Life Lessons From an Unlikely Pair
What I learned from avocado and papaya
One taught me planning
One taught me patience
And one taught me…. No, no.
This is starting to sound like an Ariana Grande song of boyfriends past. If I were to remix the track, my chorus would repeat, “Thank you, may I please have more?”
My family recently played a game at dinner in which each member had to disclose their favorite color of produce.
The rules were: If you could only eat one group of produce for the rest of your life, and that group was organized by color, which would you choose?
This is clearly a complete hypothetical — unless you entertain the idea that, late at night, produce sections engage in battle for the best bins in the store, something part Dr. Seuss, part Night at the Museum.
Most participants quickly arrive at a color.
“Green, obviously,” they say.
“How could I go the rest of my life, thousands of meals, without avocado, spinach, kale, arugula, mixed greens, limes, cucumbers, Granny Smith apples, or cilantro?”
It’s a damn good question — and one that most plant advocates celebrate — as this might be the first time they’ve heard someone say, How could I go the rest of my life without avocado, spinach, kale, and arugula?
I even used to be team green, but then, I changed.
Carrots, papaya, bell peppers, oranges, persimmons, pumpkins, butternut squashes (yes, they’re a light orange), cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, beets.
I am now team orange.
Orange produce is new to me. It was only during the 2019 holiday season at P. Cooper & Sons Greengrocer in London’s Twickenham neighborhood that I had my first juicy, drip-down-my-chin, I-need-a-napkin persimmon. And since moving to Florida in early 2020, I’ve been able to consume papayas daily. There’s a market at the end of our street with $3 papayas. We buy as many as we can carry.
There’s more to learn from this produce, this game: Not in the way of recipes, but real-life lessons.
How an avocado taught me planning and a papaya patience
Just because you have six avocados in your countertop mortar doesn’t mean you can make guacamole. You need to wait until they’re ripe.
I learned this lesson the bitter, hard way. If I had six avocados and all were unripe, I didn’t plan well. See, avocados exist in three stages post-picking: Unripe, ripening, ripe. And you need to always have two in each stage.
If I have four avocados, two must be ripe and ready to eat, two must be ripening and ready to eat in a day or two, and then I’ll need to go purchase two more unripe ones, so that in one to two days they’ll be in the ripening phase and in three to four days they become ripe, ready-to-eat avocados.
The strategy is to purchase avocados for today, tomorrow, and next week — this will ensure you always have a few in each stage.
Avocados taught me planning.
Papayas taught me patience.
I’m still in that lust phase with the fruit. It’s all I want to eat.
I’ve neglected blueberries, apples, and all but divorced mango in exchange for this tropical sharing fruit. It’s the perfect breakfast fruit. My partner and I might pour green tea, halve the papaya, and each have a boat to scrape.
When I woke up one morning and we didn’t have any papaya, I was shocked. OK, not shocked, maybe just disappointed, but I had a solution: the market.
I walked to the market 0.3 mile down the road and bought a papaya for $3, walked home, halved it the long way, scooped out the seeds, spooned my first bite, and then SPIT. IT. OUT.
Papayas are not like apples, oranges, or berries. They’re more like avocados. They need to ripen.
The predicament I was in was that I wasn’t going to eat papaya for a few days. I walked back down the street to the market, spent $18 on six papayas, walked home, washed them, and placed them on the counter.
For each of the next five days, I woke up only to walk downstairs and see those unripe papayas.
I could have halved one the long way, scooped out the seeds, and spooned the boat, but the fruit would have been bitter. I would have been the boy who cried wolf. The papaya boy who cried bitter.
This experience taught me patience. And once I learned patience, I applied lessons from avocados to how I purchase papaya.
Produce may be unlikely professors, but with food being the most consistent item of our lives, second to water, ascribing lessons is worthwhile.
For example, if we wanted to teach actionable courage and self-starting, then we’d use bananas.
If we wanted to teach persistence, staying the course, and that success comes in waves, large waves, then we’d use dates.
And, if we wanted to teach relaxation, we’d use a watermelon.
In my case, as it turns out, I learned this: Patience and planning can be reinforced with every grocery store visit, Instacart order, or pool-party guacamole fixing.
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