I have developed a somewhat notorious reputation at my workplace for eating weird things for lunch.
It began, as these things are wont to do, with nettle soup.
You’re eating stinging nettles? But doesn’t it sting your mouth?! My co-worker is quite distraught.
This, however, makes me quite excited to impart my new found wisdom. As a child the only use I could of think of for nettles was as a death trap. But I am recently in the know that they lose their sting if they are cooked in boiling water for about 60 seconds, and they are full of more vitamins than many of the more popular greens. Their taste is full and nutty, and when you really know your nettles and you are out walking, you can smell them before you even catch a glimpse. Perhaps my favourite part: they are bloody everywhere and free as free can be.
My co-worker is not convinced by my enthusiastic foraging outburst and perhaps this has to do with the fact that conversations about food in my workplace overwhelmingly revolve around dieting and losing weight. The concept of eating nettles is alien: not only because my co-workers are far removed from the fact that their food has ever touched the soil, but also because they are entangled in a culture which sees food only through a binary lens of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For example: today was a ‘good’ day because I ate a salad for lunch, so I will definitely be on track to lose weight. Or: today was a ‘bad’ day because I gave in and ate that chocolate bar, so I will definitely get cellulite, which is unattractive and unacceptable. These conversations always take place between women, which gives us cause to examine what feminism has to do with what we eat and how we talk about it.
There is a particular tack of conversation of health and nutrition which can look as though it is the real ‘scientific’ deal, but is all too regularly just plain body fascism; and women are the ones on the receiving end. If you happen to be in possession of a TV, it is no easy feat to go a day without accidentally sitting through some company or another claiming to have finally figured out the solution to all your problems – how to keep that weight off. The assumption, of course, is that as a woman, your weight really is the sum of all your problems.
I began trying to figure out how to provide food for myself and my community about three years ago. My primary concern was sustainability and oppressive practices within the food system: of fruit growers in my home country being paid a pittance for those Pink Lady apples I was eating so many thousands of miles away, and land being cleared of communities and healthy ecosystems for deadening monocultures. It was also more selfish: how would I be fed if the global food system were to collapse with all the talk of climate change and dwindling resources?
Learning how to feed myself – by going right to the root of the production line – has opened up a wider question of: how can we feed ourselves well? How can we nourish our bodies and minds and the earth, all together? How can we talk about food in a positive way that seeks to build our communities and our relationships with others? Because food is also about solidarity (and not in the way that Special K thinks, with its Fighting Fat Talk campaign), which makes it an ultimately feminist issue. When we find ways to eat healthily within our communities we can strengthen them in a number of ways. Take the example of my local Community Supported Agriculture Scheme, run by four women (three of whom studied horticulture at the same college I did) who sell their organic vegetables in shares to members within a few miles of their farm, keeping money within the local economy.
This is why we, as women, must stop looking to useless corporations and dubious science to teach us how to ‘do’ food. If nothing else, the culture of dieting is one of misery, shame and boredom and each new dieting program is only looking to make a profit from selling us these things. Instead we must look to each other and immediately around us, to the places we call home.
Let us discover the secret winding lanes that yield the best wild strawberries in the summer months. Let us discover how to plant a seed with love, pat it down into soil and watch it grow and flourish. Let us eat meals with those who are dear to us and savour each mouthful.
Let us figure out food with joy.
Image shows a rhubarb flower. Used with permission of the photographer, Cat.