Friday, July 18, 2008

A little bit of food life

I finished a great book the other night called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. For the record, Barbara and I go way back. I have read everything she has published and I secretly fantasize about what it would be like to have dinner with her, or any number of the characters she has brought to life in my mind. I have conversations with her in my dreams. Her stories of biology, love, family, travel and hardship have soothed me and, at times, enslaved me to the fine pages of her novels. Deliriously inspired by her talents, I have been known to delve into feverish attempts at literary greatness after reading each of her books. She is my hero, in a number of different ways, and I love her writing. So, when I arrived in Jinju to see her latest masterpiece on my sister's desk (in hardcover!) I was, of course, overjoyed and immediately dove into it.

A funny thing happened that same day. I received an email from a friend who, impassioned by reading 100-Mile Diet, has embarked on his own culinary journey of local-food-for-a-year. And whaddaya know, he is sharing his experiences in a blog as well! Check it out at if you are interested. (Colin, I hope you don't mind the plug :) And yes, I noticed that my name is perfectly wedged between loc, tar and ofood in that title.

So I have been pondering food. My culinary adventures in Korea have been rich and exciting. The flavours are so new, interesting and delicate. As soon as I arrived I started noticing the abundance of gardening that takes place in back yards, side yards, court yards, and vacant lots. People use their outdoor spaces to grow food. Food to eat. There are great parks around here, and people take advantage of the outdoor social space. Most houses do not have their own private yard, but most blocks have at least one vacant space full of dirt where plants can be grown. And as June melted into July everything started to grow. From corn, squash and rice to eggplants, peppers and sesame seeds. It's quite beautiful.

As I familiarize myself more and more with the suburban area of Jinju where Christine and Jonathan live, I have discovered that it is more common to see fresh produce for sale on the sidewalks than in grocery stores. Another interesting thing to note, is that fresh grown food here isn't cheap. Going out to eat is quite inexpensive, but food in the grocery store can be pricey. Turns out there is a solid reason behind the discrepancy. Korea pays its farmers very well. Here are some pictures from the farmer's market around the corner from my apartment.

Yes, that is a truck-load of cabbage. Huray for kimchi!

In my life I have been fortunate enough to live in various places where food is produced and consumed locally. Buying fresh grown produce, meats and seafoods is a luxury I have enjoyed and never taken for granted. Through digging a little bit into this local food craze that has begun in North America, the thing that has stood out for me is this - when I am in Canada, enjoying the comforts and familiarity of 'home', I spend very little time really thinking about the background of the food I devour. In most cases I am anxious for the delicacies that I have missed while away, such as aged cheeses, nuts, portabello mushrooms, wasabi, etc. Foods that are exotics and for the most part, imported. But I rarely think about things like, Where does it actually come from? Who grows it? How has it been transported? These are questions I know the answers to in most places I have lived. But not so exactly in Canada. In Canada food comes from gigantic grocery stores with enough selection and variety to intoxicate me into a dizzy consumer-high. I go crazy with creative fantasies about all the cooking I can do with, literally, a world of ingredients. Why have I never stopped to think about the absurdity of that?

So lately I have been thinking more about my food choices. For someone who relishes cooking almost as much as she loves eating, this is important stuff. Lately I find myself daydreaming about a vibrant and healthy future in which I can actually experience growing my own food; savouring the joys of not only cooking it and creating culinary masterpieces to share with friends, but also providing for myself in such a way that actually helps the only home I know, this planet. And I need to find some honest ways of offsetting my embarrassingly large carbon footprint (I spend way too much time in airplanes!). But then I get a slap in the face reality check - Huh? I'm moving to Hong Kong? I'm moving to Hong Kong! What? When? Oh yeah... in 16 days. Ok, Aloni, breathe.... The gardening of my dreams will have to wait a couple years, I guess.

I have just started reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. I am only 25 pages in, and I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in plants (hopefully that's each and every one of you!)

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