I find myself examining my attitudes to food and to the cycle of life more and more as I develop as a person.
I have been thinking on the nature of food quite a lot lately, as most of us should know I love to cook. I love love love cooking, I love Indian cuisine, Chinese cuisine, Italian cuisine, Japanese cuisine, and all food from my Arabesque cookbook. Now that I have a vegetable patch, I am starting to get a greater sense for the Wheel of Life.
Not only is food good for you, but you’re good for food. We take food into our bodies and process it into bits and pieces and return the goodness back into the soil. Things start to get very complicated when you include long distance travel, crop development and ‘customer expectation’ and mega-corporations ruling our food.
Now let’s take that last sentence apart a bit.
Long distance travel. I’d love to be a locavore. It would make me happy. But in the same way that I can not feed my family sustainably from my own back yard, it makes sense to grow things in places where they grow well, and then trade/share/exchange in some mutually useful situation. But how far is too far? How far is far enough? Strawberries from California made their way to Perth supermarkets last year – and this calls into question ‘customer expectation’ and the lengths megacorporations will go to fulfil this imaginary need.
Crop development is also a fascinating cog in this rather awesome wheel. To read the Diggers paraphernalia, every megacorp is out to get us, via genetically modified, tasteless produce designed to survive the sale and look good rather than taste good, and to be ready for harvest all at once for best harvesting conditions… Diggers have a whole lot of very interesting views on megacorporations and how we select foods that reflect out choices as people.
I also want to examine ‘customer expectation.’ I’ve heard that word used to define a meaningless ideal that megacorporation managers want consumers to have. It’s an excuse; far too often a market is developed simply by creating a need within the consumer. The most obvious case in point is the beauty industry, more specifically hair care. Customers originally needed to be trained to believe that hair needed to be washed often and with various special items for desirable characteristics. Previously, people made do with what they had. These days, there’s a shampoo and matching conditioner for every imagined condition under the sun. I really do believe that the idea of ‘customer expectation’ is a phantom used by decision makers to make choices they have already made.
Now, all of this in relation to my own little patch of dirt and pumpkins, is that I am re-examining the way I select and prepare food. I’ve noticed a few things.
1) If I chose one style or cuisine, I could dump a full 50% of my kitchen utensils.
2) If I continue to grow my own vegetables, I expect to make more health conscious choices based around seasonal foods.
3) I am more aware of what vegetables are supposed to look and smell like.
4) My menus would be a lot simpler
5) My skills at cooking a particular set of foods would increase
My point is that we have been presented with such an array of choices in food that it is bewildering. Strawberries from California when WA could no longer grow their own! And they were so sweet! The advice of “select vegetables that are in season for cheap produce” is flawed simply by the virtue that not that many people know what produce is ripe in what season.
The myth of ‘customer requirements’ is that someone else, somewhere else, makes a choice that I will want strawberries out of season, and provides them to me in a windowless, airless supermarket where I can’t even tell if it’s raining, let alone what season it is, and then we get toasted by the media for demanding items out of season. We’ve been trained to expect foods at odd times of the year; we’ve been trained to cook five different cuisines a week using packets and sachets and jars, and we fail to realise that voluntary simplicity will pay us back a thousand fold.
I am re-learning my relationship to food. Last week the UK relaxed laws about the presentation of vegetables in supermarkets. Apparently 20% of vegetables were being dumped due to aesthetic reasons. This is unthinkable.
My biggest problem is that every night is a different cuisine. For example, the other night we had five spice chicken with stirfry vegies and rice. I made a big pot of rice to make fried rice for the next day. But the menu plan is for corned beef. Corned beef is traditionally served with potato, carrot, cabbage if you have it… but what do I do with the rice? The beef is next on the menu as it is in the fridge. When I selected the meat at the supermarket, what was ins eason to go with vegetables was the last thing on my mind. (To be honest, it was “That’s cheap, I’ll grab that again! Plus it’s DH’s favourite meal!)
When I cooked a month of Morrocan, Turkish and Lebanese food (from Arabesque, of course!) I purchased a number of items only used in those cuisines. When I cook Japanese foods, I also buy items only used in Japanese cooking. The same for Chinese, and Australian. If I selected one cuisine, and then stayed with that cuisine, I would lower my food costs, save myself bench space, and connect more fully within the cycle that I am beginning to perceive.
Our view of food is an astounding privilege. We need to be more cognisant of this fact so we can be more appreciative of the struggle and sacrifice that brings us full bellies.
And maybe, just sometimes, rethink some of ways we look at the food we eat.