Wednesday, 12 January 2011

To grow near to my heart

A while ago I decided to join a local box vegetable and fruit scheme. Really local. Some of the produce is grown a busride away from my house on the outskirts of London. Some is collected, fallen fruit from local trees in public spaces that in the past would have rotted away on the ground (though enjoyed no doubt by the local wildlife and absorbed back into the lap of the earth). Some comes from small local growers, from allotments and back gardens, from growers in East Anglia. A small part of the fruit comes from producers in Europe, and bananas are fairtraded from further afield.

The fruit and veg I get every week I could probably buy slightly cheaper in a supermarket or the local market. Why that is not the point? Because any initiative to grow food more locally needs to be supported - we will need it in the future when (not if) our complicated fragile and highly interdependent system of food production and transportation starts to crack.

But there is something else I have noticed, something much more raw and fundamental - I actually have grown to love the food. Yes, I do mean love. I have always got a problem with wasting food, but I have done it, many times. Bought too much veg and had it rot at the back of the fridge. Remembered that I really don't like overripe pears when it was too late. Not with this food. I cannot bear to throw it away, I cannot bear to ignore it until all I can do is put it in the compost. I use it for a meal no matter what. Last week I found a shrivelled apple in the bottom of the fruit bowl, and I had to eat it.

Of course I don't know if in the big scheme of things the apples and carrots care whether they are eaten by me or turn into compost to rejoin the big wheel of life as fertilizer. But I was stunned how the mere knowledge of where this food comes from, of having been at the growing site of some of it and spoken to the people who look after it, has made me respect it, appreciate it, and given me an almost physical concern for it.

An argument for making things more local, more known? Maybe. I pride myself in "thinking global", in having an awareness of the interconnectedness in the world, but fact is that the actual closer knowledge of this food has made it grow closer to my heart. Like the jam my mum makes compared to the one in the supermarket. Not alienated. Maybe use the experience as a reminder that all food is precious. Maybe a reminder that it is right to be really interested in my food and the people who produce it if it comes from far away as well. Definitely a reminder that waste is not an expression of love.

I like it when I learn a lesson from the non-human world. A workers' cooperative growing food on London's edge in the Lea Valley

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