Since we were moving house and country and already had all of my food books – historical, academic and containing memories and recipes – in storage, I foolishly decided that I would not buy any more food books till we had settled in our new home. Bad decision! But one that was easy to change.
This post is partly about two books I’ve been looking at recently. The first, Food in Wartime Britain, is an academic book written by a friend, Natacha Chevalier, from one of my old universities, the University of Sussex. The book is exceptionally well researched, interesting, and important and uses the Mass Observation Social Research Organization’s data from 1937 to the 50’s. It concerns the food choices and experiences of middle-class British people during the second world war. However, don’t even begin to try to buy it online since her publishers have priced it at an eyewatering $155 ($60.42 as an e-book) to price gouge university libraries. You can get a flavour of it from Google Books.
The second book is the recently published Falastin, by Executive Chef Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. This book is an homage to the food of the Palestinian peoples.
As Google Books notes, Falastin is a soulful tour of Palestinian cookery today with 120 highly cookable recipes embedded in and linked to Sami Tamimi’s personal narrative of the Palestine he grew up in.
Falastin – there’s no “p” in Arabic – is, Wigley says, “Sami’s love letter home.” Tamimi calls it simply: “The book I always wanted to write.” He goes on, “It’s the food I always go back to; it’s my mother’s kind of cooking. The story of Palestine’s food is really the story of its people”, says Tamimi.
As I was thinking about these two books the obvious occurred to me. Both concern people who have had to feed themselves under wartime circumstances, both populations show resilience and determination in working within political situations neither would have chosen, both primarily concern women as the holders of (mainly oral) domestic history, growers of plants, harvesters of seeds, recipes, ingredients, plants, and everything to do with family and food.
And so it was no great leap to make the link between an email that arrived in my inbox promoting gardening as therapy during our recent lockdown under the banner Dig for Victory 2020, and the WWII propaganda campaign Dig for Victory which saw various governments asking their populations to grow their own fruit and vegetables to make up for the lack of imported foodstuffs during and after that war.
Today, though, the enemy is not another nation, it is a virus. Gardeners are encouraged to unite and grow to combat COVID19,
David Robinson, from Dobbies seed suppliers, says in his article Dig for Victory Past and Present, ‘ After 75years, we are still in this together’.
The longer-term implications are yet to be known, he says,
‘The second world war and the slow recovery afterwards created a generation of vegetable growers. Over the years, busier lifestyles; the ease of shopping; the year round availability of fruit and vegetables from all around the world and instantly available fast food at the touch of a keypad have created a generation who are largely detached from the origins of their food. We have seen many new customers buying seeds from us for the very first time. Hopefully, it proves to be more than just wishful thinking that one small silver lining from our current problems will be the creation of a new generation of gardeners who grow and enjoy their own food and pass their new found skills onto the next generation.’
We also see jobless Brits urged to “pick for Britain” as COVID-19 blocks foreign farmworkers. Marketplace tells us,
‘Around 80,000 migrants are usually needed. Most come from continental Europe, and their numbers had been declining since Brexit because many appear to feel unwelcome and the fall in the value of the pound has, anyway, made working in Britain less rewarding financially. Now it is feared that COVID-19 will make matters much worse. Travel restrictions and the physical ravages of the pandemic are expected to drastically reduce the influx of seasonal workers from abroad, with potentially dire consequences.’
I am sorry this post seems to be all about war, fighting and being beleaguered, but really it is about resilience, renewal, how to deal with restrictions and what we can positively do for ourselves and for each other as we try to find a different way of being, exisitng, surviving and blooming – and having some good food along the way.