‘Foods and the meals we make of them are our clocks. They are our faithful calendars. In a real sense, they are the time of our life.’
This morning I drank coffee with my beloved. Then there was breakfast. At midday, or thereabouts, I’ll eat lunch and tonight I’ll make dinner for my family. In between there’ll be breaks for tea — morning and afternoon — and then, perhaps, a late night dalliance with cheese. From day to day what I consume changes, but the rhythm never does. Food sets the hours of my life.
As a city dweller, my daily life is far removed from the agricultural rhythms of the earth. Regardless, they’re as persistent as my own eating patterns. Indeed, for great swathes of people across the earth, the cycles of food production set calendars and determine lives.
My grandfather was a wheat farmer in the Mallee of northern Victoria. Without the machinery of modern farming, he used horses to pull ploughs and prepare the ground for seed. It was this back-breaking task that determined his life in the late autumn each year. With minimal rain, timing was crucial as was the constant observation of weather patterns and seasonal changes. All being well, the harvesting took place in the heat of summer. Before his death, my dad recalled Christmas dinner eaten under the shade of a tree in a paddock while the work continued. The harvest couldn’t wait.
The rhythms of food production exercise a power that’s impossible to resist. Though modern agricultural practices have radically altered the farmer’s work, still the pace of life is beyond human control. It’s a pace set by the earth itself. What’s more, the unpredictable impacts of fire, flood, drought and plague are a constant reminder of the earth’s volatility. Food is time and unforgiving.
My grandfather was not a church-going man, but ‘God fearing’ no less. I suspect that being so persistently reminded of one’s dependence and of the volatile rhythms of food that are beyond our control, the possibility of God is more pressing.
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When your grandfather worked the land, he was close to it, observing it, feeling it. The modern ‘productivist’ farmer can sit in his air-conditioned massive cabin metres above the land accomplishing in a day what took the ancestors weeks. Every year, more paddock trees are lost, more conserved vegetation is lost as machines get bigger and farmers get further from the earth. The earth is laser-levelled and uniformed so that it can hold up the monocultural crop while it is artificially watered and fertilised.
I speak of the worst excesses of modern ag. Many farmers good and true love their soil and the rural community it supports. Look up ‘post-productivism’ in Google.
I suspect, then Geoff, that even farmers can become disconnected from the times and rhythms of the earth. Perhaps the choices to remain engaged with the earth and with our sources of food is as much a challenge in the rural context as it is in the urban. Thanks for your comment.