My first adventure of 2021 wasn’t much of an adventure — at least not in the conventional sense. But like I discussed last time, I’m looking for the definition of true adventure, so I may need to broaden my definition of what an adventure is. So I decided to pick cilantro for a few weeks with migrant workers.
What do you have against cilantro? It’s delicious. I ate more al pastor tacos in 2020 than in all other years combined, and what are al pastor tacos without cilantro?
But what does cilantro have to do with adventures?
To be honest, I’m not quite sure. But if adventures are the things that you do outside of your comfort zone and the lessons that you learn when you’re there, then harvesting cilantro definitely counts as an adventure. Because there’s nothing comfortable about harvesting cilantro from sun up to sun down. And there are lessons to be learned because there’s plenty of time to reflect when you’re doing the same repetitive motion over and over again thousands of times each day.
My favorite movie is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve watched it at least once a year since I was a child, so I’ve seen it in every age and stage of my life. Each time I watch it I see something different and get something new out of it. One of those lessons is that all work is good work.
In the movie, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is a bright ambitious young man with dreams of doing big things and going exciting places. However, none of those dreams come to fruition when he inherits a boring job at the family savings and loan business. As he grows older he becomes frustrated to the point of thinking that his life has been meaningless.
But George receives the opportunity to see what the world would be like without him in it. When George experiences this world in which he’d never been born, he realizes he’s helped countless people in that boring job and in the process made his community a much better place. The effects even rippled out and impacted people in the far corners of the world.
I’m a firm believer that all work is good work. If it is serving others and if it is necessary to the functioning of a good society, then it is noble and honorable work. Even if it is boring. Even if society doesn’t confer much prestige with the job. We’d all be pretty miserable without garbagemen. And life would lose some of its spice without people harvesting cilantro.
At the same time, I constantly struggle with the belief that there are BS jobs out there—jobs that aren’t necessary to the functioning of a good society. Jobs that take more than they give. Jobs that just create work for the sake of work. Jobs that satiate greed and consumption.
So I wanted to try out some actual work—work that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt would be meaningful. Meaningful in the sense that it was serving people and necessary for the functioning of a good society. And what’s more essential than harvesting food? Without people doing those jobs, people perish and life loses its zest.
I’ve gotten a fair amount of questions about the safety of working in the fields during a pandemic. It is safe: the work is all outdoors and everyone is spread out. But more fundamentally, these are the most essential of all essential workers. Someone has to do this work.
So I asked around to find a farm that needed some help. I eventually found someone that needed help harvesting their cilantro. The farmer texted me to report at 7am the next morning and said he hoped that I knew some Spanish.
My next few emails are going to be about my experience harvesting cilantro and the lessons I learned while doing it. It wasn’t an adventure in the way that most people conceive of adventures, but it was a unique and eye opening experience.
In moderation, Matthew