In her last post Nafsika considers what we’ve discovered about real food and if we are any closer to reaching a definition of what it means in the 21st century.
Over these past few months, we have been discovering food in the city of London, searching for what we call “Real Food”. Our quest has been exciting and has revealed people and places we never knew existed. Places such as the Spitalfields City Farms or farmers markets which offer a colourful and fresh approach to our urban metropolis; people like the street food seller Cristiano or Lucy, the baker who, through their work provide us with delicious, healthy, food options.
And although within this world, all the people involved give their own definitions of what real food really is, one thing which impressed us the most is that those involved in producing, offering and consuming it all have one thing in mind: love and care for real food, no matter how different this idea may be for each person.
For Duncan from Sustain, real food is produced with a concern for the environment, amongst other things, for Lucy from Hardy & Scott it is home cooked food, while for our Cristiano from Tongue ‘n Cheek, well, his work speaks for itself. For all these people involved in these food chains, food is not simply something that satisfies nutritional needs. It becomes a powerful medium to express political views, environmental concerns, ethical values, cultural and religious beliefs and, maybe most importantly, the identities of both the producers and consumers. This amalgamation of motives and identities when choosing food expresses not only the cosmopolitanism and multiculturalization of the diverse character of the city of London, but also the complexity surrounding the producers and consumers of these food systems.
Real food is the fresh mustard greens that come from the Spitalfields City Farm; it is the fillet steak bought from Smithfield market, the honey from the LSE beehive and the ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. All these manifestations of food come together in a magnificent combination of flavours, values, tastes and motives. Real food is all of these things together and each separately.
There are many “recipes” to real food. Ingredients vary, depending on the cook. Some people might use more vegetables from the city farm, some will choose ethically sourced meat while others may prefer honey from the bees they keep on their terrace. Each and every one of us in search of real food knows that the recipe is something unique. Just as in Greek cooking (and most cuisines for that matter) no one spinach pie is exactly the same, as recipes from our mothers or friends adapt and evolve. Choosing phyllo or puff pastry; adding different herbs or spices; using fresh or frozen spinach or maybe incorporating something we read at a foreign cookery book or tasted in another pie - for us for example, a spinach pie is not complete without crumbled feta cheese inside.
This is the beauty of recipes and cooking. Things never stay the same. There is always an evolution in dishes, which expresses the evolution in each culture, the various influences and changes that appear. The idea and the definition of real food will never remain static. As we grow and evolve, choosing for example to add a pinch of nutmeg to the spinach filling, we will try something new and come closer to understanding and embracing real food, like cooking parts of beef we had never tried before or visiting yet another farmers’ market. The quest for Real Food may be endless and this is exactly what makes it even more exciting.
But what brings us back to the beginning is also the most important element: Real food is food prepared with love. Be it a fresh spring salad that you make from scratch, a gnocchi dish for which you only prepared the sauce, a store bought cake for dessert. Yes, we do love to cook and in our ideal world we would be making everything from scratch. However, this is not what matters most. What is most important is for the food you source and prepare to be chosen and served with love and care. When we remain true to our beliefs and respect our body and the people we provide for, everything has a place is our kitchen. Whatever choice we make is our food. And that is the definition of real food.