I have a friend who is both a chef and a bit of a gardener and forager. He runs a blog called ‘Food is Free‘ where he writes up recipes he has cooked using ingredients sourced growing wild. Even though I’ve grown up eating food my parents grew themselves, I am still part of a supermarket generation. This was really brought home to me by reading his blog and being suddenly reminded that food doesn’t just originate from a supermarket, it grows in the earth. I realised that I wouldn’t know where to look to find things like the wild fennel that he was using in his recipes, and I started wondering why this kind of knowledge has been lost – and wondering whether a revival is starting to take place.
Answering the first question – ‘Why?’ – I came back to an idea that I’ve repeated time and time again through my blogs – a divorce from nature. Richer lifestyles have meant we abandoned allotment living, picking food off shelves instead of out of the earth. Our capitalistic agricultural world has distanced us from the process of growing food, so we associate food crops with famers, grown in militant rows as part of a business and brought to us in lorry loads. In this way food has almost become unnatural – a product you might find in a superstore isle, but not on a stroll in the great outdoors.
The ethical problems attached to this kind of loss of attachment and disengagement in the production of food are rife. Food travels hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to get to our plates – leaving a heavy carbon foot print behind it. Food products are often harvested by people who are being exploited, sometimes involving child labour. It can travel huge distances, not merely causing pollution but also sometimes travelling from a country experiencing famine to arrive in our obese, thoughtless nations. In some countries, people are forced off their land – sometimes killed – so that the land can be used to feed the richer west. This process often involves deforestation which adds to loss of biodiversity and to climate change. In many countries GM crops are used, which spread across borders, infiltrating non-GM crops. And most food is not organic, which means it is covered in pesticides which do untold damage on the environment.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to distance ourselves from these bad practices and rekindle our relationship with food and the land – things like my friend does at ‘Food is Free‘. It’s true that it takes time and effort, but it’s also very rewarding. I had a ‘Food is Free‘ experience recently, helping harvest honey from an abandoned bee hive in my parent’s garden. Bees are a ‘keystone’* species, but their numbers are rapidly declining** – a problem linked to excessive pesticide use. We had previously decided not to disturb our bees, but they had disappeared from our hive so for the first time we collected the honey. After a bit of manual work, we stood and watched golden liquid fill jar after jar. The bees had done all the real hard work, but that didn’t seem to diminish the pleasure of eating honey on toast the following day and knowing it had come from our backyard – for free. Supermarkets might sell everything, but they don’t sell that kind of satisfaction, that’s something you can only get for free.
*Many species are currently under threat, but when some go extinct it can have a catastrophic effect on other species. Bees are such a species and human beings are reliant on them – so much so that it has been suggested that:
“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”
(this quote is often attributed to Einstein. Apparently this is a miscitation, yet the severity of the situation still stands…)
**Friends of the Earth and currently running a Bee Campaign. Find out more at: http://www.foe.co.uk/what_we_do/the_bee_cause_35033.html