All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for Activism

Activism in tracktivism?

Today it’s the Activist Blogging Event at MadLab in Manchester. I can’t be there (it’s not quite within walking distance of Lea) so I plan to email a video response to be shared there, using some of my audio and video footage from yesterday’s walk.

The event is part of the Activist Performance: Gestural Notes series (curated by Jenny Hughes and Simon Parry at the University of Manchester) which is considering protest and activism in terms of ‘gestures’. The initial provocation to frame our practice in this way came from Simon and Jenny came via Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Notes on Gesture’ (2000) ‘which explores an idea of gesture as ‘pure means’ – refusing the separation of action into means and ends, as categorised for this or that proper use. We have also discussed and thought about gestures as a series of verbs: camp, occupy, march, strike, swarm, dance, disguise, impersonate, play, stage, chant, network, blog, hack, tweet etc. You are welcome to follow this principle or challenge it as you see fit. As Simon goes on to explain in the blog:

“Gestures of protest in recent times – camping, occupying, marching, striking, moving in cells (to avoid kettling for example), swarming, dancing, going in disguise, impersonating, playing, staging, chanting, networking, blogging, hacking, tweeting – carry traces of former activist modes, and extend the domains of activism from the public life of the street and the theatre stage, to the private domain of the mobile phone and laptop.This blog explores both the historical traces and contemporary practice.”

This is helpful to me, riddled as I am with activist guilt (another one for yesterday’s list). Having set up my practice as an explicitly activist one, I’m constantly questioning how exactly (on Earth) I suppose that might be. But thinking of one’s activism in terms of the gesture that might be at its core does provide a useful frame within which to bring the elusive activism into sharper focus. When talking at the first activist performance seminar at Manchester back in February, I used the first performance of All in a Day’s Walk to define tracktivism via three related gestures: eat, fast, walk.

Now this performance is feeling so different already, I’m not sure if those verbs are truly where the activism lies after all. So, in the film that follows, I’m thinking out loud (rather slowly) about exactly what the principal ‘gesture’ of my practice might be, troubled again by the inadequacy of what I’m doing to achieve anything (and by the frozen beef in my rucksack). I conclude, for the time being at least, that maybe the activist essence of my practice is talking…

Meanwhile, puppy-bound again, I walk the dogs in the evening, and pick up sticks for the storm kettle from the woods.

 

Guilt and food miles

Walking through wheat

Guilt seems to be such a fundamental part of being human, that we are constantly needing to categorise it: Catholic guilt, Jewish guilt, Non-conformist guilt (my mother’s), survivors’ guilt, climate guilt and now, for me, (lapsed) vegetarian guilt. I experience plenty of the latter today.

As a former vegan (yes, I’ve worn that badge at the same time as self-reflexively laughing at the brilliant joke: ‘How do you know if someone’s a vegan?’ ‘Don’t worry: they’ll tell you’), I’m aware that lacto-vegetarianism is itself a half-way house in the compassionate farming stakes: even a very conscious and conscientious organic dairy farmer I know has admitted to me that the necessary removal of young calves from their mothers so we can drink the milk that is meant for them is ‘the guilty secret of the dairy industry’. So, I was already battling with some uncomfortable truths in being vegetarian. When I was diagnosed with a serious and potentially debilitating auto-immune arthritic condition 6 years ago and  told it was highly recommended I eat fish, I did so, and felt both better and deeply hypocritical. When I completed the last performance of All in a Day’s Walk and heard about the carbon sequestration benefits of local, pasture-fed meat and how this offset methane emissions and provided a source of (local) protein that was not reliant on soya flown in from the other side of the world (and was an important part of maintaining diverse mixed pastoral/arable landscapes), I was forced to weigh up my environmentalism against my vegetarianism. The former won (it had always confused me that even some of the most ardent and eminent environmentalists I know are meat eaters) and I became a slightly reluctant flexitarian. (That is, occasionally eating only local, ethical, usually organic, free-range, pasture-fed meat.) I have also since read Jonathan Safran Foer’s pro-vegetarian treatise Eating Animals – perhaps a strangely counter-intuitive, retrograde choice of book after 22 years of vegetarianism – and, more recently Jay Rayner’s article about a a day in the slaughterhouse. So I remain deeply, deeply uncomfortable by the thought of being part of the meat industry and the killing chain, even in the most (oxymoronically?) ‘humane’ of abattoirs.

However, I am also hungry and in search of local food.

Today my partner’s son is dog-sitting for me, so I plan to do a decent walk to the nearest market town Ross-on-Wye as a reasonable starting point to encounter local growers and sellers. I am following the first part of a route I last walked during the winter performance to interview woodsman Dan at Deep Dean woods (the source of my winter fuel), now crunching and sliding through drying hay (as slippery as winter mud, I’m discovering).

Emerging from the woods below the poetically- (and, for me, autobiographically-) named Dancing Green, I encounter a group of workmen clearing a culvert and in conversation with someone who, from the back, I see is wearing an Open Farm Sunday T-shirt (a good sign, I now realise)… A little nervously – this will be my first true ‘tracktivist’ encounter with strangers to engage in conversation this performance – I stop and ask them if they know of any places selling local food, vegetables, eggs or honey and explain I am new to the area and what I am doing. As usual (because synchronicity is so surprising as to be unsurprising), it turns out this – food miles, local food – is a subject at the very heart of (who I later discover to be) Robert’s beef and dairy farming ethos, and one which he’s been explaining to a group of primary school children just that morning. Not only that but he tells me of a place just back through the woods selling eggs and honey. Success. And if I make a quick detour to get some (sadly they’re no longer selling either but I am kindly given one of the last remaining jars and shown around the magnificent vegetable garden) then head up to his farm on the hill above us, he will talk me through the food miles of the cattle fodder in his grain store. Here is the audio tour of our conversation which ranged from soya to fuel via sugar beet and weather:

Afterwards, and unable to carry a whole Hope’s Ash beef box home, I buy some frozen steak and mince from Rachel in the farmhouse and walk home as fast as possible before it defrosts in my rucksack in the afternoon heat. But as I go, I’m pondering again: I want to support these passionate, articulate local farmers but I’m carrying meat that has been finished with imported soya. If my only reason for eating (pasture-fed) meat is an ecological one, then I’m contradicting myself and might as well eat the imported soya myself (I was tempted, in the grain store). Then again, I think of the eggs that sustained me throughout the last performance and realise (as I hadn’t before) that most free-range hens are fed grain and layers pellets from well outside the county. And so the layers (no chicken pun) of our globalised local food infrastructure peel back and back. All these hidden food miles marching away from me as far as the eye can see – a lifetime’s walking in every mouthful… Food for thought and fodder for guilt.

Stacked bales Freshly cut hay at Lea Garden at Hope Mansel/Bailey Lane End Hope's Ash Soya and sugar beet IMG_5192 Hope's Ash wheat Hay at Pontshill Dancing Green Butterfly at Pontshill Orchard at Pontshill Wheat and heat

All in a Day’s Walk (Again)

All in a Day’s Walk is a month-long tracktivist walking performance. It was first performed in the winter, from 6th December 2012 to 6th January 2013. It is now being repeated in the summer, from midnight on 6th July to midnight on 6th August. During this time, I will live entirely within the distance I am able to walk away from home in a day, sustaining myself only on the food that is grown, harvested, processed and obtainable within this distance. I will walk as far and as frequently as I can, measuring out by foot the new limits of my new month’s (and new home’s) existence-subsistence-persistence. I will travel only on foot, accepting no lifts and using no public transport. I will not accept hospitality or food from hosts or visitors that does not meet these criteria. I will try to follow all the rules even if I can’t answer all the questions. And I will be curious about seasonal difference.

Tracktivism is about talking and listening, and I hope my walks will facilitate plenty of that: conversational encounters with the people I meet, either randomly on my route or pre-arranged at a specific destination… walkers, farmers, growers, millers, bakers, apiarists, artisan cider-producers, foresters, road-workers, yurt-makers, hauliers, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. We might talk about the weather. We might talk about talking. We might talk about walking. But we will most probably talk about  f o o d , where it comes from, and why it matters…

It’s slow food meets slow activism meets slow performance. So, please take some time to meander through these pages if you wish, and leave some slow comments…

Jess Allen 06/07/13
Lea, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, HR9 7JZ

All in a Day’s Walk 2

It’s 6 months on from the completion of the first performance of All in a Day’s Walk and it was a more profound experience – for me, at least – than I could have anticipated. And it’s been something that seems to have stirred a certain amount of curiosity in others. Since 6th Jan, I’ve been invited to talk at various events and gatherings (including at the Fownhope Carbon Rationing Action Group, the Dragon Orchard Cropsharers, the Spring Greens Fair for New Leaf and the Ledbury Ox Roast for the Ledbury Food Group) and I have been truly delighted by the conversations and thoughts that it has spawned (e.g. would it be more ecological to eat rabbits rather than chick peas? ). This has made me ponder: is this post-performance discussion the true nature of the participation or even the activism inherent in tracktivism? But that’s another story for another time…

One recurring question has been: how would the experience have been different at a different time of year? (Or in a different place, or in a different country, or the same time of year in a different year, or even the same time of year for 6 consecutive years.) Ever the scientist, I’m curious too: I want to repeat the experiment with a seasonally shifted set of perturbations. But also an artist, I’m conscious that I can bend the rules and that you can never step into the same river twice…

So, right now, I’m deciding on the new rules (or if I just bend the old ones), pondering the new questions, choosing the next location (I’m in-between old and new homes), and (it being nearly the 6th of the 6th), I’m ruminating on the significance of the number six to the climate and my practice (given that this is the number of degrees of global warming that even ‘orthodox organisations’ believe we may now be committed to). If you have any requests or suggestions for the next performance, please get in touch or post as comments to this page. The countdown begins…

Jess Allen 06/06/13
(currently still at) Caplor Farm, Fownhope, Herefordshire HR1 4PT

Fownhope CRAG 2 Fownhope CRAG 1

Epiphany

I arrived… “to walk there is to earn it, through laboriousness and through the transformation that comes during a journey” (Rebecca Solnit 2001, p. 51)

 

 

Little green shoots of change

Aspen House

A walk through the morning to Hoarwithy, where I’ve arranged to interview Sally Dean and Rob Elliott, who run the appropriately sub-titled ‘Real Food’ B&B Aspen House [which has since closed, in 2015].

I walk over Capler Camp and through Brockhampton, hemmed in by high hedges, passing polytunnels (which Gareth talked much about), puddles and  floods and being passed by the four-wheel drive convoys of the pheasant shoot… I stop to record the racehorses on the gallops at Aramstone (a racing yard) Audio Track: Aramstone gallops and later (because I’m earlier than expected for our meeting) to record the flooded wye forcing its way under the bridge at Hoarwithy Audio Track: River Wye (in spate) at Hoarwithy bridge. Then I visit the remarkable (and unexpected in this small village) Italianate church, before heading down the road to Aspen House.

Sally and Rob are more than ‘just’ B&B proprietors: they are passionate advocates (and activists) for local, seasonal, ‘real’ food. Sally, a nutritionist, is also local chapter leader for the Weston A. Price foundation (an organisation organic dairy farmer Will Edwards also spoke passionately about). Rob is a writer (The Food Maze and How to Eat… Like There’s No Tomorrow) and blogger. Both are extremely knowledgedgable about nutrition, local infrastructure, farming, growing and how our rural eating-living needs to work in order to be sustainable and just as well as genuinely nutritious. They are hugely inspiring and uncompromising in how they live and their desire to communicate what they do to as many people as possible. We have intense, wide-ranging discussions which I’ve edited only a selection of highlights below, as they are both best represented in their own, articulate words:

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on the importance of slowing down: slow food and slow cooking

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on meat and balanced food production

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on localised food infrastructure

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on local food activism: ‘little green shoots’ of change

A huge thank you to them for their time and sharing their knowledge so passionately..

Capler Camp flood Capler Camp gorse Capler woods Wye floods from Capler viewpoint Hoarwithy Holly hedge 4WD flood Oh no, I have to walk through this... Not as bad as it looks Strawberry polytunnels Flooded Wye at Hoarwithy bridge Flooded Wye - Hoarwithy tollhouse Flooded footpath at Hoarwithy Hoarwithy Italianate Church 1 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 2 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 3 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 4 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 5 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 6 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 7 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 8 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 9 Hoarwithy cider press  Soda bread and sourdough Kefir Kefir grains Hoarwithy mill race? Strawberry plants

And then later in the evening, because it’s Friday, I walk (4 mile round trip) through the dark to the pub with friends for local bitter

There’s no such thing as inappropriate clothing, only bad weather

When I first heard the (apparently Scandinavian) phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’ I immediately, gleefully and smugly adopted it as my new life mantra.

This winter, I’m not so sure. It doesn’t seem to matter how much Gore-tex I layer onto my body, the water is still finding a way in. Even in wellies. This does not make a December walking performance very comfortable. It slows me down – and not in a good slow-food-slow-activism way either. I’m not sure if drawing my own minute attention – through the immediate discomfort of soggy feet – to the changing patterns of weather and climate is particularly useful in an activism sense, but still…

I’m reminded of my conversation last week with Caplor farmer Gareth on his experiences of extreme weather events in Africa and Fownhope, and how his farming practices are, finally, changing:

Audio Track: AIADW Gareth on weather and climate change

 Caplor lake 2  Flooded footpath 2 Wellies 2  Wet footpath  Flooded ditch below Caplor Marcle Ridge path underwater Wet walk home from Alfords Mill I fell on my arse Be safe, be seen 2 Stanier gaiters for hobbits There's no such thing as bad weather: the arsenal Christmas (walking) stockings  Christmas stockings 2 Be safe, be seen Drying Inov8s