Food For Thought: The Meaning of Foraging

By Concepta Cassar, published on Litro Magazine‘s website, 23rd May 2015

foraged salad leaves and flowers

No, I should love the city less
Even than this, my thankless lore;
But I desire the wilderness
Or weeded landslips of the shore.

The Alchemist in the City, Gerard Manley Hopkins [1]

It is the end of May, and my kitchen is alive with bubbling decoctions of blossoms as the hawthorn starts to fade and elderflower sprays take its place. The pale blush of oak apples teases in the distance; the inedible galls a cheerful reminder of the bounty to come in the months ahead. The season of abundance is upon us, and, it seems, many kitchens across the country are keen to make the most of the nation’s new­found love for wild food.

My first forays happened in childhood, inadvertently trampling blankets of alium ursinum on walks with my aunt, and being astounded by the pungent smell of garlic that rose up from the woodland floor. I felt as though I had discovered a great secret, and wanted to learn how I might cultivate it for myself. Then I started to learn about the habits of plants, their seasons, their stories, and how to read the land – town or country – by the types of plants that choose to grow there. The outdoors became a movable feast in the truest sense; a series of little treasures to be enjoyed within reach of whence they sprang, or stowed with squirrel­-like jealousy – dried or in jars – for the months ahead.

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Food For Thought: Hazlitt, Malthus and the Tragedy of Food Banks

By Concepta Cassar, published on Litro Magazine‘s website, 6th May 2015

Malthus and Hazlitt
William Hazlitt, right, issued a scathing critique of the ideas of Thomas Malthus, left.

Whatever the outcome of this year’s general election, the most notable legacy of the last coalition government will be the critically under-discussed revival of the nation’s food banks. Despite promises from the Con-Dem government of economic recovery, of increased levels of employment, and an improvement in wages, there was still an 163 per cent increase in the number of people needing to use food banks between 2012/13 and 2013/14, bringing the total up to 913,138 – more than one person in every hundred in the UK – roughly a third of whom were children. [1] The disparity is particularly remarkable considering that it occurs at a time when 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food waste – the equivalent of roughly six meals per household per week – is being created in the UK every year. [2]

Recent reforms to the UK welfare system, said to be designed “to help claimants and their families to become more independent” [3] cheerfully disguise the language of a much older agenda. Making his case for the abolition of the Poor Laws in 1807, Thomas Robert Malthus called for a system that would “throw off the rising generation from that miserable and helpless dependence upon the government and the rich” [4]. In his Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus proposes that population growth naturally exceeds our ability to produce food, and that unchecked population growth (it is suggested, among the poor), is reset and brought down to subsistence levels by “misery, and vice”. [5]

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