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The Secret Lives of Vegetables - Part 1

Anne Galloway joins the roster of weekend contributors. She regularly examines questions of place, identity and society in her weblogs Purse Lip Square Jaw and Space and Culture. Welcome, Anne!

It began one day last winter when I got weirded out that I hadn't really seen sunlight in days and was eating nothing but tropical foods. After spending the first 16 years of my life in the tropics I had, until then, considered these eating habits a simple means of enduring the Canadian winter. Suddenly, and with a distinctly sinking feeling, I realised that while I understood the global food system, I had little idea what grew locally or was available at that time of year.

We started to get our weekly vegetables delivered from an organic farm located about an hour's drive away. While all of the produce is local, and some is indigenous to the area, the farm also prides itself on maintaining heirloom seed crops from around the world. For weeks during the coldest months, our baskets were full of tubers, bulbs and root vegetables - the ones that can be harvested and stored over the winter. The farm's greenhouses provided different kinds of leafy greens and mushrooms, but our winter diet revolved around hearty soups and stews and casseroles, and I got fatter and warmer. When the weather began to warm the vegetables changed. The rain came and then the asparagus. The sun burned for days and plants died. It rained some more. Now there are salad greens and radishes and peas and little carrots and tomatoes, and I'm getting thinner and cooler.

As I noticed the changes in my body I began thinking about the bodies of the field workers. Bodies that push and pull, quiver and strain. Bodies that stand immobilised as they watch their crops struggle in the heat and then drown with the rain. Bodies that, right now, are bent over hand-weeding the new carrots and parsnips and hand-picking beetles off the new potatoes. The fields are seething with life, the workers go home tired, and I understand we'll have more to eat because of their labour.

Some people only know the experience of agricultural work through the historical images of photographers like Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White, or more contemporary documentaries like Broken Limbs or Harvest of Fear. In these pictures I see agricultural labour as something both noble and appalling, and I'm struck by an actual ambivalence towards who and how our food is produced. With current media attention focussed on genetically modified plants and meat additives, it's easy to think that agriculture has only recently become a matter of engineering and design, but I remind myself that humanity's very first attempts at domestication required the manipulation of plant and animal stock, as well as natural resources like water. I think of herders and subsistence farmers and the advent of agriculture, and I wonder where we'll find ourselves next. In Part 2, I'll take a closer look at how feeding people becomes something done by farmers, scientists, governments and businesses - and how eating becomes a political act.

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Comments

See http://www.localharvest.org/ to search for local, organic farms, co-ops, etc in your area.


Posted by: Marshall Kirkpatrick on 9 Jul 05

Super! Looking forward to the rest.


Posted by: Zaid on 9 Jul 05

Welcome to world changing, Anne!


Posted by: regine on 10 Jul 05



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