All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for eco-living

Guilt and abundance (and raw milk)

Giant courgette

I have a new form of guilt to add to the ever-expanding list: gardeners’ guilt. To our surprise (first season of serious growing, my first growing season here at all) the garden here is almost indecently fecund and productive. It’s all the stereotypical adjectives in fact: lush and verdant etc etc. Even things we planted late and expected not to thrive or fruit just yet are approaching giant proportions. That giant courgette is from the gift plant Rach dug in just 3 weeks ago.  This is normally a cause for celebration of course but I have such an association of denial and asceticism with this piece (from the winter performance, or indeed the first few days of this one) that suddenly faced with so much abundance – of variety, texture, flavour from garden herbs – I feel guilty.

Then I realise that’s what the dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist in me wants to feel: it’s not just about this piece, it’s about a whole ‘performance of identity’ through denial and choice that characterises a commitment to belief systems – whether religious or ecological. Dave Horton’s excellent book chapter articulates this brilliantly in a single paragraph around milk (and which raised a laugh-out-loud of recognition from me when I first read it in the quiet work area of Worcester Hive, to the consternation of fellow readers):

Discomfort can emerge over something so seemingly trivial as ‘milk’. Faced with a choice of ‘milk’, whether at a green meeting or when shopping, the activist confronts a choice of identity. There is no one ‘right milk’, and ‘milk’ correspondingly becomes a site around which identities are distinguished and performed. How should one buy one’s milk? Should it be delivered to the door, lugged home from the supermarket, or fetched from the corner-shop? From where can organic milk be bought? Is the best milk container made of glass, plastic or reinforced cardboard? How can one best ensure one’s milk is produced locally? Ought one to abstain from the consumption of animal milk entirely, and choose soya ‘milk’ instead? What if the only soya ‘milk’ available is non-organic, and potentially genetically modified? Given the impossibility of satisfying all these criteria simultaneously, which ones ought to be privileged when making milk-drinking decisions? Which elements of the diverse ‘milk economy’ should be supported, and why? Through their choice of ‘milk’ activists perform and are performed by their positioning within green networks. [From Horton, D. (2003) ‘Green Distinctions: the Performance of Identity Among Environmental Activists’ in B. Szerszynski, W. Heim and C. Waterton (eds.) Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance Oxford: Blackwell 63-77]

(To which I might add that raw milk from pasture-fed cows is the only way to go, but hey, that’s a whole other story…)

Through ‘punishing’ ourselves in some small way (through denying ourselves something perceived as indulgent, excessive or luxurious but attractive all the same) do we get some satisfaction that we are doing something tangible? Suffering for one’s beliefs as well as one’s art to somehow make it all legitimate?

But as far the environment’s concerned, gardeners’ guilt is utterly pointless and wasteful. So I’m not going to whip myself with this courgette. I’m going to cook it, eat it and be happy…

Onions Courgette plant Chilli and tomatoes  Peas Flowering lettuce Red cabbageHerb spiral 3

Slow activism gone viral?

Cobrey berries

A day at home walking dogs, feeding the horse.

A daily commitment to the animals is easy to incorporate into a life practice. A domestic commitment to and existence with other humans is more difficult to interface with a performance practice, I am discovering. When I first performed this score, I was living alone. I was encountering – socially and otherwise – lots of other people. But the duration and nature of our encounters provided a frame – an imaginary minimalist conceptual proscenium arch – through which I could perform and they could observe. There was a great deal of curiosity, interest, sometimes concern, and sometimes antagonism about what I was doing. But once I was alone, I was alone with the score and I adhered to it rigidly. I had a commitment to the practice.

I didn’t even eat salt.

Now I am living with others – my partner, his son – and the frame has shifted and there are reluctant co-performers inside it. While I know there is a fundamental respect for what I do and am doing, there is also a concern for my well-being and a healthy, affectionate amusement with the whole concept of conceptual eco-art. They want to support me at the same time as they want to subvert the score, which is ultimately compromising me. And my hunger doesn’t take much persuading.

So I’m finding it hard to adhere to rules #2 and 4 of the score when I’m surrounded by the concern as well as the food of others. I’m also an inherently polite activist: I don’t want to be rude or ungrateful. The other day, Callum walked the 5 miles back from Ross-on-Wye with a bag of food from a specialist local-food delicatessen Truffles. Concerned that I was ‘walking everywhere eating nothing’ and with some time to spare, he’d been in, explained what I was doing and bought as much local produce they could determine was grown within walking distance: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries from Cobrey Farm, cheese and spinach pie with ingredients from Newent and they’d even thrown in a small quiche in sympathy with the apparent craziness of what I was doing. He’d got them to write down where everything came from ‘so you’d believe me’ and then he’d walked home from Ross, ‘so it wouldn’t compromise the rules’. It was really touching. So, there was no way I was going to point out that the pastry of the spinach pie was made from flour that undoubtedly was milled if not grown outside the county. I ate it and it was delicious.

It also made me think, on a carbohydrate high, that maybe it’s these conversations that people are having about what I’m doing – even if that’s expressing consternation about craziness – that are what the practice is about. If the score is intended to provoke thought and conversation, then it doesn’t matter who’s having those conversations or why, does it? In fact, it’s even stealthier than I thought : slow food-slow activism gone viral (in a rural kinda way)…

Truffles goody bag

Heat and honey

May Hill trig point tracktivist

An admittedly gruelling walk in 30 degree heat from Lea over May Hill to Highnam and Over Farm. It’s only about 25 miles, but it takes me 8 hours: I’m fast heading out but weighed down by vegetables, fruit and sun-weariness on the way back. Even as I set off in the morning, the waves of heat are palpable: we talk about the sun beating down, and all day I feel it like a slow hammer thudding me into the ground. I seem to be sweating all I’m drinking from my water reservoir straight back into the padding of my rucksack, so the weight is constant. Even ‘SPFd to ye max’ (as my friend Lewis sensibly advises – we have an acronym thing going on), my skin feels like it’s cooking. But, for all this whingeing, I’m not complaining. After the extreme rain and mud of December this is a welcome contrast. Though I do find myself musing about my canny knack of inadvertently planning my walking to coincide with extreme weather events – perhaps an unconscious climate change consciousness after all. That said, just the thought of ‘global warming’ in this heat makes me feel claustrophobic and nauseous. Walking across one particularly dry and scratchy field (I’m finding the long vegetation at this time of year is as difficult to walk through as December mud, plus I’ve developed an exaggerated allergic reaction to nettle stings) then grateful for momentary cool and shade passing through a thick treed hedgerow, I think about a future with less water, less shade, less space, less land area, more drought, fewer crops and more people to feed. It’s frightening…

Heading up towards May Hill, I pass a garden full of loganberries, fields of ripening oats, wheat and potatoes. Herefordshire is like a glowing, rounded expectant mother. This year feels like it will be a good harvest. But right now it’s locked in and inaccessible to me. And even when it bursts forth, how much of that crop will be shipped away from here to be ‘made’ or processed into food?

Striding up the lane, I pass a parked vehicle. ‘You’re off somewhere in hurry!’ a friendly passenger remarks. I explain I’m headed over to Over and have to get back within the day. I explain why and we get talking about local food. ‘You’ll be proud of me,’ she says ‘I took 100 litres of honey off my hives last week’. We then work out that it was her honey – ‘Happy Honey’ – that I’d bought at Brown and Greens two days ago, though she lives in Gorsley not here, so this really is coincidence. I’m curious about her perspectives on honey and the much-talked-about plight of the bees and she kindly agrees to share them:

I join the Wysis Way to walk up onto May Hill proper. Grasshoppers are chorusing in the long grass

I pass Taynton farm shop, the bottles of apple juice displayed on doilies (I thought they were extinct). I would like to buy some duck eggs but agree with the proprietor that in this heat ‘they’ll be cooked by the time you get home’.

I get lost after Taynton but find some bulrushes (reedmace) in a pond. I don’t pick any but I do know their rhizomes are a year-round source of carbohydrates (I’m not quite brave or hungry enough to try).

I pass High Leadon, Highnam, have a conversation with an elderly woman about cherries and am followed by curious cattle along the banks of the River Leadon.

A few miles off Over Farm and I know I’m on the right track: there is a strawberry-shaped helium balloon tethered above the pick-your-own fields. I contemplate picking-my-own and then decide, it’s a four hour walk back and I might save myself for today. Inside Over Farm market is a local food treasure trove: this is what they are passionate about and all the produce has a ‘food miles’ label. Satisfyingly, much of the produce is coming from the farm itself, so the labels read ‘less than 1 mile’ or ‘0’. I want to punch the air and whoop, but that’s a bit geeky. Then at the cheese counter (some more May Hill Green) I interview two young members of staff, Tom and Hannah. Both in their very late teens or very early twenties (I guess), they have some admirable perspectives and knowledge on local food, community and animal welfare. I ask them, is this typical of their peers?:

I slog home eating strawberries, grateful for the cool as the sun drops. As I curve around the contours of May Hill, heading directly west into the sunset, I pull the May Hill Green cheese out of my rucksack and ceremoniously eat the whole block. It’s rather poetic: eating a nettle-wrapped Gloucestershire cheese on May Hill with nettle stung legs.

Oats on the way up May Hill Potatoes on the way up May Hill  Loganberries   May Hill May Hill signs May Hills signs 2  Take care Grasshoppers on the way up May Hill May Hill canopy May Hill shadows May Hill sign May Hill elephant May Hill trig point May Hill shadow  Gloucestershire Way Wysis Way Food waste Rural neighbourhood watch Glasshouse to Taynton Taynton Farm Shop Air source heat pump installed near Taynton Bullrushes Wysis Way footbridge The Grove, Tibberton Cows at High Leadon Tibberton Pond Barley at Bovone Oxenhall apple juice consumed at Highnam Disused railway boundary marker River Leadon Highnam village Helium strawberry and pylon at Over Farm PYO IMG_5437 PYO 2 Over Farm carrots Over Farm peas Over Farm broad beans Over Farm onions Over Farm cauliflower Over Farm cherries Cairn on the Wysis Way Byfords Farm, Taynton Ardennes horses (possibly?) and Byford Farm Hidden lake in Castle Hill Wood, Glasshouse Setting sun along May Hill Sunset over the Lea

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.

Home is where the art is…

Beetroot and apple mumpet Mumpet - cooking Sourdough heart

Just two months ago, a visit to my hometown Aberystwyth fortuitously coincided with a talk at the university by John Fox (formerly of Welfare State International, now of Dead Good Guides and  ‘a total legend’ as an awestruck someone sitting next to me at a Tipping Point Newcastle described him as he got up to speak there…). John’s two-act lecture The Poetry Under our Feet was a reverse journey through his own constantly evolving and inspiring life-art practice in which, amongst other things, he asked ‘why do we make art?’. Showing a slide of his neatly-stacked wood store (he and Sue Gill now live in a beautiful self-build eco-house on the shores of Morecambe Bay ), he explained how he now derived as much creative satisfaction from the process of creating this ‘sculpture’ as from his woodcuts and other formal art work. (He also talked about how, in the process of stacking the wood, ‘the materials themselves help to find the solution’ and I liked this; that the wood ‘knows’ how to be stacked.) He described this as ‘a creative way of living’ and this has resonated for me more and more through this project.

My hunger and tiredness has thrown into focus an interesting realisation about my relationship with walking. Much of my interest in walking as an artistic practice has derived from the kinaesthetic, muscular satisfaction I get from pushing myself to travel hard across space: it’s an interest in finding the edges of (dis)comfort,  about what Tim Edensor has decribed (in the context of recreational walking) as ‘specific notions of achievement’ (2000: 93) and what Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner might describe as a more stereotypically ‘solitary male’ approach to walking (2010: 22). I realise, with a jolt of embarrassment, that I’ve been out to prove something through my ‘art’, if not to others then certainly to myself. But this approach to my practice has always been supported by a comparatively thoughtless relationship with food and how it is acquired: a banana here, some (organic dark) chocolate there, a handful of (organic) nuts or dates, a bowl of (organic) soya milk porridge to set me off in the morning. Fast food eco-hippy-vegan style.

Now I am  s l o w.  And, unpolluted by sugars or pretty much anything else, my clear head opens up to the wholeness of a practice brought home. It’s a profound (if profoundly obvious) epiphany: how the art of being at home (in one’s body too, as the somatic practices have taught me but I have somehow failed to translate to the domestic) is necessary to support a whole creative practice and thus becomes an inherent and absolutely essential part of it.

It is domestic performance art, or the performance of domestic art (as a friend recently said to me ‘can you BELIEVE that they ever called it “science”?!!!’)

it is in the JUGGLING of kettle, stew, eggs and bread on the woodburner
the CHOREOGRAPHY of choosing, mixing, stirring ingredients
it is the stacking of an AUDIENCE of wood, to dry around the burner (and contemplate its fate)
and the SCULPTING of bread (a particular pride in my sourdough ‘crown’ that cooks better on the burner for being hollow in the middle)
and the PLAYING of the wood burner airwash lever like a trombone slide (controlling to increasingly subtle degrees the temperature)

Too close to HOME, so I had to come back HOME to find it.

Eggs and kettle on burner Sourdough leaven Weighing leaven for bread Kettle keeping warm on logs drying next to burner Fully open...quickly boil a kettle Partly open - bread, stew, cakes Shut down ticking over at night or when out Clearview thermometer

Edensor, T. (2000) ‘Walking in the British Countryside: Reflexivity, Embodied Practices and Ways to Escape’ Body & Society 6, (3-4) 81-106

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

A conversation on my doorstep

Home sweet home

Some old friends whose pony is on loan at the farm call by on their way past to visit him. We stand and chat on my doorstep and I tell them about the project. It’s a long conversation and Jan makes some interesting observations about the resistance there could be (in terms of visual intrusion) if we were to reintroduce more (and modern) food processing facilities into very rural landscapes (we’re talking specifically about the grain mills and presses that could have allowed me to eat locally grown oats and use rapeseed oil). I’m not sure I necessarily agree (processing facilities would not need to be large-scale industrial eyesores if they were run at a local/community level and/or made use of redundant farm buildings…) but it does make me return to the thoughts I had during a previous project Tilting at Windmills, where I questioned whether our responses to change in rural landscapes should be aesthetically driven if they are helping us lower emissions and address climate change. Especially considering the very real changes to landscape that climate change could make, and one could argue is already making through changed/extreme weather patterns and our responses to that.

I also tell them about slow activism and the idea that face-to-face conversation (though typically in a context specifically framed as an arts or performance practice) is the true site of real, sustainable behavioural change. And then I also realise that I am engaged in slow activism with them. And the nub of a life practice is just this: even the conversations we have on our doorstep.

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