All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for dependency

Vegan roadkill

Vegan roadkill at White House Farm

A walk through Dymock to Brooms Green, home of Charles Martell cheeses. I’ve been intrigued by this cheese-makers-cum-distillery ever since I’d heard my friend Hugh (himself of the inspiring artisan cider-producing Dragon Orchard) waxing lyrical about them back in December. I wasn’t eating cheese or dairy then of course due to a suspected allergy, but this time around and in the absence of allergy, their delicious nettle-wrapped May Hill Green has been very sustaining on long walks. I set off late today with a belly full of it. I haven’t called ahead to arrange a meeting, optimistically hoping to bump into someone when I arrive. Or simply for the walk to guide me into an encounter with someone else.

I don’t and it doesn’t. In fact, I barely see anyone closer than waving distance: two farmers mending a trailer and a lone dog walker. So much for talking activism today.

I pass through a sinister concrete bridge under the M50 that looks like it should house a 1960s concrete troll and join up with the Daffodil Way, round the edge of Dymock Forest. I pass an equally sinister looking mansion which instantly makes me think, with a goosebump frisson, of  Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger. For miles it seems to be watching me with coolly blank eyes, and I wonder why we anthropomorphise houses when really, they are just hemmings-in of space for us to shelter in.

In Dymock I find myself following the Poets’ Paths to Brooms Green. It’s not intentional. In fact, there’s something vaguely embarrassing about it. Perhaps this is because I’m always achingly conscious that walking seems to have a tendency to turn everyone into a navel-gazing poet or philosopher of varying degrees of awfulness, something I’ve been anxious to avoid through informing my walking practice with my environmentalism and other political concerns, of varying degrees of gentleness. By this, I mean that I’m permanently hyperconscious that, for all that I was at pains to put activism in tracktivism, I know there’s still nothing overtly, tub-thumpingly political about it. And inevitably, in the luxurious engagement with natural world that rural walking offers, the political is not present for me in every step. I am not a pilgrim. I can allow my mind and senses to wander.

What I remain conscious of, however, is that this is no rural idyll. These farmed landscapes are constantly changing and responding to the challenges of economy and climate. Less obvious, dramatic and dizzying than the melting ice-sheets to be sure, but still more fragile than we think. As our oil dependency continues and rural infrastructure falters, maybe we should all be walking these paths and writing bad poetry while we still have the chance? In less time than has passed since Edward Thomas, Robert Frost et al. were walking here, who knows what these landscapes will look like as a consequence not only of changing weather patterns and climate but also resource depletion and population explosion.

On the way home, I’m really hungry. I only brought a small sorrel and beetroot salad with me (no cheese or oatcakes), it’s 7 pm and I’ve walked about 17 miles, 5 more to go. Then I see on the side of the road a whole broad bean plant that’s been pulled up and dropped (by a creature? off a trailer? I’m not sure). Some of the pods are broken, but some are intact and I liberate the beans. Vegan roadkill, I think. At a green activists’ event earlier in the year, I’d been speaking on a forum about local food, revealing my epiphany that I’d suppressed my ethical concerns over killing animals to eat in favour my environmentalist understanding that pasture-fed (and finished) meat was a more carbon-neutral form of local protein (and very likely also a healthier one, than grain-fed meats). A vegan member of the audience had disagreed: with enough planning, she said, we were more than capable of growing enough beans to make enough protein to feed ourselves locally and ethically. The beans dont give me much oomph, but in my ongoing unease with eating meat and dairy, I wonder if she’s right.

My how you've grown, maize Maize at Warren Farm Dexter cow Ford at Brockmoor Farm Ford at Brockmoor Lane Hay Wood Stop the cull M50 footpath tunnel Lake at Timber Hall Farm Boyce Court Slow sign, Dymock Slow signs, Dymock Dymock Poets Path II Dead rat Dymock poets path again Charles Martell cheese Pears at Hunt Court Lintridge Green Put the money in the pipe Morris Men Beauchamp Arms, Dymock Lake at Boyce Court

Activism in tracktivism 2

Walk don't drive

Once upon a time, I walked around the Welsh countryside and talked to people about landscape, life choices and climate change. It was an activism-by-stealth because it was a sharing of political ideas (mine and other peoples) in unexpected places (rural landscape) via the conviviality of conversation, sometimes recorded sometimes not. Then I renamed and reframed this tracktivism, an overtly activist practice, and immediately the doubt set in, as I pondered in Activism in Tracktivism? last week.

As I said then, thinking of what I do and re-imagining contemporary activism through ‘gestures’ has been really helpful to me. But what I hadn’t considered, in the context of All in a Day’s Walk specifically, was how this performance could be considered a protest gesture in and of itself through exercising and publicising my right to exist and subsist outside of our broken down rural food infrastructure and the dominance of and dependence on supermarkets, or indeed  motorised transport which is the usual refrain from people living rurally. For this I must extend a huge thank you to Laurence Malt for this Mask – Part 2 blog yesterday. I agree that it’s not a sustainable gesture – and the idea of sustainable activism that creates sustained not temporary change is an important one to me – but I’m empowered by the thought that it’s subversive in its own, domestic, pedestrian way.

Visions of sugar plums… (or organic medjool dates)

Christmas (walking) stockings

Christmas Eve and a new meaning to hanging up stockings by the fire…

Christmas stockings 2

So, time for some reflection, before the Twelve Days of Christmas Countdown begins…

I’m enjoying this. (Now). I took such a calorific nosedive at the start of the project that my brain stopped working and I went into some kind of survival mode (the freezing weather didn’t help). As someone who knows how to cook (and on wood!), and eat well using mostly vegetables, I’m baffled by the sudden-onset cluelessness as to how to walk and feed myself properly on local food in December, simply because I was adapting to a diet that was slightly less varied, unable to rely on the the convenience products – soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter, cashews, dates, bananas – on which I realise I’d come to depend for instant energy (and protein). I also realise how much unseasonal, unlocal produce has crept into my ‘staples’ list in recent years – avocados, spinach, red peppers, romaine lettuce, cucumber. And most of all, I realise that my relationship to food had become all about speed. Allowing myself to get very hungry, feeding myself as quickly as possible, hurtling off to the next thing. Fast (wholesome) food for fast living. I had to  s l o w down, but the transition was painful…

I’ve learnt how to live  s l o w l y. The hunger and loss of strength has died away now replaced with a twinge of embarrassment that I was initially so pathetic. There is plenty of food I can eat, it was just learning how to cook and carry it. It’s also interesting how much less I’m eating than normal – the food is less palatable, so I’m less bothered about it. How much of hunger is actually just a relationship with taste – and wanting to taste – rather than what we truly need to consume? Now I’ve learned how to feed myself, how to maintain a leaven, how to cook properly on wood, and most of all, how to slow down. Slow (wood/cooked) food takes time and planning and I can’t let myself run out…(no speed pun intended)

I feel very well. Unpolluted by refined food, sugars, salt (none of which I eat much of normally anyway but still…), I feel very clear-headed and clear-bodied and in a better place to ‘listen’: to myself (my body) and other people.

I haven’t walked as much or as far as I’d like, because initially I couldn’t feed myself enough to sustain the long distance endurance-tramps I’d intended. It’s also very very very wet which slows me down and takes up far more energy. But most of all the process of surviving takes more time: the business of living, bread-making, cooking, wood-fetching, water-heating and horse-feeding. Now I’ve got a comfortable routine, I’m hoping that the weeks that follow will allow me to address this. But my desire to push myself – and the sense of ‘cheating’ if I don’t (otherwise it’s not a performance, right?) also makes me laugh at myself – so determined to make my walking practice  h a r d  because I’m so sold on the specific notions of achievement and endurance I seem to admire in the work of the solitary male walking artists, when really, I’m a female walking artist after all: it’s all about conviviality and connection and ‘knit[ting] together people and place’ (Heddon and Turner 2010). And you don’t have to walk hard and fast and competitively and show-offingly to the edges of your personal food horizon to do that.

I haven’t talked as much as I’d like. Apart from the encounters I’m orchestrating (with people who are already proponents or producers of local food), I’m just not really meeting that many other people – it’s hard to bump into people in the pouring rain on obscure and muddy Herefordshire footpaths in December. But I also have to admit I have been deliberately missing opportunities, especially when I’ve been hungry – it’s too vulnerable-making to initiate a conversation with a stranger when hungry: I’ve felt too distracted by this more pressing need. So I feel like I’m failing in this regard from an activist perspective, because then it’s just all about me. But it’s not over til the fat lady sings… or the skinny girl finishes walking.

But I’ve met some amazing people. I feel filled with love for the local food producers, makers and movers of South Herefordshire and the web that connects them – partly constructed, now, of my footprints. There is a real awareness bubbling away in the countryside here, like a healthy leaven.

I’m mostly missing oats but also bananas, mango, soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter and tulsi tea. But the VERY first thing I am going to eat at the end of this performance is a single, delicious, fresh, organic medjool date. And be grateful for every single mile it travelled to get to me.

Reference
Heddon, D. and C. Turner (2010) ‘Walking Women: Interviews with Women on the Move’ Performance Research 15 (4) 14-22

I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle…

Being hyper-aware of where my food (and energy) is coming from, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of the ‘away-from-here’ ness of all the things I use and need: the ‘consumables’ that I consider essential (to varying degrees) or at least have become accustomed to being able to use whenever I choose. I make a substantial list even from the first things I’ve used within an hour of waking that day:

Toilet paper (recycled, natch)
Toothpaste (Kingfisher, of course)
Toothbrush (Monte Bianco, saving the planet one toothbrush stalk at a time)
Shower soap (Weleda)
Deodorant (Weleda)
Toilet cleaner (Bio-D)
Surface cleaner (Earth Friendly Products)
Sponge (alas, from evil supermarket)
Board chalk (village shop)
Moisturiser (Burts Bees)
Matches
Baking parchment (If You Care, FSC-certified – REALLY)

It’s worrying that, even through the frisson of eco-smugness that could be attached to the ‘ethical consumer’ brand names (=fewer chemicals, minimalist packaging, biodegradable, hand-made by free-range unicorns on a guaranteed minimum wage etc.), there is still so much  s t u f f  here…

Are you local?

And then there are all the containers – glass, plastic, film, cardboard – they are squashed, poured or rolled into and around. In all their colourful (yet also, of course, tastefully restrained) plumage, they form a textured map of the complexity of our dependence on  t h i n g s: products that I – for all my supposed knowledge about ‘eco-living’ – would have little idea how to make myself or replicate the effects of using only locally available herbs or chemicals. (A sudden pang of eco-inadequacy: I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle.) And our dependence on oil to package, transport and store them.

Through my focus on local food and my physical, pedestrian relationship to fetching it, I am suddenly acutely aware of all that is coming in to my home and all that is going out and the physical journey it made to reach here. And thinking like this, even my own home – a static caravan at present – feels suddenly alien, other, with no relationship to me, my making or the materials available in the local environment. It’s as if we’re all caddis flies from a littered river, surrounded by a constructed carapace of compulsively-collected detritus that is not of our making… I mourn suddenly my recently-taken-down-for-repair yurt – with its wooden frame (trellis walls (khana) and roof poles) made from a Herefordshire oak felled by the maker himself. I had never before considered the ‘home miles’ of the shelters we choose to live in.

Yurt Frame

Impractical as it would be (for me and the rest of humanity) I can suddenly understand the urge to live in a bender in the hills…