Thursday 4 February 2010

The Low Carbon Kitchen

I found the pheasant on the road coming back from a Transition day in a primary school in Framlingham. He was a beautiful bird without a mark on him, his coppery-flecked feathers glowing in the almost dusk. I carried him back to the car. "What are you going to do with that?" asked Mark. "We're going to eat him," I said. "It's a gift."

So he hung up in my larder for three days, after which I cut him down, plucked and drew him and cooked his body in wine flavoured with thyme and bay. I gave the neck and liver to the cat and buried his feathers, feet and head under the hawthorn hedge.

The dish (and the soup next day) were divine.

You might not think this is a story. Roadkill - no big deal. Except for me it was because I hadn't eaten any meat for 10 years.

The decision had taken me one second to make. It was as quick as the moment I picked up the cock pheasant and knew I had to take him home. I never changed my mind about eating animals. Once you see it you can't unsee it. It's like the aha Rob Hopkins calls The End of Surburbia moment, the peak oil moment, when suddenly without knowing it you find yourself in Transition.

Those kinds of decisions are made by the spirit which is faster than the speed of light. Our physical forms however are slower. It took six months for my body to adjust to the mostly vegan diet I now eat, to be able to absorb plants after a lifetime of eating fish and meat and cheese. It took my emotional body time to let go of the moreishness of sugar, palm oil, bananas. My mind to make the switch to organic and locally farmed food.

To completely change the way I ate I needed a territory to do it in. When I moved to Suffolk I could engage in the kinds of relationships that Tully talked about in his blog last week, a mix of wholefood shops and corner stores, roadside stalls and farm shops and a weekly box from Malcolm and Eileen in Darsham. It’s a practice I began two years ago when I gave up going to supermarkets.

If we’re going to seriously get into low carbon cooking, into downshift cuisine we’ve got to get smart on a lot of things. Some of those we touched on in our last Strangers’ Transition Circle on Food. One of these is energy. How much energy does it take to cook a meal?

The Monitor says that I am using 375 watts every time I go near my kettle, that a piece of toast is costing Mark 5p a slice and when he starts to bake his sourdough it hits 1KW and rising. Every time I’ve gone into the kitchen this week the Monitor is there before me.
"Turn that light off," yells Mark "We’re up to 677!
"Mark, I can’t cook in the dark!" I yell back. The kitchen lights, all unsustainable six of them went on strike and blew the circuit. Now we’re scrabbling about with a lamp and the corridor low-energy glow.

Downstairs letting the cat out of the door to go hunting on a frosty star-filled night, the Monitor glows like a blue police lamp in the living room darkness. She’s achieved her favourite result of Zero (until the fridge powers up that is). The temperature of the room registers 7 degrees. Little boxes on the display are stacked up: one box for night, two boxes for day, four boxes for the evening. Like one of those Christmas presents you got excited about when you were small however the Monitor (on loan from the Bungay library) is losing her appeal.

Because the truth is we can’t live on figures and facts like these. The data can make us aware of energy use in the kitchen - our hobs and ovens and kettles but they don’t feed our souls and our archaic hunter-gatherer bodies that resonate to the touch of wild creatures, roots and seeds and fruit and rain. They don’t bring us sweet memories or the tastes and textures of life. And to really change our habits, so that climate change and peak oil don’t ravage our lives and everyone else's we’ve got to make some other kinds of moves. The ones that scientists and rationalists might dismiss as poetic.

To go back through that small door to find the earth and all its riches, we’ve got to get creative and change what we value, bringing our immense knowledge of the world’s larder to bear in how we cook - street food and peasant food from Mexico, Morocco, India, China, Greece – using all the ingredients we have at hand, in time, in season.

The humble tastes of stored apples and January king cabbage, the pungency of winter purslane and mizuna, the richness of parsnip and swedes.

The taste of the territory in which we find ourselves.

In the end what matters is the connection. Once you find that you can let all that high-carbon food buying go - the swanky restaurant, the exotic fruit, disappearing cod, all those special treats and fancies and comforts that exploit the world and all its peoples. All these are substitutes for creaturehood - the relationship with the place that keeps us alive and connected. You can't have this relationship with industrialised food. It's an earth thing. A gift we find in our hands at the end of the day.

Cock Pheasant just before plucking on last year’s Poetry Paper
Collecting the box from Malcolm on a snowy day
Kitchen window with local garlic and Brussel sprouts

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