Living la Vida Locale: a III Part series
PART III – Truths Abound in Philosophy of Food
March 12 in Melbourne, the weekend of Masterchefs and food markets and all things wonderful surrounding and involving food that is to be the Food and Wine Festival of the year 2011. With my stomach full to the brim from a week of gluttonous devouring however, I choose to sit quietly at a corner of Gill’s Diner and read the Saturday paper.
I flip to the Life and Style section, trying to break away from the heart-wrenching news of Japan’s tsunami for a second, and see Danielle White’s article on the philosophy of food. Interestingly enough, the article was to a large extent about Epicurus, my hero. We currently use the term “epicurean” to describe someone who has a knowledgeable enjoyment of sensory pleasures, especially good food and drinking. However, accordingly Danielle White, this conceals a much greater significance, since the word “epicure” in fact comes from the name of a third century BC Greek philosopher, “Epikouros” (Epicurus).
Born in 341BC on the island of Samos, an Athenian colony, Epicurus moved to Athens at 20 and at 35 set up a school of philosophy known as the Garden. There surrounded by his students and disciples – The Garden was the first of the ancient Greek philosophical schools to admit women and slaves as a rules rather than an exception – the Epicurus pondered the principles for how one could best live one’s life. A motto thought to have been inscribed upon the gate into the Garden read, “Dear Guest, here you will do well to tarry, here our highest good is pleasure”, and because of his radical ways, Epicurus was largely discredited undeservedly as a “pig and a sex maniac” during his time. But this is in fact a grave misinterpretation of the Epicurean doctrine.
Epicurus’s fundamental idea was that happiness in its highest form could be attained through modest, simple pleasures such as living a self-sufficient life surrounded by authentic, trustworthy, affectionate friends; eating self-grown food; studying philosophy; eschewing politics and living a virtuous and temperate life in order to achieve a state of robust tranquility and freedom from fear and an absence of mental and physical pain.
This prompts the question – so in fact this whole locavorism, LOHAS, sustainably living, farmers’ market thing had in fact been around even before Christ was born? Then why do we only learn about this NOW? When nuclear power plants are breaking down everywhere? Are we too late for change?
I would like to believe not. Coming back to Hong Kong the first thing I read on Monday’s morning paper was about Providence Family Farm, a farm which has been in the making since 2006 and covers 76 hectares of land in Jiangxi Province, about a day’s drive away from Hong Kong. The farm is headed by Dr. Andrew Lam, a retired biologist who has spent the past few years learning about natural farming in the US, India and mainland China, and Ada Lui, who has been a researcher in plant ecology for the past 14 years.
At Providence Family Farm, pests are never exterminated but diverted by growing different species of plants next to each other to distract their sense of smell. Young geese are also good helpers when released into a harvested vegetable garden – they eat up the leftover stalks to clear the field while their excretion act as a good fertilizer.
And that’s not all. What’s most amazing about this is the fact that Providence Family Farm in fact gives back 51% of their profit to the farmers in terms of fair pay and donations to the villages for building libraries, medical facilities and roads. All this, plus of course the seasonal, beautiful organic vegetables delivered to your doorstep for a mere $390 (3/4kg) for a small basket or $470 (7/8kg) for a large basket.
Nature has spoken. It is time to stop over consumption and return to the slow life. Perhaps the best way to start would be to turn on the stove in our kitchen for once and whip up a simple dish of organic vegetables?
The inscription on Epicurus’s garden gate is thought to have concluded, “The garden does not whet your appetite; but quenches it. Nor does it make you thirstier with every drink; it slakes the thirst with a natural cure – a cure that requires no fee. It is with this type of pleasure that I have grown old.”