Yes, We (Could) Have No Bananas

I’ve been a bit of a Peaknic for a long time now.

Working my way up through the Peak Oil Night Terrors (they’re a bit like dreaming of a Zombie Apocalypse, but with Texan Oil Barons and Fake Sheiks hell bent on world domination for private gain. Oh no, wait, that’s a thing) on to Peak Soil, Peak Farmers, Peak Food, Peak Phosphorus, Peak Helium (do you really need floaty balloons and a squeaky voice that much?) to Peak Common Sense.

But Peak Bananas? Nooooooooooo!!!

Last weekend was spoiled by the news that bananas are in trouble. (I checked the date – it wasn’t 1st April.)

Yes, I admit that I was at first intrigued to find that almost every banana we eat in the Western world is descended from one plant at Chatsworth House – a variety named Musa cavendishii after the family name of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire.

And yes, I did wonder for a minute or two (before the memory of my experiment in sweet potato production kicked in) if a triple-skinned polytunnel would be enough to bring forth the first Scottish banana. They need plenty of water, a rich loam soil and well-rotted dung and it’s not like we don’t have the water – though that’s peaking too. [Reality Check #2: maintaining a temperature between 18oC and 30oC may be a bit of a push?]

Like the Gros Michel variety before it, the Cavendish banana is now being decimated by a new strain of the fungus known as Panama Disease or banana wilt. (No jokes about sex education classes, please).

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And though other banana breeds are available, it seems we’ve done that thing we always do and stripped away diversity and difference in the interests of turning a quick buck. Why, oh why, when it comes to the bits of nature we want to eat do we have a one-size-fits-all, any-colour-as-long-as-it’s-yellow approach?

Because it’s hard to make as big a profit if you can’t standardize.

So the nature we don’t try to tame goes off and mutates a gene here and introduces a slight variation there and some of them work and some of them don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s always something that’s going to get through.

Meanwhile, for the trivial things like food, we create vast deserts of monoculture just asking to be decimated by the latest strain of nature doing what it does best.

Wasn’t it Einstein who said insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

 

Midwinter Feast of Light: Reviving the Magical Foods of Imbolc

Not long now! We love the magical celebration of Imbolc and the promise of the season to come.

Gather Victoria

imbolcgather1 Gather’s Midwinter Celebration, 2014

I love the ancient feast days of the pagan calendar. Celebrating the turn of the “great wheel of the year” through the solstices, equinoxes and cross quarter days, these “holy days” are the origin of most of our modern holidays. And no matter what ancestral culture you descend from, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of your beloved holiday foods were once “holy foods”, ritually prepared and consumed to bring fertility, good harvest and prosperity to the land.

imbolcwheeloftheyear

Which is why Jennifer and I are once again busy in the kitchen. We’re preparing to celebrate one the oldest and most magical holy days of the ancient calendar- the upcoming Midwinter Festival of Light. Falling at the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox, it can be dated as far back as the Neolithic when megalithic chambers marked the light of the rising sun on…

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Getting Hygge With It

April may be the cruellest month, but in Scotland, January comes a close second.

From the sadness of a house denuded of Christmas sparkle…

…followed closely by the most depressing day of the year

…boosted by the rapid succession of Storms Adrian, Bathsheba, Crispin and Dorothea (is it just me or are they getting more frequent and intense since the Met Office started to give them names?)…

…we get a brief respite from sorrow for Burns Night only to have happiness snatched away from us when the Tax Man Cometh at the end of the month. Misery, thy name is January.

But not for us, not this year. Because this is the year we discovered Hygge.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah – which apparently is a bit like the noise you make when clearing your throat) is a Danish thing which roughly translates to ‘cosiness’ or ‘the art of creating intimacy’. Simple things made special.

If you haven’t heard of hygge yet (where have you been??), think of the zen of making and enjoying the perfect cup of coffee, warm open fires, blankets and cosy socks and hand knitted jumpers (Sarah Lund-style is optional).

candles-209157_640Think candles. Everywhere – even if they are now bad for our health.

More than anything, think family and friends. Whatever else hygge is, it’s very, very social.

So we hunkered down to survive winter by getting hygge. Board games? Check. Coffee and Swedish Fika? Check. Trip to IKEA for candles (overdraft pre-arranged)? Check. Enough knitwear to clothe a Tartan Army? A mini-library of unread books? A stash of craft materials? Check, check, check.

And it’s been lovely, honest it has.

Except for the vagaries of climate change that brought us Spring in January and hawthorn in leaf and wet, wet, wet but warm, warm, warm days too. A soggy hygge at 120C just doesn’t seem quite so essential and authentic as it would in the bleak midwinter.

Will we do it next year? You bet – though we may need a trip to IKEA to top up on candles.

But… while it’s cosy and snug to settle down to hygge with close friends and family, I do wonder if its settled insularity might stop people reaching out to those who really need to feel safe and warm during the Winter of 2016. (Is the hygge mindset entirely unrelated to today’s decision by the Danish parliament to confiscate asylum seekers’ valuables to pay for their upkeep?).

So my overwhelming feeling from our hygge experience so far is that what the world needs now is to get out more and crack open that cup o’ kindness!

Where’s my quaich?