Until recently, we were all foragers and hunter-gatherers. Then we settled down, we farmed and we industrialised the processes of food production. Curiosity guided us to new tastes and techniques and paved the way to our diversity of food culture. While much of the globe barely gets enough to sustain itself, the developed world is overfed from the mass produced excesses of fast food and supermarkets. Yet, we still want more variety and enjoyment.
In first world economies we eat conveniently: strawberries in summer, pumpkins in winter, Scottish salmon all year round. We eat globally: Peking duck in New York, Kobe Beef in London, Waitrose pies in Hong Kong. We eat at the expense of a nature overstretched by modern methods of agriculture, production and distribution shaped by our demanding taste. Now, nature is turning back and shouting: enough! We have to change food. Or food will change us.
And changing we are. A new era has begun where we are contemplating a transition from industrialised farming to boutique, small scale agriculture, even all the way to foraging. Organic, ethical, homegrown and sustainable foods are now part of the mainstream diet in North America and most parts of Europe. Due to this change, food has developed a more complex identity; now instead of a brand name, a food item may come with a farm name, method of production, a certificate, or even a footprint rating in kilometres. If not labelled, this detailed information will be passed to you verbally, via a stallholder in a market or the chef in a restaurant.
Of all these labels and descriptions, the best food items are those that don’t need one. In an ideal world, food is grown in your back garden or in a community field nearby, just as it used to be done. We’re far from that now, though chefs around the world are spearheading this home growing movement at their own restaurants. Alfonso Laccarino of Don Alfonso 1890, for instance, supplies food from eight hectares of craggy farmland next to his restaurant in on the island of Capri, and has been doing so according to zero kilometre and organic standards long before ‘hyper-local sourcing’ was ever talked about.