Words by ANDY MASON and BREANA MACPHERSON-RICE
b: what should we have for dinner?
a: god, i don’t know – it’s so complicated. i feel overwhelmed by so many different ideas about food, i just don’t know where to begin. it’s too hard, let’s just go get drunk?
b: don’t be a goose, we have to eat. what are you worried about?
a: i don’t know where to start, i feel like any choice i make will be wrong in some way. i’m just always alone in the kitchen, alone in the supermarket or wherever and it’s impossible for me to make choices that don’t harm me, or animals, or forests or communities somewhere. it’s easier not to bother.
b: yeah, i can relate to that. i always feel really anxious whenever i’m in a supermarket – i go in with this idea that i can make my purchases align with my values, but it always seems futile, especially on my measly budget.
a: and sometimes it just feels impossible to do the right thing. i’ll be buying stuff to make mum a mothers day breakfast, and she really likes smoked salmon & scrambled eggs on toast, so i’ll go to buy the salmon and eggs and my vegan friends will stare daggers at me or tell me i’m doing something awful. i feel like concerns about where the salmon is from are important, but equally important is doing something nice for my mum, who i don’t see enough and who doesnt often get an opportunity to relax and have her favourite breakfast made for her.
b: yeah, that’s something i’ve always found so confusing. like, i find it really hard to see what i eat as this solely ethical issue where things are either right or wrong – i mean, food is such a social thing, and it’s so tied to identity – really aggressively sometimes, it freaks me out. i’ve spoken to a couple of friends about ‘coming out’ to their family as vegetarian, and their decision usually just becomes part of some greater narrative of their personality. it can be really alienating.
a: absolutely. my vegan friends say a lot of stuff about the awful environmental effects of the meat, dairy and fish industries, and that made me interested in the effects that other agriculture has as well. it turns out that all industrial farming is pretty awful, no matter whether they’re growing tomatoes or beef – it still involves lots of nasty chemicals, fertilisers, land-clearing, erosion and so on. even tofu is grown under these kind of practices!
b: yeah fully, it’s so complex. i think it’s really important to remember that there’s no good reason to assume humans are better than any other species, but at the same time, a blanket rule of not eating animals or animal products won’t fix this systematic discrimination. i think that we need to transition to practises where our other-specied friends are afforded some of the respect they deserve, as beings and not factory-farmed commodities.
a: i think you’ve hit the nail on the head – it should be about respect. i remember going fishing with my grandparents when i was younger – we would hike into the national park near their house, where introduced species like trout were pushing out all of these endangered native fish. grandma taught us how to catch trout, kill and clean them and everything. she would say that it was really important to remember that the fish was alive and conscious like us and to treat it with respect. but taking them for dinner was also a way of respecting the natural ecosystem which was threatened, and restoring an imbalance caused by other people.
b: that makes so much sense. that reminds me of when i was living with friends in nepal – 90 per cent of what we ate came from the fields around our house, and when we rarely did eat meat it was usually goat from the neighbour or the market. i’m not saying it was all completely rosy over there, but that part of it worked – you know where food comes from, it’s a community effort.
a: yeah, i always get angry when people talk about this stuff as if it’s all in the past, as if theres some ladder of progress from garden to supermarket or something. nobody ever told my grandparents! before they got sick, they were both doing something similar – all the houses in their neighbourhood had awesome gardens and everybody would swap veggies, jam, fish, cakes etc with each other. every meal we had there, grandma would say “go out and get me some carrots” or “go out and catch us some fish”.
b: totally, right! i have so many fond memories of going to my nan’s place and picking tomatoes that we would make into relish with her grandmother’s recipe. that knowledge is only a generation away – yet it often feels like we’ve lost it so quickly. so many of my friends freak out and won’t even attempt to grow some basil because they don’t know where to begin. it doesn’t need to be that scary though – it’s really easy to reestablish that connection.
a: and look at our garden – a couple of weekends’ work and we’ve already got beans, basil, coriander, parsley, rocket, chillies, potatoes, passionfruit, cumquats, sweet potato, onions, leeks, beetroot, carrots, spinach, silverbeet, bok choy, eggplant, oranges, limes, lemons, it’ll all be ready within a couple of months… and in spring the chooks will start laying!
b: it’s so exciting! and also really therapeutic – i don’t know about you, but i like the pace that having a garden brings me back to.
a: i feel like it’s been easy since we decided to do it. some people think having a garden would be too much effort, but we both love the work! i guess it depends what you’re looking for.
b: exactly. and it’s not like we try to do everything ourselves, that would be silly. i’m so grateful for the food co-op – thanks to this community of people who put in a little bit of effort every week, heaps of people are able to eat a bunch of fresh, delicious veggies that haven’t travelled very far. also, it’s insane that we get a big box of veggies for the two of us for ten dollars each a week!
a: it makes things so much easier when we have other people to support us, hey. it’s like you said before – food should be a social thing, should be something that brings people together.
b: that’s what makes the difference to me. if i’m eating alone i’m liable to eat cereal or something, but when i’m cooking with you, or with our housemates, we inevitably have a great time and make something that’s nutritionally sound and also bloody delicious. i’m so glad.
a: me too. hey, there’s a bunch of rocket and basil in the garden – want to make pesto?
b: i’d love to.
This was originally published in Germinate 2015 and has since been republished in Tharunka: Food for Thought