The pursuit of seasonal and local is one of continuing controversy and one that in today’s reality begs the redefinition of sustainability even.
Story + Photographs : Asha
The virtues of food lie in its nakedness and that of man in his senses.
Even a generation ago, in many places around the world, there would not have been a question, much less a debate on this subject. The choices were minimalistic with availability driven by logistics, economics and natural forces. Eating local was neither trendy nor a healthy alternative but simply the way things were.
This was before globalization, the opening of trade markets and economies to the flow of capital and goods across boundaries. Today, even the most assiduously culturistic nations cannot avoid being bedazzled by the bounty, just outside their boundaries, that was previously beyond reach, not forbidden, but unknown.
Less than two decades ago, in India, the rich, middle class and poor shopped at the same local vegetable stands, butchers who slaughtered the meat the day of, fisherwoman who peddled their fresh catch of the day. The differences lay in the quantity and cut rather than the experience.
Today, there is a marked differentiation between the haves and have nots with the influx of supermarket chains and a Westernized approach to one stop shopping. Indeed, it is a story of status not-quo. This is a story endlessly repeated across the world.
The convenience of the aptly named ‘convenience store’ is perhaps its single biggest value as well as the single largest barrier for any conversation on seasonality or sustainability. These stores, be it of any scale or ideological origin, give the food shopper a feeling of being a ‘sophisticated’ buyer, without the baggage of understanding the product. Everything is labelled, cleaned, parceled and proportioned appropriately. Or, so one assumes.
As countlessly recounted by various authors, scientific and otherwise, the real and unseen costs of such transactions have been on rising trajectory. Yet, statistics makes not a convincing argument against human desire for simplifying life. Objective as they are, numbers do not sufficiently make apersonal case for making a radical shift to what most of the world sees as a “reverse gearing”, to wit, back to the land.
Going back to the way of eating that was a century past seems not only tedious but painfully boring.
And, while we carry on in a pursuit of ease and desire, the capitalist nature of the markets we live in thrive in stocking the shelves deeper and higher taunting the time-pressed eater to ride, what has by now become, the well-paved road.
Yet, what if there was a middle ground? What if we could make small changes such that the whole is larger the sum of individual parts? What if we can find a way of eating that sustainably keeps us engaged with our food? What if the desire to be sustainable need not be counterweighted by tedium? I truly believe this can be done.
And, to that end, there are few adages to keep in mind.
Building trust in how your body responds is a small shortcut to understanding foods and how to consume them.
CHOOSE FRESHEST, YOUR BEST
What defines a food to belong to that superlative category? It is bounded by individual circumstances. Not all of us have access to farms or farmers markets. More often we only have the option of a bag of greens that was packaged with inert gases and shipped from California. It does not matter. What matters is how it tastes. Good tasting food needs little work and comes together effortlessly taking away much of the stress of cooking.
The simplest test to the quality of food is eating it on its own. If it tastes anything but good, and definitely not bad, then you are half way to being happy. Often, you will come across food that tastes, of nothing. Usually, this means that it comes from an over processed source; An industrial system with non-rotational cropping, overused land drained of its natural minerals, animals not reared as nature intended them.
As redundant as that sounds, many times, we believe what we are told about how something should taster be, from potatoes to wine, rather than how it really feels to us.
Nothing matters more than your individual opinion on the food. Building trust in how your body responds is a small shortcut to understanding foods and how to consume them.
ENGAGE ALL YOUR SENSES
My first rule of thumb is defense. Any pre-packaged food that has weird sounding ingredients is not something I want in my basket. That easily clears out the vast majority of distractions to shopping for real food. To trust labels is in effect to disengage from the process of buying food and overriding the natural self-preserving nature of our senses, of sight, smell and touch. While taste may be acquire, the roles of the other senses are intuitive or learnt.
EAT WITH PLEASURE
Eating food for the pleasure of it, rather than the sake of it, makes eating well an effortless endeavor. There is an automatic response to build an active interest in the subject. It leads to greater curiosity and understanding and a desire to want to be more involved and engaged, naturally. The fruit of this ‘labor’ is indeed the sweet joy of appreciation, yours and everyone else you connect with.