(all you can’t) Eat
All in a Day’s Walk was a month-long tracktivist walking performance project from 6th Dec 2012 to 6th Jan 2013 in which I lived entirely within the distance I was able to walk away from home (a Herefordshire farm) and back in a day, eating only the food that was grown, processed and obtainable within that distance
Tracktivism is my own term for an activist (environmentalist) performance practice that works in rural landscapes. It uses walking to facilitate talking; walks that are shaped or ‘scored’ aesthetically but also ethically to encourage the resulting conversation with people encountered – usually random meetings with strangers – to meander along similar routes. Wearing the ambiguous (waterproof) smock of an arts practice, it attempts to sneak under the radar of the overtly political, operating as an activism-by-stealth (Allen and Penrhyn Jones 2012). As such, it’s a subtle and understated engagement with politics: more politesse than protest. But, I would argue, a nonetheless useful addition to the activist’s arsenal.
All in a Day’s Walk derived principally from my interest in developing a daily practice of walking from home; a politically-informed walking practice interfaced with domestic routine. John Wylie writes: ‘days are pragmatic units of sorts within long-distance walking; days emerge and are processed as useful, recognisable and recurrent measurants of distance, practice and experience’ (2005: 235). So, what could a day’s (walking) distance in a day’s (walking) time be used to draw attention to, bring into focus, measure or calibrate politically and locally? If our human ‘performance compulsion’ – Baz Kershaw’s term for the fixed patterns of excessive and ecologically destructive behaviours that are not only contributing to climate change, but resulting in a general inability or reluctance to do anything about it (2012: 9) – resides largely in our everyday behaviours, it might be in those everyday behaviours that we find a carnival mirror to reveal or parody our own grotesque ridiculousness. And walking, as Wylie writes again ‘would appear, at least superficially, to have some affinity with the everydayness of being-in-the-world: rhythmic, practical absorption’ (2005: 240).
To walk, we need to eat. (Or, once upon a time, to eat we needed to walk). And both eating and walking are inherently radical. Eating, after all, is how we can first express agency in the world (through the simple act of turning of the mouth towards or away, the first choice we can actively demonstrate in life is to refuse or accept food, as the parents of every baby or young child knows; I was a famously fussy eater) and walking is our principal means of asserting ourselves by moving through space (I was a famously determined toddler). The choices we make about what, when and how much we eat, where we get it from, at what time of year throw up (no pun) many political questions: no self-respecting environmentalist has ever gone to a shop and not struggled with the choice of organic or fair-trade bananas. Or, as Dave Horton writes: ‘discomfort can emerge over something so seemingly trivial as ‘milk’. Faced with a choice of ‘milk’[animal, soya, GM, organic, local]… the activist confronts a choice of identity. There is no one ‘right milk’, and ‘milk’ correspondingly becomes a site around which identities are distinguished and performed’ (2003: 69).
All in a Day’s Walk consequently became about the notion of sustenance – drawing a map with my feet of the area that sustains me nutritionally and facilitating discussion in the process. It was about a slow activism (Wallace Heim’s term for artist-facilitated conversational encounters (2003)) of slow food on foot. As such, the project was designed to draw attention to loss – of the local rural food infrastructure that would once have made it possible for me to eat (for example) the oats, wheat and rapeseed oil grown on the farm where I live (all of which is now shipped outside the county to be processed, some of it, ironically, as far as Manchester). Inevitably, this became a loss legible in my body: at a time of year traditionally associated with feasting and over-indulgence, I was (unavoidably) fasting and underweight, struggling to find enough calories to support my walking to find them.
It did draw attention, also, to connection: between a life practice and a performance/art practice (a genuinely sustainable art practice should include creative responses to sustaining oneself – see mumpets recipe below) and the network that exists between local food activists, producers, growers, farmers and cooks who are genuinely passionate about and committed to restoring a balanced that we will need in a post-peak oil transition culture.
Six months on, and I am preparing to repeat the experience in a different season – from 6th July to 6th August. Summer will present its own, different, challenges (grappling with a storm kettle and cooking on an outdoor fire for example). I am inviting suggestions and contributions for a new or altered performance score through the comments section of my blog homepage. Please feel free to contribute or shape the performance according to your curiosity about local food…
Meanwhile I conclude with mumpets: a recipe derived from desperation in a Herefordshire December…
1 medium beetroot (Merrivale Farm, Aconbury (via Caplor Farm shop): 7.5 miles)
1-2 medium apples (Dragon Orchard, Putley 6.53 miles; or 2 Bramley windfalls Caplor garden 0.001 miles)
2 large eggs (Caplor Farm: 0.01 miles)
2-3 tablespoons honey (Dockhill Well, Brockhampton: 0.79 miles)
dash of cider/perry (Dragon Orchard, Putley: 6.53 miles)
spelt flour to create correct cake mixture type consistency (grain from Doves Farm, Hungerford 73.6 miles yikes, but milled at Yare Farm, 1.9 miles)
Cast iron lidded cooking pot or Dutch oven, lined with baking parchment
1. Peel and grate the beetroot (save the peelings for your eats-anything horse or compost bin)
2. Peel and slice the apple (save peelings for horse who will be doubly delighted)
3. Add eggs and honey and a dash (to taste) of cider; mix well
4. Add enough spelt flour to create a correct cake-mixture type consistency; mix well again
5. Marvel at the beautiful colour
6. Pour into lined pot, add lid and place on top of woodburner at medium-high heat (surface should be no hotter than 200 degrees C)
7. Leave there for at least 20-30 mins or until you smell cooking/slight burning – DO NOT LIFT THE LID BEFORE THEN or all the heat escapes.
8. Your mumpet is ready when the base is not-quite-burned and the top is no longer sticky.
9. Marvel again at your stove-top ingenuity…
Allen, J. and S. Penrhyn Jones (2012) ‘Tilting at Windmills in a changing climate: a performative walking practice and dance-documentary film as an embodied mode of engagement and persuasion.’ RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 17 (2) 209-227
Heim, W. (2003) ‘Slow Activism: Homelands, Love and the Lightbulb’ in B. Szerszynski, W. Heim and C. Waterton (eds.) Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance Oxford: Blackwell 183-202
Horton, D. (2003) ‘Green Distinctions: the Performance of Identity Among Environmental Activists’ in B. Szerszynski, W. Heim and C. Waterton (eds.) Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance Oxford: Blackwell 63-77
Kershaw, B. (2012) ‘‘This is the Way the World Ends, Not…?’ On Performance Compulsion and Climate Change’ Performance Research 17 (4) 5-17
Wylie, J. (2005) ‘A Single Day’s Walking: Narrating Self and Landscape on the South West Coast Path’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 30, 234–247