July 1 marks the first of 365 days where Oliver will rely on wild and homegrown food with the exception of ten ingredients.
In John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, Lennie asks George “How long is it goin' be till we git that little place to live on the fat of the land?”. They are two depression era dustbowl migrants in America and a central part of the story is the seeming impossibility of their dream. Although in rather more comfortable circumstances, I have also long harboured the fantasy of a largely self-sufficient life. A vegie garden, a few chooks, time to fish, forage and hunt. A lot of people share this aspiration, but have it permanently cordoned off as an occasional hobby because, of course, we live in the real world. In my case, in the city, with a business to run, mortgage and car payments, a child to raise, a wife to share a life with. Along the way, for most of us, just like Lennie and George, it is simply not possible. Somehow, we and the world have decided that we do not have permission.
But along the way, I have acquired a vegie garden, a few chooks, and I have developed the fishing, foraging and hunting skills I would need. And I am at a stage where the truth is that I can make the time; and I can give myself permission while also keeping up the business and financial commitments. For my boy, Luke, it is just what Papa does and my partner, Karen, is right behind me. How long is it going to be George? Not long at all, I’m starting tomorrow – a year of foraging, growing, fishing and hunting for food. All while living in the city.
I do have some exceptions, my Ten Things that I can buy (olive oil, wine, coffee, milk, wheat grains, dry chickpeas, oats, garlic, bananas and sugar (but only for fermenting)). I am not going completely off the grid and this is not some solo self-punishing survivalist challenge. My aim is just to try a simpler life, in a world that is still real, but closer to the natural one – where food comes from. So, where I do have some exceptions, they are those of a fairly rustic life.
In my mind, I picture it like I’m in a village near to which there is a handful of specific farmers with whom I have retained dealings – mostly the grain farmer, the dairy guy, the woman with the olive grove and a garlic crop on the side and a distant friend somewhere who grows coffee and bananas. The vigneron in this hypothetical is a dear favourite of course – in this regard, as with coffee, my justification is, in short, that I am not an animal.
And I am not alone. I intend to maintain an optimistic engagement with my community, which also gives me some rules whereby I can barter my wild and homegrown for other food. For example, continuing to trade my homegrown herbs into my local vegie box group in exchange for things that I do not grow or gather. And I am exempt when travelling, or possibly if very sick (the ‘Ramadan rule’) and unable to forage or get into my garden or stores; not if I’m off for a weekend or have a cold, but say if I’m properly bedridden, overseas or away on a work stint or conference living in a motel and putting in ten hour work days. Also, if I’m out with people, say at a restaurant or invited to their house; although to no greater extent than I will feed guests from my wild and homegrown larder.
There is some fish in the fridge, other wild and homegrown stores in the freezer, my honey in the cupboard, the chooks are back on the lay and there’s a decent stretch of weather on the horizon, so it’s all looking good. It is going to be fun. If you would like to come along for the journey, sign up for updates to the website or follow me on Instagram @fatofthelandandsea.