By Kel Fox
I have always been a believer in whole food, made from scratch. I was raised on homemade biscuits and cakes, fresh-baked bread and evenings observing Mum in the kitchen making dinner with fresh vegetables and pantry staples that did not include packet cake mixes or jars of pre-made sauce. My brother and I had our own, sporadically-tended veggie patches where we were free to experiment. I planted my carrots and celery too close together so the celery quickly outgrew the carrots and deprived them of light while my brother proved adept at growing chillies, which was amusing as he didn’t like spicy food. But supplying the kitchen wasn’t the point, although Mum probably would have been glad of something useful. I think the point was we learned to appreciate and respect where our food comes from, and what it takes to get it to the table. Or maybe the point was simply to get us out of the house and making a mess somewhere els
As an adult, I delved into raw food and more plant-based diets. I wasn’t vegan, because I never gave up honey and I didn’t throw away my leather boots, but I chose not to eat any other animal products for some time. I dehydrated kale chips and broccoli coated in tahini, enjoyed kelp noodles and made raw ‘bread’ with almond pulp leftover from my nut milk. I ate things I’d never eaten before, or never prepared that way, with varying success: raw fruit mince pies were delicious, raw sweet potato tart will not be a repeat experience. Raw lasagne was good but it took three of us four hours and quite a bit of wine to prepare it (arguably, it might have been quicker with less wine). Although the original point was to eat more healthily, what I learned was that food and its preparation is deeply rooted in culture, perhaps more even than in biochemistry, and that all good food, from any diet or lifestyle, has something in common: it all takes time. Quite a lot of it. And if quality is important, it isn’t cheap either.
I bring this up because in today’s fast-paced society, the lines between ‘quick service’ and ‘full service’ restaurants have blurred. Many restaurants provide an appearance of full service, but aim to turn tables over so quickly people become accustomed to rapid meal delivery and shortened eating times. The time we allow ourselves to prepare our own food is cut down by long working hours and busy lifestyles where fitness, children, social lives and getting ahead all vie for our precious minutes. I’m not suggesting that none of those things are important – looking after yourself, your friends and your children if you have them are among the most important things you can do. But in the wake of an era of ‘chicken tonight’, ‘lean cuisine’ and the like promoting this idea of fast, healthy (hint: fast and healthy rarely go together) food, it is easy to see how the importance of food has been diminished. The slow food movement and growing awareness of balanced, whole-food diets is hopefully starting to reverse our loss of food culture. Part of what we encourage at Swan Valley Café is for you to take time with your meal: enjoy sitting quietly or talking with friends while we prepare healthy dishes for you. Build an appetite while waiting. Savour the tastes and eat slowly. Share the experience of eating with people you love and be fully present while you do.
I’d like to propose a model of food as it pertains to our lifestyles, a triad, with three important elements: the content, the cooking and the culture. Together, these three amount to the curation of your food – what you choose to eat, how you eat it in terms of preparation and how you organise food into your lifestyle and cultural identity. The cost associated with each goes as follows: the selection of content incurs financial cost. The cooking (I’m including raw preparation in ‘cooking’) process takes time. The cultural aspects have an impact on social lifestyle. These areas will all require some compromise as we each figure out what our ideal diet habits are, so over the next few posts I’ll dig into them and point out why Swan Valley Café takes food so seriously. I might even draw a diagram! In the meantime, come into the café with good company or a good book and take your time relaxing in our garden setting while you wait for your lovingly-prepared order! 😊