't justify tumble dryers (little does, really), but it makes you think twice about letting your clothes dry in the fresh air. Go away, aphids! Get off my clothing!