All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for supermarkets

Hereford

River Wye

A walk to Hereford, for a meeting at All Saints Cafe about an installation and walking performance for h.Energy this autumn. (I’m going to be walking in circles around Hereford city, carrying water with an antique milkmaid’s yoke, but that’s another story.)

It’s a long way, and I’m walking halfway back again too before this evening, so I give myself permission to ‘just walk’. I need to get there on time, in time for our meeting at 2. I set off at 7.30 and arrive at exactly 1.30, I seem to be better at timing my arrival when walking even across unfamiliar terrain than I ever am when travelling by other means. Maybe that’s because, on foot, my soul is travelling at the same speed as my body.

I’m bothered by a steady stream of commuter traffic on the road up to Crow Hill, but once I cut across Eaton Park wood and drop down to the Wye Valley Walk, it’s idyllic and tranquil and I’m suddenly the disruptive force: my feet send up butterflies and damselflies from the long grass with every step.

I arrive into the bustle of the city to find it’s the weekly farmers’ market. I speak to Dave who, I read somewhere, refers to himself as ‘the man with the hat’. He tells me that market has been going about 13 years, waxing and waning and waxing in size over that time. I ask if people – customers – ask where the produce or plants come from and he tells me that they often do, and are pleased when they hear that they are his own plants. Because then he can answer questions about them.  There are lots of what he calls ‘secondary producers’ here – people selling pies, cakes, preserves or other delights which are made locally and with mainly local ingredients but necessarily combined with others sourced from further afield (like sugar or spices for preserves and confectionary of course). All these are outside my current rules so I can’t buy anything today. But I see that the vegetable stall is from Kidderminster in Worcestershire: he says they set a radius of 40 miles ‘which is quite far’ (I agree, outside my daily walking distance) but that they get enquiries (which they turn down) from sellers as far afield as London wanting to attend. It strikes me that this – the London enquiries – is ‘local’ retail gone mad. It reminds me of a criticism I’ve heard in the past, that many farmer’s markets (but not this one, which is excellent) are far from that; selling over-priced artisan produce and crafts aimed at a monied middle-class market, pricing genuinely local food out of most people’s range. It strikes me that it’s doing more damage than good to people’s faith in the concept of local food, and working in supermarkets’ favour.

Which is a massive shame, because where else than a genuine farmers’ market can the farmers, growers and makers connect directly with their customers and their customers with them? And have important conversations, literally over the produce itself, that allow them to explain the real cost of producing food: prices that reflect a difficult winter, a late spring, more expensive grain, a poor harvest, or the time, effort, love they invest in making it… Then we understand that when we buy food others have grown, we are paying for more than taste and calories: we’re rewarding the growers appropriately for genuine craft, commitment and consciousness.

Combine at Warren Farm M50 at Crow Hill Peas at Gayton Farm Wheat and poppies at Gayton Farm Eaton Park Wood Eaton Park River Wye at Hole-in-the-Wall River Wye, Ingestone River Wye, Ingestone 2 Wye Valley Walk bridge Brockhampton sign Capler Camp Wye viewpoint Brockhampton bench Brockhampton bench 2 Fownhope rec ground: 'for the enjoyment of all' Fownhope pond Fownhope footpath Old Mill, Nupend Lugg at Mordiford Bridge Cow on Lugg Meadows Maize at Hampton Bishop Stank at Hampton Bishop Damselflies Outfall into Wye at Rotherwas/Hampton Bishop Hereford Bull Hereford Farmers' Market

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.

Consciousness and courgettes

Bath Vale harvest

My friends Rach and Dom come to visit from Congleton. I prepare a local lunch: a salad of leaves and beans from Crooked End, herbs from our garden. But it seems a bit insubtantial so I add chickpeas for them, and make a balsamic dressing that I don’t add to mine (though the honey is the stuff I collected from the Forest of Dean).

We eat up in the garden next to the herb spiral. Rach and Dom, experienced and conscientious growers with a productive garden (the photos are theirs) verging on smallholding, give me advice on our newly established vegetables. Then, unprompted (and sadly unrecorded) Dom gives an impassioned speech about growing food as the ‘ultimate form of responsibility…of consciousness’: the tending of plants to yield a crop that sustains us, gives us life, as a fundamental connection that underscores our relationship with the natural world: ‘if you don’t do it right, you don’t eat’. We’ve relinquished this responsibility increasingly throughout history but more so in recent decades well beyond the tipping point at which it makes sense (functional differentiation), passing it on to (often) large-scale producers and supermarkets and so distancing ourselves from food and the environment in very fundamental ways. A bit like Rob’s speech about the ‘spiritual’ practice of cooking that I recorded in the first All in a Day’s Walk, it’s both profound and profoundly obvious, when you think about it. (Though I sense from the proliferation of food-growing programmes and documentaries, and the many vegetables gardens I’m passing as I walk, that the pendulum is swinging back. A symptom of austerity culture perhaps?)

Later in the evening, after walking the dogs in the comparative cool, Rachel and I transplant the gifts she’s brought from their garden: a yellow courgette plant, two tomatoes and some herbs for the spiral.

Bath Vale harvest 2

Hooves and health

Merlin's Legs

Merlin’s equine podiatrist comes to trim his hooves. He’s been barefoot – i.e. unshod – since April 2004 when I first became involved more intensely with the discipline of natural horsemanship and began to train as an equine podiatrist myself. This before dance training made me too precious about my body to want to consider standing underneath big horses all day, as they thrashed their legs around and I vainly attempted to hold onto the ends of them whilst wielding various sharp instruments (knife, rasp etc.)… But I remain a passionate advocate of ‘whole horse hoof care’, a relatively new (certainly, in the last decade or so) way of thinking about horses’ hooves as part of the whole beast and a key physiological marker of the health and well-being – nutritional/metabolic, cardio-vascular/musculo-skeletal fitness, even psychological – of the whole animal.

This may seem blindingly obvious, but traditionally, as British horse-owners, we have practiced a heartily devolved responsibility when it comes to our horses’ feet, entrusting their care – these distal points of their four precious limbs – almost exclusively to the farrier. (Not, as it happens, unlike our disconnected relationship to our food which is produced ‘somewhere else’ by ‘someone else’ and purchased from the supermarket, neatly packaged (in a protected atmosphere) in sterile plastic.)

‘No foot, no ‘oss’ the famous saying goes. And yet, few of us questioned if a man (for their invariably are) visiting every 6 weeks and nailing rigid metal to this (actually surprisingly mobile) proteinaceous tissue was perhaps the healthiest thing for the natural function of the foot. (Or even the less natural uses we might put it to – in that riding a horse is already inherently unnatural.) Suffice to say, it is now increasingly recognised that it is not. Though it is not as simple as simply removing the shoes. Barefoot horse husbandry – for high-functioning working/sport horses at least – requires a commited attention to the environment in which the horse lives, its nutrition and the ‘conditioning’ that one is prepared to do. In other words, if you want to drag your horse out of a muddy field once a week and go on a ten mile ride on the road or a cross-country competition, then you should probably stick to metal shoes. (Or get a quad bike. Or reconsider whether you have a respectful and meaningful relationship with that animal at all…)

My journey through the landscape of having a shoeless horse has necessitated and given rise to some big leaps of faith and understanding, not least that Merlin’s metabolic health – as evidenced by and echoed in his hooves – is in delicate balance, that it fluctuates seasonally, that British lowland pasture (largely now now rye-grass monoculture to maximise dairy production – and Caplor is a former dairy farm) is too rich in summer sugars for horses, whose digestive systems are still in time-lag, adapted to the dry grasses of the vast, arid plains where they evolved (and where their hooves were healthiest), and that hoof-infesting yeasts thrive in the warm, wet mud of climate-changed British winters.

If we listened to our own bodies as intently as I ‘listen’ to Merlin’s hooves, we might have a better understanding of our own nutritional – and seasonal – needs. And if we took greater responsibility for those needs – not handing them over to the supermarket ‘farrier’ – we might have a better sense of the whole systems in which we live, eat, breathe, participate.

Amazing, really, how I can now manage to bring every conversation, blog post or social encounter round to climate change, food and our relationship to it…

(And Debbie, Merlin’s trimmer, brings me some vegan Christmas cake too. Only 6 more days before I can eat it…)

Vegan Christmas cake