Through my work as a dietitian, I’ve seen first-hand how food is woven into the fabric of peoples’ everyday lives. Food is never just about what is going into your mouth at a single moment. It has a story. We are affected by the circumstances of the family that grew it, by the land it was grown on, and the market where it was sold. The Heritage Food Project has allowed me to see this backstory in much greater detail. I get to see how our local crops have become part of the story of so many lives going back generations.
With food, and in so many other ways, Santa Cruz has a knack for being a small town with big influence. It’s not unusual to find reminders of our home even when traveling. Whether it’s Watsonville berries at a grocery store in Spain, O’Neil t-shirts in Thailand, or Mystery Spot bumper stickers in Timbuktu, our little stretch of coastline has deep connections with the world both in the present and in the past. Nonetheless, I was surprised recently when my research on local food history turned up a story that involved a painful part of world history.
During World War II, Japanese families in Santa Cruz shared the same terrible fate as Japanese families up and down the West Coast when they were imprisoned in camps for several miserable years. Many of these families endured lasting repercussions of their internment when they returned home to find they had lost their houses, farms, and treasured possessions to theft and foreclosure. But some families in Santa Cruz were (comparatively) lucky, thanks to one of their fellow farmers, whose family is still in the berry business. This family made a deal with their friends among the Japanese berry farmers, to hold and care for farms (and bank accounts) through the years of internment. Consequently, many families were sheltered from some of the worst economic effects of internment.
This act of friendship hints at a depth of trust and community within the berry business at that time which is truly inspiring. So this year as I’m getting my fill of strawberries before the season is over, I’m getting more and more excited about bringing these stories to life as our final draft comes together. And I guess now you know that dietitians are thinking about more than nutrient content when they eat their food!