I’m honestly torn about today’s issue of the newsletter. People are sharing all sorts of tips about how to cook in a time of crisis, some more paranoid than others, but I really have nothing to add on that front. And yet, this truly is a time of crisis, and somehow we have to get through it.
Personally, my biggest problem has been the choice of words. Social distancing carries exactly the wrong connotation, for me. What is needed is physical distancing. Social support is more important than ever, and there are so many ways to give and to receive without actually being in close physical proximity. Maybe the phrase was chosen initially by people who don’t spend much time being social online, and certainly it is too late to change now, but for what it is worth, we need to be social now more than ever.
I saw a lovely thought from a writer I follow:
I assume that us introverts are going to be coping better with [waves hands] all this than extroverts. Imagine, if you can cope with the horror, a killer virus that can only be kept at bay by constantly making conversation with strangers. Shudder.
And there are a few people with young children who are wondering whether all those wishes to spend more time with their family were maybe misguided.
Overall, in what I laughingly call my career, I’m sure I’ve worked from home for longer than I’ve worked from an office. (Don’t worry, I’m not about to share my top tips for working from home.) That from is important. I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of having a home base from which I have been paid to travel to faraway places, meet interesting people, and talk to them. Working exclusively at home is different. That’s when you need to be able to pick up a phone or some other thing and just have a chat.
As for life here in lockdown land, it honestly hasn’t been that bad. I’ve written a bit about it, here and here, and the most striking thing is that, after a rocky start, the Italians are behaving really well. No panic buying, no stupid last gasp parties, and maybe, just maybe, the exponential tide is turning.
That’s my Letter from Rome. Now for a few of the goodies I’ve found, or had handed to me.
Extraordinary Fungal Masks used by the Indigenous People of North America and Asia was handed to me by my compadre Luigi, and it knocked me sideways. People sought out bracket fungi – those things you see growing out of the side of trees – to use in shamanistic rituals, and many of the fungi they chose are now know to have medicinal properties. The big question: did each culture discover the fungi and incorporate them into their rituals independently, or was there some kind of transfer?
You probably already know that I am something of an enthusiast for chicken; the birds, not the meat (though that can be great too). So I read with delight the story of The Italian Farmer Returning Chickens to the Wild. Massimo Rapella apparently has something in excess of 2100 hens roaming the forest around his home. I just love the fact that the enterprise seemed to just happen, almost by accident.
“Our chickens liked roaming around the nearby woods,” Rapella explains. “So I encouraged them to venture out and lay eggs in the wild.”
A few months later, Rapella saw that the birds looked healthier—with shiny feathers and bright-colored wattles—and that their eggs had a fuller taste.
Not in the least bit surprising, and a nice reminder of my own chicken-keeping days, although I don’t envy him collecting about 1000 eggs a day from the woods.
I hope to go and visit him, once we are allowed to do so.
Long piece in The Guardian about herring in the North Sea and how this tiny part of their total economy (0.1% of the UK’s economy and 0.02% of Germany’s) could sour the Brexit trade negotiations. Seen from the perspective of a herring processing plant on the island of Rügen, near the entrance to the Baltic Sea, any delay in reaching some sort of agreement spells disaster. It’s a telling, nuanced story of not global but regional trade, and how interdependent it all is.
Were it not for the plant at Rügen, a large part of an abundant harvest would go to waste. Many, many places on the coast have depended on the herring as the huge shoals wind their way around the North Sea, and each had its own favoured method of preserving them. Of course, we could go back to having local factories for locally caught fish. They’d be idle much of the year, but hey, we’d have taken back control.
Many pundits are predicting a post-coronoavirus future, using the pandemic to ride their particular hobby-horses. Some have even talked about its impact on the food supply. The only one I consider worth drawing to your attention, not least because it probably won’t go viral and find you that way, is a long and thoughtful article from Chris Smaje.
For whom the bell tolls is a special long post from Chris – “the proud owner of a 25 year-old master’s degree in health planning with a quarter-helping of epidemiology in the mix”. The old confirmation bias is strong in me as ever, but I really do think Chris has some very sensible things to say, not least that the pandemic offers a chance, a very slim chance, to rebuild truly sustainable local agricultures.
Before I go, let me point you to a call for submissions from Gastronomica.
The Gastronomica Editorial Collective is seeking dispatches about food in the time of COVID-19. We seek as many diverse voices as possible, from as many affected, infected places as possible to provide a snapshot in time.
Maybe I should send in my own scribbles.
Take care, stay safe and be social at a distance.
All the best