There are many new shades of green at the moment. I see them in the fields and on the rolling hills.
I even see them in supermarkets.
All kinds of new shades and shapes of leaf grace the illuminated shelves now; where only a few weeks ago, we found bulbous roots, rotund and hard. Much like the winter ground that brought them forth. In contrast, the spring shoots are delicate and tender. Altogether Sweeter in character.
When I first moved here to Tuscany in January last year, I remember being disheartened at the limited range of fresh produce. Where were all the exotic fruits I had been so accustomed to while living in London? Avocado was simply one ingredient of an everyday staple; I never questioned its availability.
And when one week, I spotted a bunch of asparagus priced at €5, I despaired. Was Florence really even more of a rip-off town than London?
It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when suddenly the shelves were covered in at least 5 different species of artichoke and I spotted a similar bunch of asparagus now priced around €2, that something clicked.
Locally sourced and according to availability. This means when asparagus is rare it is expensive, when it is abundant – it is cheap.
I had not realised that the supermarkets did this. Perhaps the sellers at the markets would, but supermarkets?
Supermarkets have always given me the creeps, probably for this exact same reason. Walking through endless, anonymous aisles, as if being transported to a new clinical kind of futuristic allotment. Foods stacked up high, shiny and neatly arranged and wrapped in a plastic sheath. odourless and picture perfect. Each item hiding a secret story, never revealed. Where does this bean come from? Who picked it? Does this person have a family? Are they happy? Is the land used to grow this bean healthy? Or is it the cause of deforestation, drought, floods?
The £ I spend here, who does it go to?
I am always so overwhelmed by the excessive choice, and by what I imagine must be the unavoidable waste. All the while, trying to make ethical and healthy choices.
Arriving in Italy was confusing at first, strolling through huge hangers of neon lighting stocked with weird and wonderful things. “This looks like a supermarket… but it doesn’t have any avocados… What is this place?”
Using Google Translate App to try to understand the ingredients on labels. Needing a ticket to buy cheese (What’s wrong with a nice orderly queue?). The pricing also seemed to be completely random. Things that would be considered luxury goods in UK were cheaper and yet so much else was more expensive. I knew I would have to adapt.
I realised I had little point of reference; the last time I live in a rural area on the continent was in the 1980s. Things must have changed.
Answer: Yes and No.
Seasons have not changed (yet, hang on climate change).
It’s now been over a year here, and I have lived one full cycle of the changing seasons. This 365 degree perspective means I can now recognise this natural evolutionary rhythm. What at first appeared to be a glitch, revealed itself to be merely a reflection of a macrobiotic symbiosis. A concept so obvious and yet so alien to me at the time. While I have always been aware that certain plants ripen at different times of year; I had become so removed from the experience living in England, where all our ‘fresh’ produce is inevitably imported; that the connotation of ‘seasonal’ became redundant. If everything is shipped in from far away lands, then the seasons don’t apply… After all its always Spring somewhere in the world?
Now I am slowly adapting to this earthly process. I find, it is near impossible to plan meals in the same way I used to. Instead I yield to what is on offer. The season dictates the menu – Last week purple cauliflower was on the shelf, alas this week, it is no longer. But instead we have the broccoli Romanesco – you may have come across it too? I can never resist it. It is too beautiful, beholding within its fractals the dreadful answers to the whole universe. It also, will only be available for a short time; so buy it now, I shall.
This whole thing as got me thinking and questioning concepts of health. Over the years I have read, been dictated to, about the health benefits of avocados, turmeric, coconut oil etc…
I have adhered to these ideas and sought organic whenever affordable. And I always appreciated the concept of locally produced, mainly as a way of supporting local farmers. But this new local experience has highlighted something else. A holistic approach to health must include the whole story. Using vegetables to increase our healthy intake of vitamins is great and should be encouraged. But we should think about what is going on around the world, to allow us these privileges.
I recognise that obviously more things grow in Italy than in UK, and thus the UK is dependent on imports to a certain extent. However, technology has changed this too. There are indoor gardens in Antartica, why not in our green and pleasant land?
I feel this is yet another thing that Brexit has highlighted. I understand a whimsical hark back to a time when the British Isle was its own place, and a fisherman could go out on his boat and sell his catch to the local village. But it is pure delusion to believe that the EU has ever prevented this. Everywhere else on the continent, this precious way of life has been fiercely defended and rightly preserved. Our perspective on the EU has always been so warped. As a nation, we seem to imagine it somehow seeks total homogenization of 25 different cultures. A ridiculous notion that it is a faceless corporation dictating to us and controlling our freedoms. Quite the opposite, it is an amazing feat in tolerance and acceptance of everyones differences, celebrating them and whenever possible enabling all countries to benefit from each others achievements.
The EU to me has always represented a gentle guardian, safeguarding our human rights. It is no surprise to me that some key politicians in the UK fought in favour of Brexit. All the more power to them to enforce their personal doctrine on us without the annoying interference from the continent.
Many of our frustrations in our current way of life in the UK are in reality, a reflection of ruthless capitalism. And so is Brexit.
If we continue to seek ‘profit’ at the expense of everything else, then I believe our lives will be much poorer for it. Money is important, of course, and all nations deserve to protect their mutual interests. However, it seems obvious that something is missing. A blue sky is free. Fresh air is free. Birdsong is free. Sunshine is free, even vegetables growing from the ground are free if you can plant them in your back yard.
We forget the true cost of things. A price tag only reflects a few numbers and symbols, it doesn’t tell us everything. We do not know what it will cost us tomorrow to buy cheap avocados today.
Perhaps there is more pleasure in treasuring the elusiveness of transient experiences rather than expecting everything to be there on tap? My daughter has been eagerly awaiting cherry season. When cherry season arrives, there will be joy.