Thursday, April 17, 2014

food for thought

My cousin Robin shared a picture of Sea Buckthorn on Facebook this week - he's in Finland with the family and had some amazing fruity ice cream, but no-one at the restaurant knew the English word for the fruit. A combination of Latin and Wikipedia solved that one and Sea Buckthorn it was. Now it isn't a fruit I've come across myself and having spent very little time in Nordic countries that probably isn't surprising. I hadn't even heard of it until a few months ago when I watched Ben's TED talk.

I have to say I was very excited to see Ben's talk online, not only because I wholeheartedly agreed with him, but because it was yet another proud proxy-parent moment! Having known him as a rather rapidly growing teenager a decade or so ago, I can confirm that his love of food is not a new phase. One of my main memories of him is that he's a big fan of Paddington Bear and marmalade sandwiches. Given that at the time the Winnie-the-Pooh camp had something of a stranglehold on the choice of bedtime stories at Quaker Link Group events it is testimony to Ben's persistence that at the St Andrews weekend I got to read both to them! But I digress a little...

Whilst I claim no credit for Ben's academic career path whatsoever, I definitely get a warm glowy feeling from knowing that 'one of ours' has taken a path in life that looks at something fairly mainstream through a sustainability lens. The 'mango paradox' he refers to (do watch the clip if you have time, like all TED talks I've seen it is well worth it) is something I've wrestled with in recent years. I've enjoyed the fact that over the last couple of decades I've had relatively easy access to 'foreign food' in the shops. A quick glance in our kitchen will see Thai green curry paste, sesame oil, coconut milk, miso and a decent range of spices which is a fair reflection of my cooking style which falls into the international fusion category. I'm not exactly precious about keeping things 'pure' in terms of ethnic authenticity it has to be said. But whilst I've yet to wean myself off imported flavourings (and life without chocolate doesn't bear thinking about) I realised as I walked around the supermarket today that I've pretty much weaned myself off imported fresh food.

With the exception of squishy sell 'em off cheaply bananas, that I freeze for baking on the grounds that it is far better to use them than them get thrown out, everything is Kiwi grown, and in most cases locally so. I don't even miss things, but then we are very lucky with a sub-tropical climate and the wide range of things that are locally available. I too love mangos and going to the Philippines a couple of years ago for an FWCC AWPS Gathering was heaven in that respect; fresh mangos, bananas (that taste oh so different to the ones we get), and various rice & coconut milk sweet things. But as far as I know they don't grow here so I only get to eat them when someone else serves them up. But oddly enough I don't miss them. Our cape gooseberries are ripening up fast and snacking on those whilst gardening somehow hits the same spot. Admittedly I'm not very good at only eating the ripe sweet ones and take my chances on the odd tart one which isn't quite so close, but it does me! And what is more they grow like weeds in our garden, I keep trying to find a space where I can let them grow unhindered so I don't feel so bad about pulling them up elsewhere.

Again via facebook I saw Cathy & Joel who I met at Summer Gathering were experimenting with homemade dandelion and acorn coffee and using the ground acorns as flour. Having drunk dandelion coffee quite a bit over the years I was interested to find out how they got on, and it seems to have been a success. However dandelion is one weed we don't have a lot of, so I commented that if anyone could suggest a good use of convovulous, creeping buttercup or oxalis I'd be delighted! Well apparently, as Joel pointed out, oxalis, aka wood sorrel, can be eaten - but the list of medical warnings rules it out as a proper food source for me. Mind you as I have discovered the odd leaf isn't bad as another weeding snack. It doesn't look anything like the 'vinegar leaves' sheep's sorrel I know from childhood, it tastes similar but more lemony. But given how prolific it is I had no qualms whatsoever about weeding a couple of bucketfuls out today and adding them to the compost heap. I'm curious though, what else is there out there that does grow easily here that I could eat... other than guavas which we now have a carpet of on the lawn thanks to the remains of Cyclone Ita blasting through. I've tried to like them, really I have, but they just don't do it for me.

Given the scenario Ben refers to I wonder just how well folk would survive around here if the main roads were blocked for any length of time. After all it isn't that unrealistic given our unstable landscape, shortage of road options and reasonably high risk of severe weather or tsunami cutting us off - admittedly probably just for days rather than weeks or months though. Thankfully civil unrest is unlikely to be a cause of isolation. We probably wouldn't do that badly - after all if nothing can get up here, then nothing can get out either which means all the milk and market garden produce would have to stay in the area. Hunting and fishing are a regular part of life for many and even I know how to collect tuatua on the beach, although I still won't eat them! There are probably enough folk around who know what can be foraged in the bush and how to grow crops that we wouldn't starve and in any case I'm sure supplies would come in by sea and air. But it is an interesting question to ponder on, and how as a country would we manage if for some reason we couldn't import food? Better than many I guess, and a lot better I suspect than Britain would do now compared to when it had to during WWII.

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