I went fishing with a friend in Arizona this winter. Words would have made noise in the quiet beauty of that desert lake. No fish were biting, but I contentedly watched as he rhythmically casted, again and again. There was a lovely whirrrrrrr, and the line would hit the water some distance away. If he immediately began reeling, the hook and the lure would skim back to him along the surface of the water. If he let it sit for a moment, the little weight on the line would pull the hook down into the depths of the lake.
I don’t know much about fishing, but I know I’m like that line; sometimes a skimmer and sometimes a sinker, and I know it’s related to my ability to stop moving for a moment. Like many who take to the road, I am often under the spell of the rolling wheel. Or, to extend my fishing image, I can be a repetitive caster.
The desire to be a sinker inspired me to stay in each food region this summer for a full week. In hopes of catching the big one 😉 Despite the strategy, it was only today I began to feel the mysterious tug of a deepening curiousity.
As I discovered historical plaques around the County, I learn the earliest English “settlers” arrived here in the early 1800’s, many coming from the United States after the British defeat during the American Revolution. They were called “Loyalists” because they remained loyal to the King of England and they greatly shaped the formation of a colonized Canada. I imagine they began farming as soon as possible, in a manner that reflected the state of agriculture in their homeland.
I also have common (and very limited) knowledge that Mohawk First Nations people were here long before the English (or French) arrived and very settled themselves. Did the Mohawk “farm” to supplement hunting and fishing? If they did, was it different from the English style of farming? Who influenced their food choices? How much did foraging of wild plants factor into their diet? Are those plants still all around us? Curiousity is adding to my book collection.
When I look around, I see a wide variety of animals, birds, plants and trees but I skim because they are so familiar they are unfamiliar. I can name only a very few, and know nothing of their qualities.
Were certain birds considered more “edible” than others? Were any animals rejected as food? What nut trees would I find here in the County? What about all the berries? Aside from wild strawberries and blackberries, I have no idea if any of the others berries are edible. We called unknown berries “bird berries,” growing up, which essentially meant we didn’t think people could eat them. Well, maybe “our” people didn’t, but what about other people?
Driving by the many large farms in the County, more questions nibble. What crop will fill these fields this year? Where will all these crops go? Who decides what to plant? Why, when there are so many fertile fields for growing food, do we not rely more on it? Why on earth would anyone need to be hungry amidst such fertility? In a general sense I understand big companies pay farmers to grow certain crops that make money. And generally, I understand a great deal of those crops are used to either feed animals that humans eventually eat, or is used to make vegetable oils or corn syrups. Oh capitalism. Is it really that simple?
So, even driving through a predominantly agricultural area, I have a bit of an uneasy sense of disconnection from the food I like to eat. Who is growing the eggplants, peppers, onions and carrots? The beets, cabbages and cauliflower? How is the small-scale farmer fairing in our economic climate? And why don’t we have a local tofu producer? Or Tempeh? Why is bigger so much better? With a bit of research I discover a local organization that appears to be responsible for maintaining information about local food and trees and I look forward to using it while I’m here!
I hardly expect to find easy answers to all these questions in one short road trip, but I do find, once I start sinking and let curiousity take me deeper, I expect the answers will inevitably start to bite.
There are some people I really want to meet. Remember that bag of spelt flour I bought? Apparently there is a woman behind that spelt. Her telephone number of is on the bag! The woman at Campbell’s encouraged me to call her if I had any questions about it. Well, as it turns out, I do.
Today’s local meal features farm fresh eggs, shallots, parsley, asparagus, spinach, honey cheddar and two corn tortillas (not local, I’m using up what is left in my fridge while I figure out my local alternatives!) Oh, and you know those tough stalks you cut off your asparagus before you eat them? Well, if you buy fresh cut asparagus and eat it the same day, there is NO WASTE and you can eat them raw! They taste so sweet! Eaten at the Sandbanks Provincial Park. Where we also enjoyed a walk on the beach and a glorious shower!