Oh dear. So, I must warn you that today we’re tackling Serious Issues and Possible Threats To Humanity. It’s best I’m clear about this up front – because there’s nothing worse than being suckered into watching the movie that the trailer marketed as an uplifting family story with a cute dog in it, which then actually turns out to be about How We’re All Going To Die. But don’t worry, it’s not all gloomy, there’s also an okay joke about Lady Gaga, which is something.
I recently had an argument with a beautiful and headstrong actress about pigs. She wasn’t saying the usual things that get said by an actress who has an opinion about pigs (that they’re constantly staring at her cleavage and she just wishes they’d stop borrowing her money to pay for new Xbox games). Instead, she was determined to impress upon me that, for someone who’d like to make sure that any pork-products she ate weren’t ‘factory farmed’ as such, South Africa presents very few options. She felt very strongly about this, and by the end of the conversation I sort of felt like I’d been punched in the face quite a lot.
Now, I’m incredibly aware of the problems presented by the intersection of Food and Environment. I’m surrounded by enough Vegetarians, Vegans, Fruitarians, Pescatarians, Eco-Conscious Consumers, Radical Foragers, Organic Warriors, Jamie Oliver’s never-ending TV shows about fat people and Those Who Don’t Eat Seafood Because The Japanese Are Really Really Horrible To Dolphins (which they are) – all of which are legitimate ideologies and represent some of the most pressing environmental issues faced by humanity, to know that this is a problem and that someone should probably do something about it quite quickly.
And all this is before we even get to cow farts.
The difficulty creeps in when one tries to properly balance an awareness and sensitivity towards to the practices used in generating the bag of groceries you’ve just paid for, and feeling like you’re personally responsible for the heinous rape of the planet every time you put a fork of grilled chicken breast in your mouth. Because, surely there has to be a middle ground, right? Or is that something we don’t do any more since the invention of Lady Gaga.
The real problem for most of us, is that they have a point. And it’s an uncomfortably good one.
I love food. I love cooking. I love the pleasure it brings to the people I invite to share in that process. And it feels like it should be an innocent and joyous thing, surely? What I stick in my mouth feels so far removed from something that people protest about and blockade Russian ships for and create websites dedicated to deformed chickens that may or may not end up in your BBQ nugget. And yet, increasingly the seemingly innocent routine of making lunch tacitly enters us all into a proper honest-to-goodness battlefield whether we like it or not.
You see, just because information is difficult to come by, doesn’t mean you can automatically default to the ‘ignorance is bliss’ line of defense. That’s how truly kak things Nazism and Child Labour Camps happen. At the end of the day we’re not twelve anymore and we can dress ourselves and everything, so why do we insist on acting like we are when it comes to the food we eat, the stuff that actually keeps us alive and healthy? Sticking our fingers in our ears and shouting “La la la, I’m not listening” just makes us all look stupid.
My suggestion is this: don’t rush straight off and become an activist who alienates people at parties by being loudly obnoxious about supermarkets – because no-one likes those people and Occupy Pick n Pay is woefully unsexy. Instead, perhaps read up a little (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s excellent cookbook Meat is a good place to start), think a bit, maybe walk into a butcher and ask where his animals actually come from. Maybe skip meat on Mondays. Maybe visit a fresh produce market once in a while, and then who knows where it all might go?
But, most importantly remember that food is meant to be a positive experience and these days, that extends way beyond whether or not it tastes nice.
On another note, I do *promise* promise that recipes and amateurish pictures of iffy dishes produced in my kitchen will return. Promise.