The week that was (14 July 2016)

Sustainable, an American documentary, debuted in Sydney last night. While some of the terrors of the modern food system were included in the film (the infographic illustrating the path the Mississippi takes through farm land, collecting nitrates via the run-off, before dumping them in the Gulf of Mexico - that “dead zone” we regularly see on the news - was particularly terrifying) but there was also so much happy in this film.
 
The story followed the work of Marty Travis who bought back his family farm 16 years ago (he is the seventh generation to farm it) and set about revitalising the soil, re-connecting the farm to the restaurants he supplies and eventually re-building the local community (creating a co-op to educate on sustainable farming and then to on-sell the produce). He is an astounding man.

Concepts I want to know more about (piqued by the film): the role of trees and livestock on carbon sequestration; the impact of tilling on water retention in soils; landrace as a population of genetic diversity (as opposed to a breed of pig!); how we reintegrate agri and culture; swapping chemistry for biology; placing regenerative agriculture before sustainable agriculture; and finally, the ways nature swoops in to transform the earth before we have realised the problem, looking at both the immune system of plants (why insects will attack one plant, leaving the others around it intact) and the type of weeds that will grow first to regenerate, often suggesting what the land needs before we know. 
 
- Much is said of the wines made at the base of Mt Etna in Sicily (Med #3). There was a nice little article in the NY Times looking at the renewed viticultural interest in the area and, due to the last point above, I particularly liked this: “It’s hard to visit without encountering evidence of past eruptions. Turn a corner and you may see an entire field of brown lava rock, bare except for yellow genestra flowers, or broom, the first plants to grow back. Genestra indicates a relatively recent eruption. With time, pine trees will begin to take hold. It’s all part of the process that, over many years, breaks down hard rock into the soils in which so much life thrives.” The circle of life. 

- And with that, I'm going to come full circle too. In the introduction to her first book, A Book of Mediterranean Food, Elizabeth David defined what it was to eat in the Mediterranean. It was 1950. Rationing was still in place in England. And yet, they published her book - her writing is so evocative and so beautiful - they considered the dream to be as relevant as the recipes. If you have't been you will want to go, if you have, this will transport you back. 
 
“The cooking of the Mediterranean shores, endowed with all the natural resources, the colour and flavour of the South, is a blend of tradition and brilliant improvisation. The Latin genius flashes from the kitchen pans …
 
From Gibraltar to the Bosphorous, down the Rhone Valley, through the great seaports of Marseilles, Barcelona, and Genoa, across to Tunis and Alexandria, embracing all the Mediterranean islands, Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia, Crete, the Cyclades, Cyprus (where the Byzantine influence starts to be felt), to the mainland of Greece and the much disputed territories of Syria, the Lebanon, Constantinople and Smyrna stretches the influence of Mediterranean cooking, conditioned naturally by variations in climate and soil and the relative industry or indolence of the inhabitants.
 
The ever recurring themes in the food throughout these countries are the oil, the saffron, the garlic, the pungent local wines; the aromatic perfume of rosemary, wild marjoram and basil drying in the kitchens; the brilliance of the market stalls piled high with pimentos, aubergines, tomatoes, olives, melons, figs and limes; the great heaps of shiny fish, silver, vermilion or tiger-striped and those long needled fish whose bones so mysteriously turn green ...” 

She goes on, there's cheese, there's butchery, there are spices. If you don't own it, you should.