I’m very proud of myself: I spent the evening chopping, pounding, and mashing cabbage mixed with salt and whey into glass jars so that they can rot for a few days and turn into that super-nutritious wonder-food known as sauerkraut.
Not only that, but the whey I used I made myself just a few days before that, along with some delicious cream cheese (now all eaten). Ohh, and I’m getting déjà vu as I write this, always a good sign.
Yes! 2010 is the year of the Healthy Chaos Heathen! I have several goals for this year, but one is to make good on my Substitute Living rant from last year. I have this vision of Heathenry as being a movement which incorporates traditional food, organic farming, and a rejection of industrialised agriculture with all its iniquities, environmental destruction, capitalist greed, and shocking malnourishment.
But you know what they say: be the change you want to see. So there I was, bits of juice-flecked cabbage flying up around my mallet, as I joyously got to work.
I feel more and more strongly all the time that Heathenry really needs to get its sleeves up and get serious about nutrition. If we abandon the miserably conveyor belt diets that cause heart disease, cancer, and diabetes then we’ll be well on the way to demonstrating why faith in old ways is a winner: we’ll be the healthiest, happiest – and maybe even most attractive – fringe group of weirdos around!
I made a lot of sauerkraut and I spent about an hour working away, doing the simple, repetitive, hypnotic tasks that were involved. There is a real magic in preparing one’s food from the ground up, especially when fermentation – which unlocks incredible nutritive powers in food – is involved. I wandered into various gentle trance states, connecting deeply with my simple sense of lived, embodied being.
Next week when I get a chance I’m going to hit a local farmers’ market (not literally) and see what lovely organic treats I can lay my hands on; and soon I’m going to be creating all kinds of delicious, nutritious foods. It is easy to dream up the notion that its too hard or I haven’t got the time or whatever, but I suspect that the better we eat, the more energy we have, and the more energy we have, the less convincing these excuses will seem.
So here are some proposals for what Heathenry applied to food would look like:
A rejection of refined flour and refined sugar, surely the two biggest enemies of good health that there are;
A rejection of the (now debunked scientifically anyway) crazy idea that fats are bad and that food made from synthetic chemicals such as margarine is better than the natural foods that humanity has been thriving on for millennia;
A celebration of localised food production, the idea that you get to meet the person who makes the ingredients for your meal, that food buying is more than just the anonymous and mechanised task of collecting plastic-wrapped, sorry looking morsels from the sickly-lit supermarket shelf;
A celebration of slow food, taking time to treat one’s body right. As I say, I suspect that the more time one expends on such worthy endeavours, the more time one ultimately gets back in good spirits and energy;
A recovery ultimately of the social essence of cooking and eating, rather than miring ourselves in TV dinners and fast food gorging.
I’m dead serious, Heathenry has to be about our bellies first and foremost. I don’t care what else you believe, say, or do. If you aren’t serious about reconnecting to traditional, genuinely nutritious food, then I strongly question whether you are actually serious about Heathenry.
Hey, we don’t all have to be perfect, or build our personal gustatory Rome in a day! Just taking small, methodical steps is enough. Having the courage to question and experiment.
Of course, this process isn’t necessarily easy, mostly because of our brains. Even after I read the research showing that the “fat is bad” hypothesis pretty much never had any sound empirical basis (except for those deadly synthetic trans fats that you get in the margarine that was supposed to “save” us from butter), well, I still struggled to free myself from the spell. It has been beaten into us all so thoroughly, this vile propaganda.
But folks, eating a lot of fat doesn’t mean overeating. A diet can be low in calories and high in nutrients, and part of that is all those lovely fat-soluble nutrients like Vitamin A, and Vitamin D, and all that. I read somewhere that body fat is so essential that when we starve our body will break down brain tissue to survive on rather than touch certain types of fat stores.
One of the bad things about fridges (apart from the greenhouse gases) is that we stopped doing all the food fermentation tricks we used to use all the time to preserve food, not realising that those tricks serve to make the food easier to digest and more nutrient-dense. But now, in this best of both worlds scenario, I can leap headlong into my fermentation and use my fridge to make my efforts easier and more efficient. No one said you have to do this whole food renaissance thing the hard way, just the right way.
Anyway, these are issues that need more than my rapid-fire, scattergun opinions in order to be compelling. I strongly, strongly recommend that everyone who reads this buy copies of In Defense of Food and Nourishing Traditions. These two books will set you unerringly on the right path. Michael Pollan and Sally Fallon are absolutely honorary Heathens for their efforts to open the minds and bellies of our jaded 21st century culture.
Anyway, I have some beans on slow simmer I need to check, and some big tall jars of sauerkraut-to-be to marvel at (all it takes is time to ferment, how brilliant is that?). Have a joyous and maybe even inventively healthy new year, and – go on! Take the Elhaz Ablaze Traditional Food Challenge! Sure beats dressing up in ye olde clothes or giving yourself stupid, grandiose Old Norse titles!