Living Food: Revitalising the body, nourishing the earth
"If you're not used to drinking vinegar, open up your mind!" instructs nutrition expert Daphne Lambert as we prepare to drink the sea buckthorn cordial she's served.
She says she's made it from scratch. Quite literally from scratch as the sea buckthorn berries were hand-harvested and Daphne hopes we like the cordial "cos they were bloody prickly!"
I look at the thick brownish liquid and sniff the glass in trepidation. It smells strong, acidic. I give it a go, just a little sip. And I start to quiver. I've never tasted anything as good (yes, including chocolate). It was bitter and sweet, sharp and smooth, and it felt as if it was doing every inch of me the power of good, taste buds, to eyesight, to throat to stomach. I literally felt better from one minute to the next via this unexpected taste sensation.
I'm here with forty or so others to listen to Daphne in conversation with Anni Townend (a leadership consultant for big corporations), talk about what influences our choice of food, what our gut bacteria are doing, and the impact each mouthful we eat has on future generations. We're sitting at tables of 8 people, nursing wine glasses of warm water laced with fresh herbs, and the ice is broken when Anni asks us each to say our name and tell our favourite food to the room.
Daphne has explored the connection between the health of the individual, the community and the planet; Anni works with the relationship we have to self and others, and building strong, collaborative communities. Together they focussed on giving information and asking questions of us all to get us to understand 'the stories behind' the foods we choose to eat.
Daphne starts by asking that we "remember the sun, the soil and the myriad of people who came together to put the food on your plate". We are looking at little heart-shaped pieces of rye bread, topped with gorgeous pesto of wild garlic Daphne picked in Devon and walnuts that she bought locally. And, I think they were pretty slices of pink pickled radish on the top. They taste delicious, and as Daphne talks about the way the crops are grown, and which are indigenous to our country, and naturally growing this season, I feel a connection with the food before me that I don't often feel in Tesco.
Soon Daphne got on to "the shadow story" of many of the foods we commonly eat. Lots of tinned tomatoes from Italy are picked by migrant workers who are treated badly; demand for avocados is fuelling environmental deforestation in Mexico; and Chia Seeds are 'extraordinarily nutritious for people who live in the environment in which they grow' but here in the UK we should stick to linseed and hemp. It's all very well saying that you need an avocado smoothie every morning, but, suggests Daphne, if you know that established pine forests are being taken down and replaced by avocado plants that require spraying and demand water, might a weekly smoothie do the trick?
We were asked, at our communal tables, to 'go beyond the material' and think about 'what else in your food nourishes you?'. Answers were manifold, ranging from 'prepared with love', to 'the physical space', to 'having the time to eat', to 'it being presented in a fun way'.
A woman at my table who runs an organic farm, and sells her produce at The Friday Market in Lewes, spoke about how people are bombarded with advertising and demand is created and all in the name of a free market, that isn't really free. It needs to be properly regulated for people, she said, because people here are too fat and people in other countries don't have enough to eat. A man at my table was sad that many in urban environments were disconnected with where their food was coming from.
Daphne had given us all different patterned placemats which turned out to be photographs of the dehydrated crystals of organic and non-organic foods. I was gob-smacked at the difference between an organic cucumber and its non-organically grown counterpart: one pattern was highly organised, symmetrical, beautiful...the other, much more random, chaotic, the connection lost. I asked myself how much did I care which one ended up inside my stomach?
Daphne doesn't like the word 'consumer', she prefers to call us all 'food citizens'. "Responsibility for our environment starts by looking after our own gut flora" she said. So if you thought you didn't have a garden to tend, think again!
Apparently gut bacteria influence many states of dis-ease, from diabetes to depression, and Daphne told us that 'right now, in this very room, your gut bacteria are all communicating with each other'. This brought some giggling to the room as we found ourselves looking at our stomachs wondering what kind of conversations they might be having.
We ended an educational and delicious afternoon with a "Nourish Ball", made only with foods harvested in this country (no dates or lacuna in there) and a special sour cherry surprise in the centre.
I was impressed by all this linking of self and environment and pleased to have reassessed the importance of food choices in my mind. I asked if I could buy some of the amazing cordial. Daphne laughed and said no, it wasn't for sale, but she'd teach me how to make it if I came on one of her courses. I'm sold.
Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter
PS: Daphne's got a great book out called "Living Food" and can be contacted via her organisation The Green Cuisine Trust