Moss Street Market customers practice physical distancing—and supported local produce growers. (Photo by Ross Crockford)
I’M THINKING OF MY MOTHER on this Sunday morning, while carving the blemishes out of last year’s beets nearing the end of their remarkable storability. The sun is streaming in, early spring flowers drift through the garden, and Michael Enright on the radio is helping me stay calm. Freshly brewed coffee helps too, and so far the expired cream is holding up nicely.
I’m thinking of my mother who grew up in the Netherlands during WWII, when much of the country’s food was forcibly syphoned away by the Nazis. One hundred thousand civilians starved to death during those hardscrabble years, but Mom and her family were not among them. They lived on a farm and stealthily managed to grow enough food to keep themselves and their community alive.
There’s a warm security in rescuing these beets, along with the carrots beginning to sport root hairs, and the shrinking mushrooms and peppers. It’s earthy work that connects me to nature, the wellspring of all life. I’m grateful for the food we have, especially the daily bread of overwintered kale near the back door.
So much has happened in the past month and now we wait anxiously in isolation, blinking in near disbelief. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we were noshing gaily in trendy restaurants and shopping sprightly for the best eats and treats from all over the world? For decades we have been normalizing this—an almost full-scale snub of simple food in favour of highly processed concoctions, of local food for far-away ambrosia hauled to our tables in refrigerated trucks.
Those systems are all being tested now, and the myth of our food security is coming to light. As I write this, grocers are still managing to keep shelves somewhat stocked, but a trip to the store has morphed into a risky exercise even for those who are young and robust. In truth, food has become a precious commodity.
My beets are ready for the oven. Cooking is becoming a thing again, maybe even the slow kind because we’re working with staples and there’s no point in rushing. We’re probably wasting less food now too, just as we seem to be driving more carefully and living more cautiously. It’s all part of the new uncertainty.
On the radio Michael Enright is asking British security and peace expert Paul Rogers if he thinks the world will ever be the same again. Rogers’ reply is quick: “It should never be the same again because we have to learn from this.”
We are learning right now, in our own kitchens, where the complex implications of this protracted situation slowly sink in. We are re-thinking food security and loyalty for local food providers, the protection and preservation of farmland and waterways, and the sprouting of more backyard gardens and gardeners. Vancouver Island has a food-rich history. Self-sufficiency was once a thing here, and could be again if we want it to be.
As for my mother, now 80 years later, she is again safely ensconced on a farm, this time with my sister in Newfoundland.
From grower to table is still a good system. It’s one of the few that we don’t have to change.
Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Saanich-based writer, mother and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).