My interest in the politics of food started years ago more than a decade ago at a backyard talk by Sandor Ellis about fermentation. I read all of the books I could find–The Ethics Of What We Eat. The history of the pineapple. Macrobiotics. The Zen of Fish and The Secret Life of Lobsters. Some Buddhist cooking philosophy. Wendel Berry. The Secret Four Fish by Paul Greenberg. What To Eat by Marion Nestle. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellis Katz. Griffith Review 27 Food Chain. Unmentionable Cuisine by Calvin W.Schwabe, The Mushroom Cultivator by Paul Stamens and JS Chilton, Consumed:Food For A Finite Planet by the amazing Sarah Elton. The End of Plenty by Joel. K Bourne Jnr.
Family shaped my interest in food. When my Dad said, “I never ‘ad an orange til I were 21”, I thought he was taking the mick but her Mum says it’s true. My parents grew up in postwar London where food was scarce; they ate horse meat sandwiches and grew horseradish in an allotment. I myself grew up in Western Australia in the land of plenty. HP Sauce. Sunday roasts. Dripping on bread. Bubble and Squeak. Christmas in July. Yorkshire puddings.
The first mention I ever heard of congee was from Mum, a no-nonsense dietician who taught me the maxim ‘everything in moderation’ and the phrase ‘good fats’. These days my parents are retired and spend their days making cheese and marveling at how well the curry leaves and pawpaws are growing.
I once trained as a cook at Tofu Shop International, a family business that manufactures tofu on site. Malcolm, the father, is trained in Japanese cooking and given to screaming ‘What’s the f**king point!’ ‘Where’s the f**king five spice?’ before disappearing into the alleyway to practice Chinese pole forms. He is the tofu maker in a separate area of the kitchen but would occasionally appear beside me at the workbench to demonstrate the macrobiotic way to prepare a tomato before wandering into the office to play Ian Moss on YouTube. Louie, the son, is trained in Italian cooking, skateboarding, sarcasm and home-brewing. Louie was an excellent teacher who I could always rely on to talk to about pickles.