For the Love of Food

We all need food. Fact.

Nutritionists and magazine editorials explain in detail the nature of our relationship with food. Yet one element of the nature of food seems absent from what is written about it . . . we don’t talk about love. We do talk about loving chocolate or some other favourite food. But we don’t talk about food grown with love.

In 1986 Prince Charles was ridiculed for saying that he talked to his plants and that they responded. It turns out he was right. Plants do respond to the human voice. In another nail in the coffin of male supremacy it has been shown that a woman’s voice has a bigger influence.

But is food grown with love better than commercially grown food? I guess it depends on your definition of better. Supermarket shelves are packed with perfectly formed, perfectly coloured, perfectly perfect fruits and blemishes. We rifle the trays of tomatoes or potatoes for the perfectly shaped and blemish free product. Taste is not a factor. It’s hardly rocket science to work out what commercial growers need to produce.

We buy tomatoes week in and week out. It is a staple. Yet I wonder when we last bit into a tomato and thought . . . that is a beautiful tomato. There was a time when tomatoes tasted like tomatoes. Now they taste red. Perfect red, probably. Perfect red with perfect symmetry and skin. Skin granted longevity by the miracle of irradiation. Botox for plants.

Irradiation has been proved to be safe in many studies. Remarkably I can’t find any studies on the effect of irradiation on taste. Is it tin hatted, aliens ate my hamster thinking to believe that perfectly shaped fruits and vegetables, irradiated towards eternal life, might not be grown for taste?

I saw a tin of tomatoes selling for 79 cents yesterday. I have no idea where those tomatoes were grown. There were an awful lot of tins, which led me to believe that the supermarket expected to sell a lot of them. Someone is growing a lot of tomatoes to put into those tins. I wonder what the primary goal is on that farm. Could it be volume? I doubt it is taste.

For all I know, those tomatoes may have been grown in Italy. Italy is famous for tomatoes. 79 cents is cheap but what cost is there to our planet in that Around The World vacation for tomatoes. Let’s not forget the road trip that follows the International travel. A juggernaut to perfect pricing. State highways are clogged with tomatoes crawling towards their cut price destination.

In a world crippled with inequality it seems immoral to argue against cheap food. But could it be even cheaper? Could it be cheaper and taste better? Could it even be cheaper, taste great and not have to live forever? Imagine if it could be cheaper, taste better, live a natural length of time and not pollute our planet. Surely we would be doing it already if there was a way to achieve all of that. Miraculous tomatoes it would seem.

But our grandparents or great grandparents knew how to perform this miracle. Yet they hardly considered it miraculous nor even rocket science. They would merely take some seeds, that they had saved from last year, went out their back door and planted food. Food that probably included tomatoes. Tomatoes that probably wouldn’t win any beauty contests but tasted beautiful.

Somehow we have forgotten. We have forgotten what tomatoes taste like. Forgotten how to save seeds and plant them when the time was right. Forgotten that tomatoes don’t need to travel any further than from the garden to the kitchen. Forgotten that free tomatoes are cheaper than even 79 cent tomatoes. Forgotten that beauty is more than skin deep.

uglt tomatoes

[Photos by Susie Trinh, Guatyen Koh-Moore, Coralie Archer and Jackie MIles – all member of the West Auckland Gardeners Facebook Group]

IMG_0803We shouldn’t be hard on ourselves for this societal dementia. And we needn’t spend next weekend digging farm-like furrows in the flowerbeds. But we could make a start. Learn to walk before we run. A great start is growing microgreens. You could have success in a matter of days. It might be too late but maybe you could pot some chilli plants or one chilli plant. Plant something and plan to plant more later. It’s possible that the aforementioned flower beds already have food. Investigate edible flowers.

Talk to the few who haven’t forgotten or to the few who are in recovery. If and when you hit success you might find yourself drowning in zucchini or tomatoes. Share with your neighbours and grow community. There is no one way to remember what we have forgotten. Mistakes aren’t even mistakes. Mistakes inform us.

Imagine getting better and better at growing food. Imagine spending time growing food with your partner, or your children, or your neighbours or all of you together. Imagine tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes. For any others who celebrate frugality, imagine walking past 79 cent tomatoes in the supermarket and smiling because you have cheaper tomatoes at home.

-Steve McCarthy