By: Audrey Brinkers, Campus Garden Coordination Intern
David Sutton, a professor of anthropology at Southern Illinois University, spoke to my class about food culture on a small island in Greece, discussing the way the people of the island use food as a means of remembering. Sutton showed us a video he had taken of a boisterous woman demonstrating how to cook octopus, and while her booming voice filled my ears, my eyes were fixated on the motions of her hands. This woman sliced the octopus while it was in her hand, attacking it gracefully into long, slender shreds. She peeled a tomato while cupping it in her palm, slicing off chunks for the meal. The fish and other vegetables she cut similarly–in the midst of her busy kitchen, no cutting board was in sight.
Sutton brought this to the attention of the class, and while we might have just dismissed it as something interesting and novel, he drew our focus to its significance–she cut like this, with her body facing out, in order to socialize. The whole time she was prepping and cutting, she faced the camera, her face showing no distraction by the giant knife in her hand. Her presentation was natural, gregarious, and it looked as if she could go on for ages.
This woman has the right idea. We cook, we eat, we live, all blindly focused on one thing. We cook with our eyes turned to the cutting board, we eat with our mouths turned to the plate. “Cooking is social,” Sutton said, and I agree. But I would like to take this further–food is social, and this can be applied not just to how it is prepared or consumed, but to how it is grown.
The way we grow our food has slowly become less focused on a community–large monocrops separate neighboring farms for miles, and even folks ready to grow their own food keep to their own backyard gardens or potted plants. But gardens (and food!) are for sharing, and this is something I’m trying to keep in mind as I coordinate volunteers at our lovely campus garden–this garden isn’t simply about production, or about having a few knowledgeable growers toiling away in the soil. It’s about getting people out to the garden who haven’t gardened before; it’s for talking about food, and school, and the weather. It’s about socializing. So instead of simply turning to the dirt, it’s important to remember to turn our faces up and out, to chat and to laugh, and to acknowledge the community surrounding us. This might mean more crooked rows and a few pulled plants, but I think it will be worth it.