Wednesday, 22 September 2010

One Planet Community Kitchen 1 - Deconstructing the Dish

Last night we had our first One Planet Community Kitchen meeting at the Greenhouse in Bethel Street. We met to discuss a new Transition Norwich project, the Low Carbon Cookbook. Twelve people came and we put our heads, hearts and hands together. Josiah shared his broad experience and knowledge of co-ops and laid out their basic structure and tenets. We introduced ourselves and the dish we brought with us to share.

The Kitchen is a regional hub that aims to start up food and arts projects in different Transition initiatives. All the projects will share three aims: 1) to work creatively as a co-operative group 2) to bring ecological awareness to the food we eat 3) to map local food patterns.

In the next few months we’ll be writing on the blog about some of the aims of the Kitchen and showcasing our work. Ways of calculating an ecological footprint for food – looking at carbon emissions, as well as other greenhouse gases, in transport, production and processing. We’ll be considering waste, packaging, the use of water. Several people who came were from the four Transition circles and were Carbon Conversation facilitators; Erik ran the original One Planet group at UEA.

We’ll be focusing on the Transition Food Patterns of Norwich and its hinterlands in the way we began in our Transition Food Patterns Fortnight. Building up a list of producers, talking to people, visiting city allotments and food projects. We’ll be writing information boxes that show why engaging in local market-diversity (as opposed to supermarket monopoly) creates resilient community, what exactly organic certification means. And we’ll be cooking! Trying out recipes that are sustainable, intelligent, delicious, meaningful. Bring a dish to share dishes that everyone can eat.

Last night we talked about many things - how to go forward as a co-op, consensus decision making, bread and bees. Tom talked about how low-carbon food needs to be vibrant and aesthetic, Mediterranean in its temperament. Christine brought the constriction of diets into play. Grower-cooks, Jo and Janet discussed what to do with damson and courgette gluts, Kerry with green tomatoes. Gemma talked miso soup with Donegal seaweed from the Ripple Food Coop she founded in Ipswich. Josiah talked venison sausages supplied by someone he once knew who was licensed to shoot deer in Thetford Forest. Mark talked about a local “omlit”with veg box onions and Cara potatoes we had just dug from the garden. Elena talked honey from the Fat Cat pub and showed us (and gave us to taste) a divine way with runner beans, delicately shredded and flavoured with home-grown chili and brown mustard seeds (didn’t mustard once grow commercially in Norfolk?). Erik showed us a circle that began and ended in compost, a cycle that included seed swaps and germination, weather and parties and snails. The earth is not linear. It goes round and makes extraordinary connections with all its constituent parts. How do we create a book that is non-linear?

The Deconstruct the Dish exercise kickstarts this creative process by putting attention on the material, engaging the imagination, our ability to cross-reference and make different pathways, asking ourselves questions. This is how it goes: everyone sits down at a table with a large sheet of paper (two people to one piece). You draw a circle and put all the ingredients of the dish inside. Then you take each ingredient and write everything you know about it alongside. You ask yourself and/or your drawing partner: Where did I buy this? Which land did it come from? How did it get here? What people were involved? What’s my relationship with them? When did I first eat this dish? Then you share what you discovered with everyone in the room.

I brought fava, a yellow split-pea dish I had once eaten when I was 20 years old. I had arrived on the Greek island before Easter and there was no food to be had in the taverna. Out of nowhere there appeared this dish cooked by the island’s poorest family. They brought it to us shyly, a steaming golden pile, adorned with eggs and olives and a loaf of bread that was baked in the side of the mountain. We devoured it happily. It brings good memories this dish and reminds me of the key to all good meals and creative works - generosity and essential ingredients.

The island was one of the most sustainable places I have ever been. There were no cars, few houses had electricity and everyone drew water from wells and a communal spring. The diet was rough and plain, mostly vegetarian with occasional meat and fish - Easter kid, snails, sea urchins, octopus and bream. The olive oil and thyme honey were the best I have ever tasted. In my picture I drew eggs from Sarah’s roadside stall, parsley grown from Erik’s seeds at the Seed Swap, olives from a Palestinian women’s coop bought at Norwich’s Peace Camp. It was food with meaning, with roots that sank deep in the earth. The industrial food system has no such connection, neither with place nor people, nor our heart’s memory. So to eat sustainably we have to remake those links. That’s one of the main purposes of the Kitchen. Last night some smart and sassy cooks and some essential ingredients came together. Our first project, TN’s Low Carbon Cookbook finally got on the stove . . .

Miso soup by Gemma (Transition Ipswich, Sustain, Ripple Food Coop ) and Green Beans by Elena (TN, CSA, Strangers' Circle). Josiah and Charlotte planning One Planet Community Kitchen at the Greenhouse.; banner - me describing fava; Mark's Cara potatoes; Venison and Puy Lentil Stew by Josiah (Sustainable Bungay, Provenance, East Anglia Food Link). Gemma and Jo listening to Tom from the Greenhouse; Apple and Green Tomato Pie by Kerry (Transition Norwich, Otesha, Greenhouse, Green Grocers)

Many thanks to Tom at The Greenhouse for making us so welcome.

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