If you know me well, you probably know that I am very selective when it comes to owning cookbooks. The art of a good cookbook is not achieved by even some of the best chefs.
I also never follow recipes. The joke in our house is that the only times my food has been a disappointment is when I have faithfully followed a recipe. But I digress...
In recent years the Slow Food movement and Eating Local have become household names for many of us. While I think both are great and have impacted our relationship with food very positively, I often feel a disconnect when it comes to implementing their ideas into the mundane everydayness of our lives. Truthfully, even those of us who love to cook have a difficult time creating inspiring new dishes every day that are nourishing, beautiful, and easy on our conscience unless we have an adoring audience waiting for us to post something on our foodie blog or Instagram account. My hope for all of us is that we can feed ourselves confidently, consistently and well without needing to rely on current food trends to keep us going.
Cooking is an important part of a lifestyle desiring any level of sustainability. This sounds like great news for some, and a prophecy of doom for others. While I do not connect with any sense of dread when it comes to cooking, I completely understand why many people do. Food is complicated. Especially in the world we live now. Many of us have debilitating food allergies that make food not enjoyable and simply something to keep us alive. Others have a complicated emotional relationship with food resulting in a variety of struggles. Most of us did not grow up in a family that had any meaningful food traditions, and if we did, they likely were not passed down. Those of us who were spared from any of the above still live in a world that communicates lies to us about food constantly and barrages us with alternatives that are hurting us instead of healing us. This all brings me to a discussion from a class in my certification course that was both comforting and challenging.
The Best Cookbook on Earth
With permaculture, we can create beautiful, abundant food systems that are specific to us: specific to our needs, our wants, and our location. Also specific to our imagination and creativity. Once that system is established, including outside inputs which is a different conversation all together, we now have the foundation of the best cookbook ever: Our own.
I believe that the best cookbook one can own is specific to a person/family/community; specific to a location; specific to the season, the month, the week, even the day.
The more connected we become to our food system the better. A fun result can be this cookbook. Ours is not written. It is written in our minds, our hearts, and our desires. Over the last several years we have developed a set of foods that we always make. We wait in anticipation for the first spring peas so that we can enjoy our tahini pea chèvre spread on fresh baguette. We rejoice over the coming of butternut squash for our sage risotto. We make them a few times in season and then wait for next year.
This way of cooking and eating was an adjustment that took many years and I would never recommend "switching cold turkey" because it won't last. It needs to be natural and integrated to become a part of your life and not a behavior adjustment. Not a punishment born out of guilt or obligation. The last thing we need to do is heap more shame on ourselves when it comes to food.
The most difficult part of this change has been giving up foods that we grew up with. Both Luke and I are originally from California. Avocados, lemons, limes, oranges...oh yes. Our beloved mediterranean climate beauties. While I am committed to experimenting with the season extension possibilities within permaculture, the fact remains that the Northwest is not Australia. I am challenged to slowly phase out some of the ingredients I so dearly love that I cannot produce here because I believe it is right to do. I am not legalistic about it, but let me tell you, when I received a gift of Meyer lemons from a close friend's family in California a few winters ago, I almost cried. Simplifying our lives and making them "smaller" is one of the most enriching experiences I think we can have. This might mean not making everything out of almonds and coconuts like many of the fad diets have us doing now. But it also means the possibility of beginning to write our own food histories and building lasting traditions that contribute to the world's healing.
So with the onset of autumn, consider making at least one new food routine in your life that you will be able to look forward to next year and start by looking out your back door or at the farmer's market. A few suggestions on how to get started:
- Learn to cook, not just to follow complicated recipes. Find a few cookbooks that teach you how things work (some of those in the picture above are great!) so that it frees you up to improvise and can form a foundation of knowledge to be inspired by in your personal context.
- Become familiar with what is in season at any point in the year where you live.
- Think about the kinds of foods you love to eat, make or have positive memories associated with.
- Start small and let internal motivators move you forward, not a sense of obligation or guilt.