Ever since I was a kid I’ve noticed that the impression a meal makes on me is directly proportionate to the lengths I went to in order to prepare it. Like when I go fishing whatever I catch tastes great, way better than any fancy local fishmonger bought equivalent. Having an inquisitive mind with a bit of analytical twist, being a foraging enthusiast and a lifelong foodie I decided to put that theory to the test.
Zeller's Bolete - photo by Ron Wolf
So last fall off I went with my mushroom guru Sequoia Lesosky to see what can be found in a local forest floor this time of year, and I came home with a variety of exotic mushrooms. I also bought some wild mushrooms of the same or similar kind on Granville Island Market to use in the same recipes for my “control group”. I patiently waited until tomorrow when I prepared a feast of three different dishes from the wild and bought mushrooms and shared them with my family. The verdict?
To my family there was no discernible difference. To me the wild stuff tasted stronger and quite different than any of the store bought stuff, which is what I sort of expected as for me it wasn’t a blind tasting – I knew which was which. And then I decided that it must be that the difference is owed to the residual “spirit of the hunt”. It took a lot of effort to get the whole thing together, and it was all in my plate. In theirs? It was just soup or risotto or whatever. I decided they missed out. I am taking my family with me the next time I take to the forest.
Just last week I saw King Corn, a film by Aaron Woolf, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney. Well, it’s a documentary about corn. It fundamentally retraces the corn segment of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, but throws an interesting spin on it.
The two main characters move to their ancestral home town of Greene, Iowa and plant an acre of corn which they then follow from seed in the ground to wherever it goes, which was very enlightening. It was very nice to see what Michael Pollan was talking about in his book and there are actually a few interview segments with Michael in there too. I found the whole effort very balanced and less pointed than the Omnivore’s Dilemma but it, none the less, conveyed the same message.
But the thing that struck me the most about what I saw was probably totally unintentional. A number of times in the movie we see humongous mounds of corn that could not fit in the town elevator silos and there’s not one bird on it!
All of my childhood experiences related to handling any kind of food in a rural setting dictate that the corn would be literally covered by opportunist birds, but no. Is it because the corn they grow in Iowa is essentially inedible or perhaps all the chemistry involved in growing it killed off the birds 500 miles around Iowa? I have no idea but it sure is odd. The next thought, naturally is, why the hell would we eat that corn if birds don’t. And yet we do. Mind is boggled. Off I go to pick some kale from my garden, I need a green smoothie to regain my balance.
I stumbled upon Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s first TV series A Cook on the Wild Side while trawling the Internet for fishing related material that has nothing to do with salmon, but more about that some other time. I liked the philosophy that Hugh was living as it was eerily close to my own views on food and life. Later, when I saw the first episodes of Escape to River Cottage I realized that the first series was not a fluke, that the whole thing was really different and, that was it, I was totally hooked.
So what is this River Cottage, you ask. Well, it’s show about a philosopher chef from London who moves out to live on a small farm in Dorset, to live a life that dances to the rhythm of the seasons, where food is life, and life is honest and altogether sweeter. Hugh is a chef and a restaurateur, and there’s lots of cooking in it but it’s not a cooking show. Hugh is a gardener but it’s not a gardening show either. Hugh’s pig Delia wins a prize at a livestock exhibition but it’s not a farming show. It’s not foraging, hunting or a fishing show either. It’s none of these things and yet they are all in it all the time. River Cottage is definitely not a reality show but the whole place is totally real so what you are looking at is really happening and you can witness the whole thing develop from a humble experiment in country living to a movement and took the “grow your own” idea to a whole new level.
And why am I then talking to you about it here? Because the locality and deliciousness of life are at the epicenter of the whole River Cottage philosophy. Eat locally, know your food, share knowledge, resources and local culture with friends and neighbors, be a part of and take part in your community. And don’t for a moment mistake monetary wealth for well-being.
Local. Delicious. Get it? Check it out, you’ll get it.