I don't get to do much travelling for pure fun anymore. Most of the time, when I step onto an airplane, at least a part of the agenda is to attend a conference. Not that conferences aren't fun (well, some aren't), but they are most often not held in venues that I'd choose to visit if there were no constraints on destination. I've just come back from Barbados, where I took my family for no other reason than that we felt like going somewhere and we'd never been to the Caribbean.
In a world run amok with climate turmoil, food shortages, political and economic chaos, I have to tell you I awoke each morning with a strange feeling of premonition, as if we were all breaking some kind of rule. And in a way, we were. My family is very far from the dour, fun-spoiling, sour-pussed uber-socially conscious lot that you might imagine from some of the things that I say here. We know how to have fun and we have our guilty pleasures, but we do think and talk every day about the mighty problems confronting the world and how best to at least avoid making them worse. We've seen enough of the world to know exactly how privileged we are. So for us, flying off to a beach with no agenda other than to grab a few days of badly needed rest seemed to just not sit quite right.
When we're away from home, one of the things that we enjoy the most is the chance to experience local food. Unfortunately, in the heavily tourist-laden part of the country where we were staying, the only way we could eat was to choose from any one of the twenty or so restaurants that were within walking distance or to shop at the local supermarket, where we noticed an almost total absence of local foods. I think that the ground crops were from Barbados, but even the fruit came from overseas. The apotheosis of the whole culinary experience for me was when I found myself one morning munching on a bowl of granola that had been made with local fruit which had been dried, shipped to Belgium for packaging and then returned to a Holetown supermarket. It seemed hard to believe that in this tropical paradise where all evidence suggested that almost anything could grow easily, we were filling our bellies with products that came mostly from Europe even when the raw materials might easily be available on site. The little packets of sugar we put in our coffee came from New Jersey. Sugar. In Barbados.
We spent the week away insulating ourselves almost entirely from any kind of media. We did this on purpose as we have all been through a frantically busy winter and felt a need to restore ourselves. So when I finally plugged back into the Internet and caught up on the news, I was interested to see that while I'd been muddling about the cost and place of food from my rented house in Holetown, much of the rest of the world seemed to have been preoccupied with the same thing, but on a vast and urgent scale.
Something has been desperately wrong with how the world has been doing food for the past forty or fifty years, and now it seems the industrial chickens are coming home to roost. After an extended period of revelling in the Death of Distance, the rising costs of energy are now beginning to have the effect of reminding us of the meaning of space and place. Suddenly, it's a big deal that our rice comes (or doesn't come) from Asia. Suddenly, we have this rush of understanding that we don't really know squat about diet, nutrition or health. We've allowed a part of our lives that should be sacred and intimate -- the part where we actually take the products of the biosphere in our hands and place them inside our body -- to be industrialized, filled with science and jargon and rendered into something abstract and modern.
I think that this could be an interesting summer. As food prices spiral, we'll perhaps see more initiatives like this one. I'm curious to see how many new urban vegetable patches appear as we all begin to think more often of our connection to the planet through food. In a way, such acts seem trivially inadequate in the face of the massive starvation taking place across the planet, but such small gestures, multiplied by a few billion of us might be enough to trigger a new green revolution. I, for one, will plant a few seeds this year.