Eating ‘local’ food is a rapidly growing trend. But are you being honest with yourself? The P for Place helps you connect deeper to the land.
Our traditional cooking is intimately linked to climates, seasons, soil and the suitable crops for these circumstances. Take the classic combination of Genovese basil and sun-ripened tomato, besides tasting great together, they also thrive alongside each other in the relatively dry and sunny climate of North-West Italy.
Taken out of context, by using dry Basil, or tasteless imported tomatoes outside of the season, we lose all the wonderful reasons why we put these ingredients together in the first place.
Instead of imitating recipes, cooking habits and traditions, NEC encourages individuals to understand why we do what we do in the kitchen. A deep understanding of Earth ecology becomes imperative, illustrated in recent years with some of the world’s best chefs flocking back to their gardens to gain a deeper understanding of the ingredients they prepare.
Traditionally, for hundreds and thousands of years, the role of a cook was that of a bridge between the wild and the well-fed. Almost shamanic in their connection to the natural world, cooks were (and in many communities still are) the true custodians of our symbiotic relationship with our natural environment.
Before industrial agriculture dominated the Earth, humans were forced to create mutually beneficial relationships with the life forms around them. One could argue that the cucumber wants to be grown as much as the farmer desires to harvest them. After all, would cucumbers even exist if it wasn’t for humans? The same could be said about most of our domesticated plants, trees and animals.
Now that we understand that humans are in symbiotic relationships with life forms around them, we can recognize that plants have an interest in keeping humans and Earth and healthy.
For example: Fruit trees tempt us with aromatic, colourful fruits. These sights and smells are the tree’s way of communicating that these fruits are ready to be eaten. When we devour these fresh natural gifts, we receive a wealth of beneficial nutrients as result.
In contrast, when we eat fruits too soon, the plant responds with chemical warfare, discouraging the human (or animal) to wait until the seeds are fully ripened and ready to be spread to the digestive tract of the diner.
Could it be far fetched, that as the seed of said fruits passes through the individual, an information exchange takes place? A download if you will, through which the next generation of fruit trees is informed about the health needs of the mammal living in the vicinity of the tree?
Whether this is true or not, what I’m trying to illustrate is that developing a deep connection with the seasons and localities of our foods had more benefits to all life on Earth than we can even begin to imagine.
Early harvesting, wrapping and shipping foods far and wide might be an interesting choice for industry and consumer alike, it does not benefit our health and well being. Ultimately this is not a long term solution for our food security.
Observing culture and tradition is a necessary guide. Clinging on to them is not. As our planet goes through dramatic changes, we have to be willing to make dramatic changes to the way we source our food.
Do we rely on large organisations to feed us? Or will we, as communities and individuals, once again take responsibilities for feeding ourselves?
Get curious about where your food comes from. Some helpful questions to ask when considering your next meal.
- ‘Where is this from’?
- ‘Is there a more local, healthy and natural alternative for the food I’m interested in’? (Example: choose green banana flour over wheat flour when you are in the tropics)
- Is this ingredient currently in season?
Keep an open mind when shopping for food. Instead of deciding on a recipe before going out to find ingredients, do it the other way around. Find out what is local and in season and allow this to inspire you to cook and eat better.
You don’t have to be rigid and only eat local produce and products, but see if it possible and even enjoyable to go out of your way to eat more local. In some countries, like Australia, the origin of ingredients is labelled on the packaging.
The best way, however, is to close the gap between you and the farmer. Visit markets and seek out sellers who are either directly in touch with the people who grow the food, or are actual farmers.
Don’t be fooled by the glamour of many farmers markets, these days many cater to the idea of local eating, rather than truly supporting local farmers.
Dare to ask questions, visits local farms, and ultimately, take steps towards growing some of your own food. Every journey starts with a single step, and most people have access to a pot, a bunch of soil and some seeds. Keep it simple, get an understanding of the way things grow and slowly expand.