food

Home Grown

Turning over the garden, turning over thoughts and memories of growing up in a hunter growing family I noticed the accumulation and intersections of meanings unfold. There was also the realisation that there is a purpose for crocs, they are in the garden – socks optional. So while I have been reading and immersing myself in some rich philosophical texts I still feel a need to ground my thinking in familiar activities and metaphors. However it isn’t the growing ideas I want to go with, it is the process of gardening itself, of cultivating, deciding how to plant seeds and the ways this reveals some of the cultural and historical practices of knowledge.

My Dad grew up in the 50’s, hunting and fishing were part of the Man as provider story emerged out of other philosophical discourses about nature (woman) needing to be tamed, dominated, conquered, brought under Mans control. Gardening was a big part of my childhood as was fishing and a bit of hunting and I feel enriched by these experiences. Dad’s garden and style of gardening reflected the values and self sufficiency of an age where industrial production of food was still in it’s infancy. The post–war generation learnt how to take care of themselves, it wasn’t a fashion statement it was born out of a genuine experience of hardship. But my goodness as a kid in the 70’s, it was like a religion with Eion Scarrow being our own green saviour. Yates bibles filled the shelves and anything that got in the way of producing perfect tomatoes, silverbeet, etc was annihilated. Chemical warfare was absolutely legit practice, he was Mr “Spray and walk away”. If things weren’t growing you just put more fertiliser on – more, more, more. Bugs didn’t stand a chance, neither did weeds, neither did birds – nature had no business in nature. Being alongside it and respecting the natural world wasn’t the kind of relationship being modelled at the time (things did change). But we ate well (let’s just side step the chemical bit) – no shortage of greens. And I learned about generosity and sharing. Because there really are only so many grapefruit and tomatoes you can eat juice, freeze, pulp. Looking after your neighbours was part of it and a good way to practice your fishy story telling (probably where I learned the art of hyperbole). People swapped seeds, shared tips and tools and connected over their successes and failures, learning from each other.

Moving through the 80’s – 90’s saw a huge shift economically and as such culturally for the ways we related to food production and what we ‘consumed’ in terms of associating gardening with lifestyle. For me this is where I feel a bit of nostalgic loss for ye old school ‘rip shit and bust’, ‘number 8 wire’, ‘bit of 4 by 2’. DIY grow your own has been reabsorbed as a commodity, a brand. Garden stores are almost like jewellery stores – just going into certain ones gives people a sense of status. Cooking shows dominate our screens, often with ‘fresh home grown’ produce as part of the tag line and ‘looking good’ while doing these activities ensures there are also stylish gumboots to wear. Now it’s not just ‘putting in a garden’ it’s ‘what kind of garden’ with an undertone of assessment of the gardeners ethics or spiritual alignment with the earth – or brand loyalty.

I’m not sure what kind of gardener I am, but I do know the joy and pleasure of eating something you have grown. I don’t mind sharing with the odd snail or white butterfly. I’m unlikely to buy fancy footwear for the garden, isn’t that what old running shoes are for? Dad doesn’t garden so much these days, however the silverbeet self-seeded and is growing wild outside the confines of the neat and tidy cultivated earth, in the hard clay – and it is thriving. Go Nature.

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Grater Expectations

Cooking at Christmas comes with its own set of challenges. If you are away from home dealing with a foreign kitchen and finding where things are kept inevitably leads to traffic jams and scenes to rival Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen kind of ironic at this time of year. But there are a couple of unique and possibly peculiarly kiwi conundrums (possibly not…just guessing). Christmas dinner comes in all forms from the casual bar-b-que to the full on traditional roast with all the trimmings perhaps minus the knitted jerseys – depending on how far south you are I suppose. The kitchen is a hive of activity and secret frustrations that I would now like to expose.

It’s common for people to have a couple of drinks with proceedings and in my family this can start reasonably early. Not to minimise the carnage caused by drink driving, there are some hazards to be noted when under the influence and attempting to steer your way through preparing food. There are the obvious ‘don’t drink and fry’ – using sharp implements also probably a bit risky, as is blenders and food processors. I’d hazard a guess that burns might top the A & E around this time of year. There are some little known injuries that will never make the ACC stats, or even warrant a mention in the paper but I think they can be more irritating than a recipe written before the metric system…c’mon what century are we in?

At the top of my list is the grater graze. Typically the knuckles or tips of fingers are sheered off in a valiant effort to ensure the entire carrot is used. This injury is definitely exacerbated by the fact that it will get you no sympathy and you will be expected to keep calm and carrot on. Second on my list is peeling kumara, not the golden ones, the ‘real ones’ purple skins. Yes those skins…do not respond to blunt peelers! What is worse is there are usually heaps to peel and only one peeler, so if someone wants to help they need to use a knife, which actually works better. Kumara are also really knobbly, so completing this task with an implement that wouldn’t cut through butter is nothing short of exasperating. Go for the knife people, anyone who has prepared for a hangi will know this to be true. Third on the list is whipped cream, I don’t know why, but in my family it is the hand beater from about 1950something that is still in the drawer – not upgraded like every other appliance. The handle swivels so every time you crank the thing it twists, so you lose the spinning motion. Also on top of a few drinks, the effort required and co-ordination not to slop stuff everywhere is insanely difficult. Fourth is the lemon juice in the eye – possibly added to the grater cut as well. Say no more. Fifth is a combination – the can-opener caper. Beetroot tins need to be upgraded to tab-pulls like the reduced cream, because quite honestly opening a can of beetroot without spilling it, is a nightmare. But if your opener is like the munted peeler, there is likely to be mutiny. The number of times I have struggled for 10 minutes to get half-way around then given up and tried to pry the lid open, only to either slice my hand or send the contents spilling their glorious crimson juices everywhere does not need stipulating. Other honourable mentions are kebab skewer splinters, onion chopping eyes and garlic crushing wrist sprains, all of which I have suffered at some point.

When it all comes together though and everyone is tucking into their kai – it’s good to know that along with love, it is laced with the odd bit of blood, sweat and tears.

Failure To Lunch

Children’s lunch boxes have been the focus of Campbell Live this week with a nutritionist declaring last night that sandwiches should be avoided due to the carbs they contain in the bread and other nutritional concerns. Without contributing to the already frantic and ever so slightly vitriolic response from outraged parents I’d like to suggest we have well and truly shot the messenger – dissected her and feasted on her bones like some paleo fiend.

We are caught in a trap woven by expert knowledge becoming more and more specific and specialised and available at the touch of a button. In the west the production of food or should I say ‘food like’ products has proliferated to the point where our concept of ‘nutrition’ has been infiltrated and hijacked by a plethora of interests least of all commercial.

Neoliberalism has married perfectly with capitalism, coupledom and consumerism in a comfortable polyamorous arrangement that has given birth to some complex and often contradictory information about food. Slap on a thick layer of parental guilt and ever changing landscapes of ‘healthy’ and voila you have a people feeling perpetually under the self regulating gaze of conscientious conformity when putting anything in their supermarket trolley that comes in a package.

People – relax and smell the organic, fair trade coffee. Your child will be ok with a peanut butter sandwich (excusing those with nut allergies obviously) but it is curious how sugar has crept its way in – watch that – but keep it real…with a thick layer of oil at the top to lubricate your sense of humour.

Thought for food

Maybe it is just me, but I’m just not into food TV of any shape or form. That being said I generally don’t watch ‘reality T.V’ as it’s so contrived and well…unreal. But the explosion of cooking shows has absolutely done my head in. I now have food performance anxiety. It’s not enough to be able to just produce a balanced meal anymore it has to look right and be presented and served with a smile and a glass of complimenting wine or boutique beer.

Food is a new status symbol and it irks me. I could become enraged with the socio/political landscape of food and its production but not now. Being able to cook lavish complicated and expensive meals is trendy and denotes a form of success that is surreptitiously dividing people into categories of competency to cook.

When I was eleven I remember doing cooking at school and used those skills all the way through to university. Finding ten ways to use whole peeled tomatoes, budget pasta and dried herbs was part of the right of passage into adulthood for many of us. I also survived terrible food hygiene, it wasn’t unusual to have a chilli turn into a curry and back to a chilli again all over a week and without ever leaving the stove. If you think that is stomach churning I’ve also had a rather dodgy effort at cooking road kill – no I am not making this up (but did leave the flat that day as the line had definitely been crossed). Cheese and crackers was just a slab of tasty cheese and some plain crackers – not anymore! My goodness if you don’t have a selection of cheeses (soft and hard) and a range of crackers including gluten free, low fat, and a suitable platter to serve it off AND garnish, then I’m sorry you have not met the new host standard.

The same goes for cooking. I have a mild panic attack at the thought of a pot luck dinner these days. My confidence in my own ability to produce something worthy of consumption has dwindled in the face of a media saturation of fancy food. It’s not that I don’t want to make the effort, I just know it’s not my effort being judged anymore. Actually, none of my friends would do that – but the feeling remains true in general.

Frankly I am throwing in the tea towel as the dishes required for the new culinary culture are just ridiculous. I’m inventing a new form of ‘foodie’ one that cares about the company I’m sharing a meal with and how much love went into it. I would never eat something from a Gordon Ramsay kitchen with the amount of anger, fear and aggression vibes present when it’s prepared, that is my new definition of unpalatable.

So raise a glass – or jam jar and lets make toast…just toast.