All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for tracktivism

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

‘We ate with the seasons…’

Today Alison Parfitt (of the Wildland Research Institute amongst many other things!) joins me: my first ‘official’ guest to accompany me on a ‘performance’ walk. I haven’t planned very well for her visit and can’t decide where to go… When she arrives, we look at the map together. She would like to be a practical help in search of food and has brought along a large backpack for the purpose. I’d like to take her on an enjoyable walk that takes in some of the more scenic Herefordshire countryside. We settle on a walk over the Marcle Ridge through (a few) orchards to Westons, the cider producers where I hope I’ll be able to buy apple juice, and Much Marcle shop for eggs.

It’s still (literally) freezing. I still have no water in the caravan and every single surface outside – even the spiders’ webs – is covered in hoar frost: microscopic needles of crystalline blossom.

Alison

Alison’s lively enquiry into my practice is equally sharp but I’m glad of her presence and clarity – an antidote to the cold and the insidious slowness – helping to thaw my mind and bring into focus what I’m doing. As we walk, she asks me about the background to the project, which I start to describe as arising from my fascination both with simple notion of a day’s distance in a day’s time and what it could be used to draw attention to, to bring in to focus, to measure or calibrate. Then, how layered on to this came the notion of sustenance and what emerged was the concept of  ’embodied mapping: drawing a map with my feet of the area that sustains me nutritionally’ and the sadness that we can’t always lead the local life we aspire to when we live rurally, in the place where all this food is grown because the infrastructure is now missing. I’m thinking specifically about the wheat, oats and oilseed rape grown on the farm – I talk about the roaring dragon of the grain dryer which drives us [farm-dwellers] demented with its day-long droning whine throughout August only for the grain to be shipped away again and sold. To me this is ‘extraordinarily inaccessible food’ and I talk about the notion of loss which Alison then goes on to summarise far more articulately : ‘ yes, it’s a loss of understanding, a loss of connection,  a loss because we’re no longer in control of our food… we don’t even know where it goes and what happens to it. So it’s disempowering, really…’

With Sollers Hope church in sight, Alison asks. ‘So what are we performing?’… I respond cautiously ‘We’re performing slow activism and slow food in some kind of sliding together of lenses I think. The idea was that the structure of these walks – walking to find food, walking to the producers of food (even it’s not where I bought it I have to be able to walk to where it’s produced) was about drawing attention to what is there and what is there no longer, facilitating discussion, debate and discovery. And carrying that knowledge with me to each new encounter’.

I’m not feeling very articulate today, so I’m delighted when (as we are climbing steeply up the Marcle Ridge) she finds a way of clearly describing the essence of my practice – tracktivism as walking performance which foregrounds environmental concerns – far more clearly than my own fumbling attempts to liken it to bas-relief and the notion of removing something that obscures to allow what is there to emerge. No, she says helpfully, ‘it’s more subtle than that. It  [the environmental/political ‘truth(s)’]  is not obscured by something ‘other’ that needs removing, it’s the practice which reveals what IS there…’

I like this. As we walk on, I wonder what is left revealed in our wake.

—-

We walk into Much Marcle where I buy eggs (Kynaston) and juice (Aylton) from the village shop and record an interesting encounter with the shopkeeper, sharing his wonderful childhood reminiscences of rural life and local food in Oxfordshire where his father managed many gardens and allotments and they ‘ate with the seaons..’:

Audio Track: Much Marcle Shop

We then turn back on ourselves to call in at the Westons shop on the way home. Here  they stock the full range of Jus single variety apple juices from sweet Egremont Russett and Worcester Pearmain through medium Coxs, Katy and Discovery to the dry Bramley Seedling (my absolute favourite). I intend to journey to Aylton later this month to talk to the Skittery family. Their juices have been my emergency energy food this month in the absence of fresh apples which I’ve not been able to source locally. This in itself points to another type of loss – the loss of knowledge of how to think slowly in the longer term and store our produce to eat out of season…

Jus bottles Jus article

SLOW

Frozen

In the caravan, my water is frozen today. (Picture’s from two years ago, but you get the idea.) Even though this only means walking to the very nearby showerblock to fill up buckets, bottles and kettle, I don’t have the mental capacity or calories to deal with this. I don’t walk today, any further than around the fields to break the ice on the three water troughs for the horses. Rough Patch – Banky Field – Rough Patch – Tacklizer – Rough Patch.

Cold, I am slowed down in every sense.

I expend my energy instead on the domestic: making bread, refreshing leaven, fetching and heating water, washing up, fetching wood, sweeping. It takes all my energy. I make a stew and feel better.

My  s l o w n e s s  makes me think how much I’ve read the term ‘slow’ in various contexts in recent times.

Slow food ‘a global, grassroots organisation with supporters in 150 countries around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to the community and the environment. We work to reconnect people with where their food comes from and how it is produced so they can understand the implications of the choices they make about the food they put on their plates. We encourage people to choose nutritious food, from sustainable, local sources which tastes great.’

Slow pedagogy from Phillip Payne and Brian Whattchow (2008) ‘Slow Pedagogy and Placing Environmental Education in Post-Traditional Outdoor Education’ Australian Journal of Outdoor Education 12 (1): 25-38 ‘Time, and our experiences of it, warrants attention in ‘place’ pedagogies in outdoor education. Place typically involves the experience of a geographical location, a locale for interacting socially and/or with nature, and the subjective meanings we attach over time to the experience. Place, however, cannot be severed from the concept and practice of time, as seems to be occurring in the discourse of outdoor education. The way outdoor educators carefully conceive of, plan for, manage and pedagogically practice time may, in our view, positively facilitate an introductory ‘sense’ of place. We illustrate the under-theorised relationship of time and place in outdoor and experiential education via a case study of a semester-long undergraduate unit, Experiencing the Australian Landscape. It reflexively describes how two post-traditional outdoor educators working in the higher education sector have assisted pre-service experiential and outdoor educators to sense, explore, conceptualise and examine how ‘slow’ time is important in ‘placing’ education in nature.

Slow activism  from Wallace Heim’s beautiful chapter ‘Slow Activism: Homelands, Love and the Lightbulb’ in B. Szerszynski, W. Heim and C. Waterton (eds.) (2003) Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance Oxford: Blackwell 183-202

‘Other, more social methods [of effecting change] are through conversation and the spoken exchanges of narratives. These, too, have imaginative and heuristic force, the capacity to open up new dimensions of reality, to allow for new values and subjectivities to be tried out. The ‘doing’ of conversation, the give and take of questioning and listening influenced by the directed content, can be an experience approximating the democratizing, moral conversation described by communicative and dialogic ethics. As a form of rhetorical argument, conversation can be a practice of collective reasoning, contingent and fallible, in situations of uncertainty. For the conversations to persuade, they need also to be occasions of character, in which the phenomena of an ethics of character or virtue can be experienced. Following Hans-Georg Gadamer (1989), the process of conversation is analogous to that of coming to an understanding, or of interpreting a work of art; in these events, conversation is the ‘work’ of art, an understanding mutually created. Attributes of performance apply to these works: ephemeral, ambiguous, improvisatory, risky. They are also a form of social reason, occasions for talking together, in public, about nature-human relations. They are also a form of activism, politicized interventions advancing an idea, but proceeding in the time it takes to engage in conversation. Some works continue to have effect beyond the event, reverberating in the stories about it, passed along like a slow contagion.’

Slow = good   Slow = better   Slow = the answer?

These feet weren’t made for walking…

Feet

And so it begins…but I appear to be already injured. A niggling pain in my left foot that hasn’t shifted for the past month is worrying me tonight. I will be relying on these feet to carry me in search of daily calories, and fetch wood to cook on. It makes me wonder for what percentage of the world’s population this is normal, daily life: the number of people for whom being able to eat is dependent on being able to walk.

However, there is always the (at present, blissfully-unaware) back-up plan…

Merlin's Legs

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