Strawberry Assistive Technology

In the center of the stage is a table that stands about kitchen counter height. On the table is a plastic box of strawberries (rinsed), a container of toothpicks, a cutting board, a chef’s knife, two or three bowls, a pair of vinyl food prep gloves, and a paring knife. Kate enters the stage and stands behind the table.

Kate: I buy strawberries when I can smell them from a few feet away in the grocery store. I think of strawberries as tasting sweet, but they are really quite acidic when I put them on my tongue. It’s their scent that is the sweet part.

While she continues speaking, Kate puts on the gloves, opens the box of strawberries and selects a few. She begins removing the green leaves and then slices the strawberries into pieces. When that batch of strawberries is done, she moves them to one of the bowls and then sticks toothpicks in the slices. She repeats this process while speaking until the box of strawberries is empty.

Whenever Kate fills a bowl, she will stop talking and ask “Would someone come up here and take the strawberries around to anyone who wants one?”

Kate: Buying strawberries is exciting and still kind of decadent for me. They were a special treat when I was growing up, and we didn’t have them very often. So when I started feeling anxiety about eating the strawberries sitting in the refrigerator, I thought it was related to spending money on a luxury, like my mind was wrestling over whether I deserved such nice things to eat.

I would see them there and contemplate slicing them into my morning cereal and come across this strong internal resistance to doing that. Like they’re too special for a regular weekday breakfast! Or no! they deserve time to prepare them! Or other weird brain talk along those lines.

So the strawberries would sit in the refrigerator. And because their shelf life wasn’t infinite, they would start to get mushy. Then, I would beat myself up for being so wasteful. So profligate. My brain would say you didn’t even eat them! you don’t deserve nice things! And usually, I would agree. I would sometimes even force myself to eat the mushy berries as punishment for my wastefulness.

For weeks after one of those bouts, when I would walk by the strawberries in the grocery store and smell that scent, I would keep walking. This would keep going until the memories of the previous self-flagellation faded and the fragrance of strawberries was irresistible. Then the cycle would start all over again.

It wasn’t until August 2, 2018 that I pinpointed the source of my strawberry anxiety and stopped the cycle of mental and emotional abuse I was visiting on myself.

It was my strawberry cutting technique.

Let me walk you through it.

First contributing factor: I am not a fan of washing dishes. I have an overall goal when preparing food to reduce the number of dishes or cooking implements that need to be washed post food prep.

Second: I grew up watching my mom and eventually my partner and chefs on television do what I think of as the “in the air” cut. [Kate demonstrates each step as she speaks about it] You hold the strawberry in your left hand and you take your paring knife and push the blade through the strawberry’s flesh toward your thumb, stopping just shy of cutting your thumb. The slices then fall directly into the serving vessel.

This “in the air” cutting technique seemed an elegant solution that saved washing a cutting board and, I was an adult, and adults do things like this.

The problem was that I was the one who had to execute this technique. I am not dexterous. Particularly in the morning. My hands sometimes don’t do what I want them to do. Knowing this about myself led me to worry about my ability to pull this off without doing my thumb serious harm. Plus, aren’t you never supposed to cut towards yourself? Isn’t that knife handling 101?

At any rate, even under the best of circumstances, using this technique always made me nervous. So I decided not to do it any more, but still held on tightly to avoiding extra washing up.

Then entered a new plan. I would slice up the strawberries on the lid of the plastic strawberry box. [Kate demonstrates slicing the strawberries on the lid of the strawberry box] But you see the problems here? The lid is at an angle and the plastic is quite flexible so it buckles as soon as you put any pressure on the strawberry. So the whole thing would bounce around, making cutting strawberries this way arguably far more dangerous than even the “in the air” cutting technique.

I tried to make this work far more times than was reasonable. In between times of trying the plastic lid plan, I would sometimes cut the strawberries on the dish itself. In that instance, I would dread the screechy metal on ceramic sound that would inevitably result. Plus, I was avoiding the lip of the plate or bowl, which also added a layer of danger for me a person with low dexterity.

If the bowls have not returned to the stage, Kate will go and collect them.

Kate: With all this variety of possible knife tragedies while dealing with strawberries, it wasn’t any wonder that when I looked at them sitting in the refrigerator my mind would react by filling my body with anxiety.

August 2, 2018 was the day when I looked at the strawberries and I decided I would just use a cutting board to slice them up for cereal. The anxiety that had been starting to roil inside of me dissipated. Memories of years of self-recrimination for being profligate and wasteful were immediately defanged. What a relief that I didn’t have to unpack my strawberry anxiety with a therapist. This time, all I had to do was accept a reality about myself and use the tool I had.

Kate picks up a slice of strawberry, puts it in her mouth, chews, and swallows it.

Kate: Yeah, the sweetness is in the scent.