Canning veg and visiting the farmer’s market feel good. But neither we, nor the planet, can wait. It’s time for food to get futuristicby Stephanie Boland / December 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
In 2014, the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award—awarded for the best food writing each year—was won by the journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan for an essay on jam.
Taking its title from the first line of a 1919 Wallace Stevens poem, “I placed a jar in Tennessee” described a process of preservation and transformation through sugars, jellies and canning that Sullivan—and the preserve-obsessed friend whose story he tells—fears is becoming a lost art. His friend’s obsession is kicked off by an urge to conserve, to save a “giant flat of ripe strawberries” from rotting. The pair draw on the memory of grandmothers, who lived life “in sync with the natural world in a way that went beyond daytime/nighttime.” In a line which reminded me of my partner’s love of baking sourdough bread—a process which he cheerfully undertakes via a series of small tasks spread over three days—the friend finds that making jam helps him regain that sense of time: “You were always monitoring some jar in the kitchen, observing its changes. It gave the whole house a clock to go by.”
It is nice to think about a food culture which could develop along these lines. As the evidence for man-made climate change begins to bite, more and more people are realising the value of slow food, and in certain respects some of us are beginning to eat as we did in simpler times. Rather than buying two rumps of cheap supermarket beef, more people are buying one from a local producer; they are eschewing the glossy, unreal vegetables shipped in from South America in the dead of winter and heading instead to the farmers’ market. On an individual level, these choices feel good: the stalls of the local market are more romantic than the strip-lighting of the all-night garage, and visiting them helps us to put nicer things in our bodies, if only by encouraging us to think our choices through.