All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for Talk

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 change

Tonight marks the start of the second, summer performance of All in a Day’s Walk. It was first performed in the incessant rain of a cold, dark and muddy winter, from midnight on 6th December 2012 to midnight on 6th January 2013 (coincidentally Epiphany). Very coincidentally the current performance finishes on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. And currently it is, of course, very very coincidentally Ramadan.

It’s a different season and I’m in a different place, so I’m anticipating a new and different set of problems and provocations. I am living in a cottage not a caravan (albeit with a yurt in the garden). I am living with others not alone. I am cooking on a storm kettle not a woodburner. I am, as a result of the last performance, a reluctant and uneasy ‘ethical’ meat-eater (a flexitarian, apparently) and I now seem to tolerate a certain amount of dairy. I’m still an auto-immune arthritic avoiding potatoes. I am now a dog owner (more limiting than it might sound, because a four month old puppy can’t walk very far, or isn’t meant to). I am still a horse owner. I have spent the last three and very intense weeks being an aerial dancer.

I’m a bit tired, to be honest.

And I’m not sure how prepared I am for any of this. But let it begin anyway…

Cai

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

Hearth is where the home is…

Knacker's Hole Grove Bonfire at the Falcon

A walk from Lea to Ross-on-Wye and back to Caplor via Deep Dean woods at Howle Hill, to interview woodsman Dan. I get lost on the way there and run through deep leaf litter along mediaeval holloways in a floundering panic to be on time to meet him. We sit on a flatbed trailer in the chestnut coppice for me to catch my breath a while as Dan talk about the wood and its history…

Audio Track Dan at Deep Dean – on coppicing & woodland management

before walking on through the plantation so he can show me how it is managed in practice.

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – a walk in the wood

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on old logging methods

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on monoculture

Dan is quietly and humblingly articulate about the importance – and skill – of using wood to heat water and home, cultivating an understanding of natural processes and slower rhythms that connects us not only with the natural world but also with history: fire as a thread that burns through our evolution and culture.

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – best wood for burning

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on local wood for local people

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on the ritual of fire

He is also very much a rural worker, aware of the pleasures and pressures of local living in a rural county, including the role of walking as a necessary mode of transport, and the historical role of work – in the woods, on the fields – as the original form of ‘exercise’ which, in an office-driven culture, we have lost and now seek out elsewhere (including through recreational walking!):

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on walking

I walk back through market town Ross-on-Wye, which feels like a metropolis after the last few weeks. It’s two days ’til the end of the project, so in readiness I buy medjool dates (California – ouch) and porridge oats (Shropshire) from organic wholefood shop Field Fayre. I am amazed by my restraint that I don’t eat them on the way home (or, writing this retrospectively, until the end of the project).

The sun is setting as I follow the Wye back. And, as I pass the Falcon a couple of miles from Caplor, there’s a wood fire burning outside; dancing fire demons to welcome me home and then, in the glow of my headtorch, the white face of a Herefordshire bull.

Hen at Cobrey Phantom train sign, Ross-on-Wye Orographic (?) clouds on the Black Mountains from the A449 Brampton Abbotts Another flood Oak near Hole-in-the-Wall Sunset above Hole-in-the-Wall Wye below Lyndor Wood River Wye below Lyndor Wood 2 Windmill at Ingestone Sunset over River Wye at Ingestone Sunset over River Wye at Ingestone 2 Pilgrims Way, How Caple Oilseed rape (?) at How Caple Sunset at How Caple  Bull looms out of the dark at Capler Camp

Organic Wednesday

Holloway at Hoarwithy Dropped chard

A walk to the organic veg farm at Aconbury, then back (or so I intended) via Henclose organics (goats milk) and Carey Organic farm shop. Both veg producers – who supply the Fownhope farm shop too – have been mainstays during the past month. And I’ve heard that the Henclose unpasteurised goats milk is superb.

It’s very overcast, and the walk along the road to Hoarwithy slow and tedious, enclosed between high hedges. Crossing the Wye at Hoarwithy, I pass behind the church and pick up the Herefordshire Trail – one of the most newly instituted trails that allows walkers to circambulate the county, taking in all the major market towns and crossing some of the interesting landscape features on the way. (Walking has become an important income stream for the county since the farming community and economy was decimated following the foot and mouth disease crisis in 2001.)

It’s not raining, and I’ve been grateful that for a change, I’ve not got wet feet. Until following a footpath that passes straight through a farmyard I sink up to my knees in mud and slurry. Oh well…

On the way to Aconbury I stumble on a fantastic den of sticks in the woods. Then the faintest glimmer of blue appears in the sky (As always the bizarre line comes into my head: ‘Is it enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers?’, half-remembered from a Victoria Wood sketch that has stuck with me since childhood).

When I eventually arrive at the farm, it’s lunchtime and when I knock tentatively on the door, the family – at least two generations, by the look of it – are about to sit down to some food. So I don’t want to intrude or ask for an audio recording… I explain what I’m doing, ask them if I can buy some veg from curious ‘shop’ housed in what can only be described as a dark green plastic container (yes, leave money in the honesty box), then exchange a couple of pleasantries about the weather. One thing the farmer does say is that it’s been a challenge to grow broccoli in these increasingly wet winters – ‘it doesn’t like getting its feet wet’ he says. As I stand there with slurry still oozing inside my trainers I think ‘Yes. Quite.’

It’s a long way back down through Much Dewchurch. I pass Henclose organics (no one in – apart from the goats rustling in the straw of their shed) and head across country down towards the Cottage of Content (a pub, sadly, not a gingerbread house.) As I pass a small house, I bump into its two residents. I think these are literally the first people I’ve randomly bumped into outside for almost the entire month. In surprise, I ask them if they’ll consent to me audio-recording our conversation which ranges from donkeys and bananas to local food in London.

Audio Track: Lower Knapp Green 2 (Denuded rural infrastructure & post-war farming)

Audio Track: Lower Knapp Green 1 (London, local food, donkeys & bananas)

Finally, I head towards Carey and get there as the light is falling. I’ve missed the shop, also closed (arghh). But I can hear a tractor working up in the fields so I head up the lane a little way. I pass a field of young Swiss chard, but no longer hear or see the source of the tractor noise. I look wistfully at it (the chard), realising I hadn’t eaten green leaf vegetables for some time and feeling an intense pang of hunger for chlorophyll tang of leaf. It didn’t even occur to me to pick some. Then as I turned to leave the field, I saw one uprooted chard plant lying muddy on the rutted tracks – fallen off the trailer or pulled up by an animal, I wasn’t sure. But it was going to waste. I picked it up and took it back with me, triumphant at my ‘roadkill’. [Curiously, just days later I discover that the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has published a landmark report Global Food: Waste Not Want Not – which opens with the shocking statement that ‘it is estimated that 30–50% (OR 1.2–2 BILLION TONNES) OF ALL FOOD PRODUCED ON THE PLANET IS LOST BEFORE REACHING A HUMAN STOMACH.’ I read this and remember that chard plant which has, ever since, become indelibly marked in my mind’s eye as a sad signifier for waste]

And then just a long walk back in the dark along the Hoarwithy road in headtorchlight, and my red bike light clipped onto the back of my hood.

 

Perygl Tân - Athelstan's Wood Athelstan's Wood 2 Athelstan's Wood Fungi in Athelstan's Wood Den in the Athelstan's Wood Inside the den Merrivale Farm Organic Dairy Merrivale Farm Merrivale Farm Barn Merrivale Farm Shop Merrivale Farm Shop 2 Merrivale Farm Shop 3 Merrivale Farm Shop 4 Water at Merrivale Farm The Plough Inn, Little Dewchurch Crop field at Little Dewchurch Henclose Organics, Little Dewchurch May Hill from Much Dewchurch Carey Cottage of Content Carey Organic, Whitethorn Farm Chard in sunset, Carey Organic Chard in sunset, Carey Organic

 

All in a Day’s Walk

All in a Day’s Walk is a month-long tracktivist walking performance. From midnight on 6th December 2012 to midnight on 6th January 2013 (Epiphany) I will be living entirely within the distance I am able to walk away from home and back in a day, sustaining myself only on the food that is grown, harvested, processed and obtainable within this distance. I will walk for 6 days a week, measuring out by foot the limits of my month’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 visitors that does not meet these criteria. I will try to follow all the rules even if I can’t answer all the questions. My walks will facilitate talks: 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, woodsmen, solar installers, yurt-makers, hauliers, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. We might talk about the weather. Or we might talk about local food, loss of rural infrastructure, longest nights, lorry-driving, loaves, love and longing (as a vegetarian with a dairy allergy and an auto-immune arthritic with a potato problem, I’m going to be rather  h u n g r y). 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 06/12/12
Caplor Farm, Fownhope, Herefordshire HR1 4PT