The other night I was lucky enough to go with my friend Vicky to hear Stephanie Alexander, she of The Cook’s Companion fame, and Annie Smithers (a chef who runs a restaurant that almost entirely serves up produce from her own garden) speak at the University of Melbourne. The University frequently puts on free public lectures that can be really interesting and it’s a great opportunity to hear some very inspirational people talk about the things that matter to them.
Tonight’s topic was, unsurprisingly, food, as well as a general discussion of the two books that both women have published recently. Annie’s book is called Annie’s Garden to Table, and it’s an exploration of her love of growing and cooking her own food. Stephanie has recently published her memories – A Cook’s Life, which sounds fabulous.
As those who know me will know, and anyone else who has read over this blog during its brief lifetime, food is a ‘thing’ for me. I love to cook, and eat, but even more importantly, I’ve become all too aware in recent years of the symbiotic relationship between food, my body, health, and general emotional wellbeing. I’ve also observed the way in which food ‘trends’ have infiltrated the world I inhabit. Slow food, raw food, soul food, sustainability, seasonal, organic, gluten free, sugar-free, vegan, super-foods etc etc, are all terms that have come to mean so much more as society increases its sophistication about food.
Paradoxically, I feel that food has, like coffee, become one of those things that symbolises, or at least contributes to a class divide. Being educated about food and making healthy food choices is one of the marks of particular social groups. What I’m getting at here, not very articulately, is that food snobbery is rife. While we might be more sophisticated about food, and educated, and take it all the more seriously, these conversations can ostracise people who are disadvantaged and don’t have the luxury of choosing organic, or waxing lyrical in conversation with their buddies about whatever the latest food trend happens to be.
Like most things that are good for us, good food is harder to access, the fewer resources you have. I’m acutely self-conscious – probably too much so – that constant thinking and talking about food is a tad offensive and insensitive to people in our own societies who have to just take what they can get, let alone those in other countries for whom starvation is a reality. I suppose the best way to rationalise this, or at least the way to do it is using my relative privilege to make good, ethical, sensible choices. To NOT think about what I put into my body since I have the luxury of being able to think about it, would be worse, wouldn’t it? Awwww hell – food is just complicated.
One of the things I so admire Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation is that it uses food to bridge the divide between socio-economic groups, not widen it. The Foundation was established in 2004, in response to the overwhelming interest in and success of the piloting of the program at Collingwood College. Basically, participating schools build a garden, and students between the ages of 8 and 11 nurture the garden, harvest its food, and once a week they have a cooking lesson where they cook with, and then get to eat their own produce. Stephanie gave numerous examples the other night of how much the kids love it, and what a huge trickle down effect they’ve noticed it having, with food conversations making their way into homes where they might not otherwise. You can find out more about it here. I think it’s just fabulous, and if I had the disposable cash I’d be donating to it. In fact, I just might anyway.
Annie Smithers remarked tonight that we’ve over-complicated food and I tend to agree, although we tie ourselves in knots talking about it. I have a new favourite recipe courtesy of my friend Rachael – Raw vegan brownies. Not normally the kind of thing I’d have gone for in the bad ole’ days, but now, these things are the bomb.
Trust me, the chocolate hit you get from this, and the yummy chewiness of the dates is amazing. Bear in mind though, that dates are high in both fructose and sucrose, so you won’t want to try these in the first couple of months of being sugar-free. I’m going to experiment with trying other forms of dried fruits – I guess the benefit of the dates is that they’re a bit oily and can replace the texture of butter or egg but I’ll give it a go with others and report back 🙂