The week that was (21 March 2016)

Many years ago now, I wrote my history honours thesis looking at the importance of feeding the national body, comparing France and England and their politics of food and rationing during WWII. I am ever amazed at how much that subject continues to return to me.

Of course traces of the war years remain in France to this day. This trip, I heard much talk of les legumes d’antan (the vegetables of yesteryear). The idea is to encourage people to eat seasonally, which in winter means changing the perception of root vegetables (parsnips, turnips etc) that have been forgotten for more exotic wonders. Their negative reputation is a hangover from times of rationing when that was all there was to eat.  

Over dinner the other night in the Beaujolais I noted a casual encouragement to eat up (or maybe it was drink up) - “Encore un, que les boches n’aurons pas” (have one more, so the Germans won’t have any). It was not said with malice, but rather because that is what their grandmother had said, their mother had said etc.

While there, I was touring the vineyards of some of the oldest, and youngest, proponents of natural wine. It was striking to see the difference in the vineyards treated with chemicals and those that are not (this is nothing on what occurs when actually making the wine, but that’s another story).

What I had not previously considered was that both the fertilisers and pesticides we use in agriculture today are also by-products of the war. The effects of nitrogen on the earth were quickly seen when the degraded trenches and war-torn land restored itself so quickly post-bombing, due to the traces of nitrogen left from the bombs. From there the modern fertiliser was born. Furthermore, chemical warfare (particularly via gas), used both in the trenches and in concentration camps, is said to have paved the way for pesticides used on our crops. Wartime created an industry that then needed to be sustained in times of peace. 

Oh, the tangled webs we weave ...