Brilliant blueberry or reddish purple, bright orange, pale yellow or an ivory that, the first time I saw it, made me wonder whether I was looking at a parsnip that had smuggled itself into carrot-land: When I am in the mood for technicolor carrots, I know to which stall to direct my steps at the farmers’ market. On a recent Saturday, in the early morning sunlight cooled by wisps of coastal California fog, I picked up by the stems a bunch of carrots with their tops still intact. I held it up for a few seconds — the uncombed ponytail of greens brushing my hands — trying to decide whether to photograph it while still in the company of its siblings, or to wait until we reached my vegetables’ portrait studio (i.e., my kitchen).
As my brain was quickly weighing pros and cons of the options, the word “weird” hit my right ear. By stressing the “ei” and slouching on the “r,” the word “weird” can be easily turned into a verbal weapon. It is easy for me, a non-native English speaker, to tune out of background conversations at the market (and elsewhere), but that “weird” bullet burst my defensive soundproof bubble.
I kept my eyes fixed on the carrots for fear they would spear the person who had shot the word, a young woman, by the sound of the voice. “What an unpleasant word,” I thought. And then I saw it, the abyss that opens between the judge and the judged the moment that word is out.
I now know that I should have said something, I should have kindly but firmly disabused the young woman of her perception by explaining to her that what she was seeing were in fact historical carrots. Our ancestors ate purple, yellow and white carrots. Orange carrots were neither the first cultivated carrots nor the only existing variety, and their predominance is an accident of relative recent history.
“This diverse bunch of carrots is beautiful and I hope you recognize it as such,” I should have said. “Embrace diversity, bring these colorful carrots home and make a salad with them. You’ll realize that, although of different colors, they are crunchy, juicy, sweet carrots like the ‘normal’ orange ones. There is nothing weird about rainbow carrots — nothing at all.”
I didn’t say anything and, like so many times in life, the moment flew by, and I lost a chance to move a pebble to make the world a better place. The neat speech I delivered in the previous paragraph came to me a few days after the carrots’ episode as a result not only of it, but also of some reading that made me think about ways in which evil manifests itself.
So much evil in the world is caused by regarding another person as “less” or inferior, because of a physical or cultural trait. The first judgment, which seems to be almost inconsequential, can easily pave the way to discrimination, oppression, persecution and, ultimately, in too many cases, physical elimination — with each step justified by the previous one.
Placing humans and the vegetable world on the same level seems preposterous, but the seed that made my thoughts sprout started that morning at the farmers’ market, amid piles of neatly displayed vegetables. My meditation on evil brought into relief my personal responsibility in stopping any form of negative judgment before it has time to start rolling down the mountain and cause an avalanche of persecution — including judgment passed upon carrots other than orange.
Now that I have clarified my thoughts, I’ll be better equipped to defend the next vegetable that gets mistreated in my presence, and hopefully, and more importantly, the next person or group of people.
The caption of the photo is the title of a song from Finian’s Rainbow, one of my favorite musicals. Here’s the refrain:
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow it over the hill and the stream.
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow the fellow who follows a dream.
© 2015-2017 Simona Carini