One night after dinner prepping in the early days of self-quarantine, I saved a Vidalia onion bottom and propped it in a glass of water. I ended up propagating three plants out of it, and now I am an onion farmer. I named the source cutting after my grandmother, a difficult woman whose steady consumption of classist bigotry on Fox News has seemingly erased all her memories of growing up without running water and not speaking English. She knows about the plant. She does not know she’s its namesake. I’m saving that revelation for her deathbed.
I’ve talked about this before, my love for the plants. I like to think of myself as a local Lorax. I like to do my part for the planet. Having low grade OCD is really helpful for that. A few years ago my obsession about the Earth’s untimely demise got overwhelming, so I decided to go ham and cheese with personal corrective action. No new clothes that weren’t made from sustainable, natural fibers. Vegetarian diet, no food waste. Soaps and detergents and cosmetics free of synthetics, dyes, artificial fragrances, and wasteful packaging. No plastics that I could not wash and reuse or completely recycle. I knit my own dishcloths.
To be fair, I also grew up poor and mostly in the South, and thus some of these things were already deeply ingrained in me as common sense, cost-saving measures. So maybe the quarantine onions just felt like a natural next step, a nice gesture in lieu of the fact that as an apartment dweller, I don’t have a garden I can compost in.
Earth Day was this past week, and Michael Grunwald at Politico wrote a fantastic essay about the fact that this pandemic is disproving the trendy opinion that corporations are the primary perpetrators of carbon emissions, and therefore refusing a plastic straw does not make a lick of meaningful difference. The reality, Grunwald pointed out, is as clear as the skies over the pleasantly carless LA freeway system. The responsibility of curbing climate change isn’t, alas, just Jeff Bezos’ problem (though one could amass a Webster’s-thick list of worldly problems he could fix with his folding money alone): all our collective footprints have the potential to level mountains. You have to do your part as a person to protect the planet, and you also have to rage against the machine. Time to get real, he says: you can’t keep ordering the Wagyu beef and shaking your fist at Amazon.
It’s also worth noting that in the last few months on social media (the final frontier of the do-nothing virtue signaler), some people have claimed the recent descent in carbon emissions due to global quarantine measures is a sign that this pandemic has a purpose. That the widespread disease is the Earth’s way of telling us to chill the fuck out already. I will not go that far. First of all, if the Earth had that kind of passive aggressive mojo, do you really think she would have waited till now to flex on us? I suspect the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans is actually a pretty direct consequence of our capitalist compulsion to poach, rape, and pilfer every last viable element from the ecosystem that gave us life. Bats, civets, et al, were minding their own business and actually doing some very good things for the environment before they became endangered and encroached upon by ignorant hominid activity, let us be real.
But also, bad shit does sometimes just happen for no good reason—another favorite talking point on this blog. That said, we must acknowledge our collective tendency as a species to stir the winds of fate into cyclones with our unchecked free will if we’re to make any substantive repairs to this home of ours.
Anyway. There’s a plague on. Its one positive side effect is smog reduction. We should see how far beyond the end of this pandemic we can extend its environmental silver lining, because the pandemic is proving the overheating of Earth is not inevitable.
A botanist I know recently reminded me that onions only taste as good as the soil they’re grown in, hence Vidalia onions must be grown within 75 miles of Vidalia, Georgia, in order to carry the name. This only means that when they mature, my sweet onions will taste like despair. However, I will have grown them, and from them I can grow more, through the same plant sorcery that allows you to grow new lettuce and celery from their commonly forsaken grocery store stumps. Eventually, a limited supply of containers and potting mix will be the only thing that can slow down my heroic vision quest to liberate myself from Big Onion.
So, that’s how I plan to fix this thing. What will you do?