Diary of Spanish Irish Visit-20th-24th April 2014
The Irish Group arrived in Santander on Sunday and drove towards the hotel…on the way we got hungry and stopped in Comillas for lunch. It is a beautiful place along the Camino way – where we got a typical Spanish meal and immersed ourselves in the Spanish culture
Some of us tried the local fish dishes – Lubina and also a typical paprika and octopus dish and mussels. The salad was fairly typical and would not differ greatly from anything you would find in Ireland-except for the huge asparagus which are not so easily found in our country. In order to gain perspective on the future of food, the learners went with open minds, to try local immersion in the present reality and local food cultures.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were welcomed by the Burch family and Lydia and after a lovely dinner bursting with goodness we shared an opening circle to ground us and orientate us on the learning program.
After a morning check in we discussed our expectations, the process to follow and what we wanted to contribute. We felt ready to start in with our first practical activity.
Tour with Nigel to learn from his experience…
We took a tour of the hotel garden and learned from Nigel Burch about his particular positive food system, which included hot compost as the most important feature of the garden.
‘God and manure can do a lot but especially manure!’
The garden, of course, takes hands on work and there is no escaping if you want to be responsible for growing your own food, you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty, put your back into it and be constantly alert to changes in your environment.
Above all, you need to be passionate about it. Nigel shared his passion around food creation and working in partnership with nature and available resources. We got a strong sense of his dedication and how a garden is really a full on responsibility and challenging in this region when water can run short at the end of the summer. We also observed the damage inflicted on the orchard by voles who had eaten the roots of the apple trees and killed many of them, this created a lot of discussion around plant immunity and why pests can be invasive, the trees have a shallow root system because of their position on the hill and lack of soil and perhaps the expression ‘a sick dog is all fleas’ might account for their susceptibility to pests. It was hard for some of the group, being animal lovers, not to pet or interact with the dog, who has her specific role on the farm protecting the sheep, but there were good and practical reasons for this which had to be respected.
We went straight from the garden tour to a picnic in the park near Gijon, where we were going to undertake our afternoon forage led by Eileen, (see article by Eileen.)
In the park we filmed some of our conversations around what we eat and why, it is very apparent that the group have a diverse range of views on sustainable food diets and we don’t have a single vision or answer.
After the forage we had our evening meeting discussion around the aims and objectives and the following themes are discussed – what is the future of food about? What are the learning objectives for this week? We are getting a sense on this journey that we cannot prescribe a diet for others but we can only hope to inspire people by showing positive food systems and a good relationship with food.
We come to the idea that we are finding the common ground through various processes where we step back from being the “knowledge holders” to a more equal role of “learner sharers”.
Traditional education has engrained in us the idea that education is about passing on knowledge but this journey so far is teaching us about sharing our uncertanties and doubts as a means of creating discussion and through this some knowledge may be passed on, but learning journeys are undertaken together. We are standing at a precipice, looking out to an uncertain future, to think we might have the answers is perhaps only showing the depths of our ignorance and sharing ideas might be the only way we can find solace.
After the morning check in, mycologist and forester Gionata presents a slideshow and talk on fungi and their fascinating relationships with soil and their communication system through the mycelium network, we are really excited and can’t wait to get out into the woods
Given that Spring is a scarce time for mushrooms, the forage is for all edible food and we agree to take back our foraged foods and create a lunch together.
Chef Patricia has given a presentation on raw food and on the recipes as shares some delicious ideas for dressing up greens – see recipe pages. Patricia is a chef who has a keen interest in raw food and her participation in the lunch is keenly anticipated.
The old mills we encountered in the woods reminded us of a food system in the past reliant on water energy and we ask is the future about learning how to go back to the past…???
This was the first time foraging for many of the participants and there was a great sense of connection with nature as a source of food, healing and energy. It was really an enjoyable walk and a beautiful shared experience – foraging together, then preparing the food together and then feasting on the fruits of our labour together. We took many pictures and there was almost a sense of sacredness for the food, a sense of reverence and pride, and above all other things this has had a most profound impression on what it means to be part of a food community. We would recommend this foraging workshop for fungi and wild plants to all food educators as a way of involving people in a practical way to connect with nature as their food source and with people as their fellow community members.
It is said that “hunger is a good sauce” and it is true, the immersion in nature brings an anticipation to the meal and a deep sense of respect that is not possible to find in a supermarket forage!
After lunch we started on our documentary which is one of the products we agreed on from the outset. We asked all the participants 4 questions
What is food?
Where does it come from?
Where is it going?
What will you take away from this experience?
This took quite some time and led us into our 4.30 skype call with the other partners of the project, unfortunately the line was bad and we couldn’t proceed with the call. We were disappointed not to have met the partners and introduced ourselves so we made a mini introductory video to send to them when the line would be restored.
After dinner we had more discussion and it became apparent that the scope of the project could be so wide as to be overwhelming when you look at the scale of the problems facing the world with climate change, food security, food corruption and negative food systems, as Alastair Macintosh –who wrote “Soil and Soul- People vs Corporate Power” wrote this ‘Sometimes when you have nothing else to draw on you have to trade on humour. That establishes a bottom line of existence. You can move onto somewhere else from there.’
Some of the group considered a possible solution to stay positive is to introduce playing and through this came the idea to try out “ Food Mimes” – wherein groups take turns to mime out recipes/dishes/food products and the others have to guess what they are acting out. This had the effect of adding humour to the project in a structured (!) but non formal way and creating a possible project product that could be taken to schools or youth groups when “educating” people about food – a type of food theatre that makes people really think and making people think is a very good objective for this project. Please take the time to view “ scrambled eggs “ and try the game with your friends. It also made us consider the thoughtless violence we inflict on our foods from Genetic modification to the scrambling of eggs
The day started with a check in and as part of the days workshop, playing the game once again for the entire group, as some had been missing the previous evening. We discussed the products and actions to come from our time together and all undertook specific practical tasks from starting to edit our documentary to recording recipes and this blog. We agree to disagree in so far as we cannot prescribe solutions for sustainable living but we can point to fun ways of sharing, learning and inspiring others. We are conscious that we wish to share our learning with the other partners and a wider audience and we hope what we wish to share will be acceptable -being conscious of diverse viewpoints and stand points, again we remind ourselves that there is common ground, common concerns and we should not get caught up in trying to have the answers. It is more important to be the change you want to see in the world as Ghandi said-sometimes we waste energy trying to persuade others what they should be doing or caring about and then we can get frustrated and disappointed when they will not change or see things from our perspective.
Some of the group feel overwhelmed as the energy is very intense given the passion for sharing ideas and the scale of the task ahead to live and eat well on a fragile earth. There are so many ideas and it is easy to feel despondent, overwhelmed, lost. Discussions go into great depth about eco-systems, mono cultures, food subcultures, food corporations. We wrestle with the idea that plants are more important to life on earth that animals are-as the primary producers-and nature lovers must choose the right battles… We find a useful quote to help us see where we are in this journey from Alastair Macintosh – “we’re all implicated in the state of the world but we need not remain trapped by this. We need not remain powerless. We may not be able to change, but we can at least work on the Zen of personal integrity and we can start with choices……..As activists or potential activists for social and ecological justice, as women and men who would build community, we must not despair to the point of incapacitation at the state of the world’
For us today that means we focus on what we can give here and now to the future of food, to the future of the planet (on the tiny island we occupy on the planet) and our little corners of humanity, we start now with each other, we decide we will get active and productive, we will create our food community as an act of liberation. There is a resolve to create something positive from this time together to continue with the FOF journey as an act of both personal food liberation and integrity coupled with the need to be inclusive, to integrate with what is-so step one is to start a small holders market weekly on our return to Ireland-to bring local organic food from our gardens to the local town-to share what we have-not for the love of money but for the love of community!
The afternoon has a workshop which is split into 2 parts-“You are what you eat, you are how you eat” which explores in a personal way how we relate to food. There is a separate article on the findings from this from Fionnuala which goes into the subject more deeply.
A final group council is closed with a session led by Sebastian which is a chance to hear back from everybody in a respectful space. This is a very moving experience as the week has been a blast of energy and this provides a still point before we journey home and let the learnings and insights settle before sharing with the wider group and FOF foodies!