On Good Friday, my husband and I treated ourselves to the Joycean walk in Glasnevin Cemetery. April is the month for One City, One Book in Dublin. James Joyce’s book “Dubliners” is the chosen text this year, and it’s being honoured by a series of readings, dramatic interpretations, exhibitions and walks.
And what a treat it was! Our guide, Bridget Sheeran wove a tapestry with James Joyce at its centre. His contemporaries Arthur Griffith, John Kelly (appearing as ‘Casey’ in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Francis and Hannah Sheehy Skeffington (Hannah appears in ‘The Dead’ as Molly Ivers), and his parents, John Stanislaus and Mary Jane are all buried here. Bridget offered to include a historical context in our tour,to broaden our understanding of James Joyce’s view of Ireland. We were all delighted. And so, we spent a pleasant two hours under the long shadow of Charles Stewart Parnell, hearing an erudite and passionate introduction to those on all sides who have brought our nation state to where it is today.
On Holy Thursday, Twitter was a-buzz with mentions of people ‘going to Tesco’s’ to stock up with food and drink for Easter. Walking among the graves of those who strove for Irish freedom, the lines of W.B.Yeats’ ‘September 1913’ came to mind.
‘Was it for this….’ ?
Has the T word become the default setting for food and drink shopping in our language? And have we allowed ourselves be taken over by this powerful company which seduces us by ‘convenience’ and repatriates its huge profits abroad while siphoning the life force of small towns all over Ireland?
I had a lightbulb moment in mid February. Queuing for the Stena ferry in Holyhead, returning home after delivering a car-full of my son’s goods and chattels to his new home in East London, I was flanked by a queue of Eddie Stobart trucks.
-Who are these guys? I wondered.
-And what are they bringing to Ireland?
I found out soon enough. They have the contract for Tesco. They were bringing food to Ireland.
Now we all know that Ireland is a net exporter of food. Thanks to our wonderfully warm and rainy climate, grass grows well, hence our dairy and beef production are second to none. Bord Bia plays a blinder taking care of our food export markets. But there are foods we don’t need to import, if we only bothered to grow them ourselves.
Oranges and grapefruits, lemons and limes don’t grow at our latitude. Spices come from the exotic orient. Wine is the gift of the terroir of mainland Europe and beyond. Wye valley asparagus appears every spring (I wish someone grew it here). But to import potatoes, celery, carrots and onions is an economic crime.
Eating apples from 6,000 miles away is insanity when we can grow our own. (Apple Council for Ireland, Anyone?). If Keogh’s can house potatoes so they’re ready for market twelve months a year, why can’t the same be done for Irish apples? In England, they relish the arrival of Worcester Pearmains, Cox’s Pippins and local Braeburns. People get all excited about their favourite variety of apple. Why have we allowed our kids the lunchbox dictatorship of the Pink Lady with its cute label?
It’s Easter Monday today, and we have ourselves a bank holiday
We all awoke to a freshly washed, greener than green country, and it’s going to be raining all day. As they say, you can almost hear the grass grow!
Here’s a few ideas to ‘rent the fetters’ on your ankles and take back some or your own spending power.
- Plant some seeds. Parsley takes a while to germinate but will reward you handsomely all year. Chives, oregano, fennel, thyme and mint grow easily in a window box, planter or spare square metre of soil outside your door. Think about popping along to your local GIY meeting soon to exchange seedlings and ideas.
- Buying a gift for someone? Give them a bay tree or a container full of herbs. They’ll reaping the benefits for the rest of the year, and smiling every time they think of you.
- Make a loaf of bread. Treasure your hands, their dexterity and sensitivity. Enjoy the feeling of kneading the dough, the pleasure of watching it rise, and the joy of sharing it later. Get into the Zone in your own kitchen….kneading bread can be quite meditative and is a great stress-buster. “ Give us this day our daily bread” did not mean deliver it wrapped in plastic from a refrigerated truck.
- Plan to take some of your custom to your local, butcher, fishmonger, vegetable supplier and farmers’ market this week. Talk to these people. They are knowledgeable about their product and passionate too. When you get to know them, they’ll always advise you on the best deals. Many of them run a text –messaging service with a weekly reminder of specials on offer. I’m spoiled for choice and service here in Glasnevin, but you could be too, if you only go looking.
- Curl up with a book. Read What to Eat by Joanna Blythman or The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen. Local bookstores can order these for you and Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway provides a great Irish online service. All that it takes for the multiples to take over our food production is for individuals to do nothing.
Just as the Irish electoral system is based on the Single Transferable Vote (STV), I like to think of my spend on food as consisting of the Single Transferable Euro (STE). I like to minimize the number of people handling the STE from the time it leaves my purse to the time it gets to the grower/producer. In the local shops, the STE has 2 handlers. At the farmer’s market, it has one.
How can we ever be a ‘nation’ when we squander our pennies on foods with more air miles than we’ve had hot dinners? And import foods that we can easily grow ourselves?
This time last year, the media were full of the news that Queen Elizabeth II would be served ‘grass-fed’ beef at the banquet in her honour in Dublin Castle. Many people wondered why the adjective…. after all, isn’t that what we in Ireland eat all the time?
Grown locally, vegetables, poultry and meat contain all the micronutrients of the soil it grew in (or on). Imported, it was bred and grown for transport, storage, for long shelf life. Economies of scale require more pesticides, antibiotics etc. in the large operations. So what if the company has paid for carbon offset against the high petroleum consumption in processing and packaging food? Even if it feeds your body, it fails to nourish your soul.
Here’s a delightful nugget. Have a listen to Ella McSweeney and Aidan Harney of Ballymore Farm as his cattle are let out onto grass for the first time this spring. As he says “ I’m nearly as excited myself”. And so should we all be.
It begins with the small stuff.
Sovereignty, that is.