Food has been on my mind lately. (This is not unusual).
I love food. I love the colour and smell and taste of it. I love how tactile its preparation is and I like eating with my hands too. Food is one of the simplest human necessities that is also one of the finest pleasures, and you can do it three times a day. Sitting around a table to a meal can bring us together and it can nourish us. Of course food can also divide us, make us miserable and destroy us.
There’s little wonder, then, that food slips into fiction a lot. It certainly features heavily in my own writing
In The Night Rainbow, food is central to Pea because she’s having to source a lot of it for herself. She picks ripe peaches straight off the trees, waits for the morning baguettes to be delivered by the breadlady, and is very happy to take the biscuits that Claude offers. Her mouth waters at the pans of paella at the market and she tries to improve her mother’s mood by preparing food for her.
Food is also prominent in my next novel, although in a very different way, and I often use food as a metaphor in my flash fiction. Here are a couple of examples up at Fictionaut:
Here is tonight’s supper, cooked and photographed by Mr King:
Since we moved here to France, our relationship with food has changed, and I was recently asked to write a magazine feature about our experience – the way we shop, prepare and eat French food. This week a photographer was sent over to shoot pictures of me with the family, as we took our weekly trip to the market, made meals and ate together. It’s was quite a surreal experience, and a very tiring day, but at the end of it, seeing how we eat through the eyes of someone else made me appreciate more than ever just how fortunate we are.
Here is a picture my husband snapped of me in the kitchen between shoots, wondering what to make for lunch:
And here is the photographer, Tom Parker, in our very shabby kitchen, taking photos of our pickles and preserves! You can bet when his photos turn up in the magazine feature it will all look very French and glamorous. (UPDATE: And here they are!)
But food isn’t really glamorous at all, is it? Certainly around here, the people who produce it work extremely hard for very little pay. If anything, the attitude we tend to have in our family towards food is one of gratitude and respect. Gratitude because we have such good and plentiful food, and respect in terms of our understanding of how it is produced and limiting waste.
This summer we crossed the Pyrenees over into Spanish Catalunya. We stayed at a lovely gîte there, owned by a family who have a few arable fields nearby, plus a farm with fruit, vegetables, chickens and pigs. They also have a Michelin starred restaurant. The farm is called Tancant cercles, which means closing circles, and their philosophy is that they produce the food they serve in their restaurant from start to finish, including growing the grain for their livestock. The owners were happy for us to take our children to have a look around the farm. There they showed us the harvested grain in the hoppers, which they feed to their pigs, they showed us the vegetables they grow and the free range chickens, and let the children go in and collect eggs. They showed us the pigs out and about, and the pregnant sows and those suckling the new litters. Then the owner took us and showed us the fridges, where they hang the pigs which have come back from the abattoir, the sausage and ham making processes and the cuts of meat, ready to be sold, or to be used in their restaurant. Later, we ate in the restaurant, and our children could point out pretty much everything on their plates and how they had seen it at the farm.
I know that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do feel strongly that when many children and adults don’t have a clear understanding of how the food gets to their plates, seeing the end to end process is an important part of having respect for the food you eat. My children are still young, but they can now make the link between the piglets they petted and the ham they ate. As they grow up, I hope that they can keep that in mind, and never justify eating food produced in a way that they would not be happy to witness for themselves.
If you are ever in the area, the hotel/restaurant is Els Casals and the gîte (which sleeps 14) is La Rovira. They are all within a few minutes of each other, not far from Berga in Northern Spain (Catalunya, about an hour North of Barcelona).
Also, I’m thinking that maybe next year I might run a little writers retreat there, so let me know if you’re interested.