I suppose the old adage, “Times they are a’changin’,” applies to just about everything. Even the way people grow food. Seems the older adage, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” means nothing. It makes me shudder to think that like a prisoner in some oppressive country lives with only bread and water, we were now, as a group of tasty plants, forced to live without our rich, dark, and nutritious soil—robbing us of a long term life, multiple dishes … and lots of potential. For the sake of convenience we are being shoved into a plastic bag, roots and all, wet and bound up—useful for only whatever is being cooked that night, or maybe if the cook remembers to water us … we can leach out another meal or two before we pack it in and settle for the mulchy after-life. Our ongoing worth diminished, capped … over. We are now “hydroponic.”
In the life of hydroponic basil, many of us die before we are even purchased. Our wide, fragrant leaves start getting silky and limp, brown around the edges and the stems which previously smarted us upright and showed pride in carrying us give up and just let us flop over as we suck the last of the moisture from the unnaturally white roots until the little square inch of dirt is dry as a bone. “It’s over for us,” we are thinking … as we look a the new batch of arrivals, pert, smelling good and having no idea what awaits them in their plastic jacket. Our only hope is to be chosen quickly … because each hour is debilitating here … each minute that goes by is hell on the produce counter.
I look back to when I was a little seed. My whole life ahead of me, until I served the purpose my higher power, the Culinary Heavens, had in store for me. Oh, how I hoped to be a defining flavor. The flavor that without me, the dish was not a success. Like basil pesto! We all live to hit our pot of gold moment, don’t we? We all want to live in the Mediterranean—where our chances of success are greater—the dishes we are a part of … many. Where basil is worshipped, appreciated and most of all, nurtured in soil. Where we reach the perfect size for plucking and as we each get placed in the basket we wave goodbye and blow kisses to our friends and family as if on a cruise ship … headed for the buffet.
Sadly, some of us just don’t make it there and we live hoping to be a mealtime addition, joining the ranks of the not so pretty but still edible plants headed to sauce kitchens, or Mario forbid—the dried herb factories. Useful, at least. We must be … to be worthy. To just die … is … well, I just can’t even think about it. I lived right. I did the next right thing. I prayed to whatever Culinary Gods would listen and I received love. When it came around. I even tried to talk back to the people that talked to me … which were few and far between. As I sprouted into tiny, tender little leaves in my tiny little pot, I fought off bugs, braced my stems against strong winds, stood tall against the hot sun, and tried to remain as plump and green as possible … shared all the water offered with the weakest roots first … and waited patiently for the day I would be permitted to release my roots into a rich, nutritious garden … and grow tall, proud and dense with lots of leaves.
The day came at last. I was lifted gently from my pot and—shoved into a plastic cone bag. The only nourishment being the little bit of dirt that made it to the bag with me. I look down, and most of my rootage was naked and bound tightly. I vaguely remember being sprayed with a little water as if to humor me and getting thrown into a pallet with other strange plants off to the same fate. An uncertain future.
As I traveled to the unknown, a plant trying to apparently make the best of it began singing “O Solo Mio” and we all joined in, imagining a life laying atop a pizza pie … sigh … bump.
One by one I watched my friends get chosen and life got lonelier and lonelier and more depressing by the moment as my leaves began wilting and turning brown. Until one day I felt the plastic I was in rattling! “OMG, I’m moving! Wait, she’s just moving me over to get to another one … wait … she’s staring at me as if she is about to cry … Oh my … is it true … am I headed for her basket?” I frantically look around me and then at her “But Miss, surely you … you’ve picked me by mistake … I’m almost dead! Wait … you’re going to carry me to the manager, so I end up in the trash quicker … aren’t you? That’s it,” I pouted and curl my little green leaf under itself, braced myself and said a prayer. And then well, next thing I know I’m being transported down the conveyer belt! Over the bright red light I go: beep! My price rang up and I was free! The bagger placed in a bag with a huge head of cabbage that I had to dodge with all my might all the way to my new home. (And boy was she mad when she saw how they bagged me!)
I made it safely … and after what I’d been through I would have gladly played dodge ball with Mr. Cabbage all night. So I laid on the counter, curious as to my fate, as this savior of mine busied herself putting up things, and then guess what!? She put me in a pot of dirt with a healthy friend! I couldn’t believe my fortune! This is better than being a chiffonier! As my roots stretched out, took in the nourishing soil, and fresh water I suddenly felt stronger than I had in weeks. My leaves began plumping up, my stems strengthened and held me up, and I feel like a brand new basil plant. I’m very happy in my new home, this woman talks to us all the time and it’s easy to see she really loves basil. She assures me the culinary world isn’t through with me yet … that I have many plants yet to start and many dishes to flavor. Yea … she’s good for the herb ego. Now that I’m feeling better about myself. I like to think that I can be a lesson to all half dead herbs. Remember guys: it ain’t over … ’til yer crispy.