It’s been a long love affair. Having been a chef, then a food critic, my fascination with food has always been more than just an infatuation. But now, ensconced in a farmlet in southern Tasmania, with a house cow to milk and a mob of pigs to feed, I look lunch in the face more than I ever thought I would. This farm life, albeit on a farm that will never be productive enough to make a full-time income, is the fulfilment of a philosophy.
It is my belief that the industrial farm system has taken us so far from the origins of our food that we’ve lost our instinctive connection to the soil. We’ve now adopted the worst of intensive agriculture: the worst sprays, the worst factory farming, the longest storage times and the longest distance for food to travel. It’s time we reconnected to our roots. The industrial food system cares about a lot of things: how fast a crop or animal matures; how far food can be transported in a truck, and how long it can be stored. It doesn’t, however, care about the most important things for us: how pure the food is; how an animal eats, and flavour and texture. We’ve been making food more and more palatable over the past 5000 years of agriculture up until the last century, and yet we’ve spent the last 80 years developing food that isn’t really good for anyone except maybe the ones cashing in.
So I moved to a small holding. I’ve snuggled up in a gorgeous, fertile corner of the Huon Valley, Australia’s southernmost shire, to try and grow my own fruit and vegetables, and rear my own animals. And in the process, I’ve learned a lot about how things live and die at our command. This journey – which was the final step in my lifelong project writing The Real Food Companion – tries to find the reason some food is better than others and has inspired a TV show, Gourmet Farmer. The show, which documented my move to Puggle Farm and my attempts to grow and rear as much of my own food as possible, first aired on SBS in early 2010. It’s now been 30 months of fattening pigs, caring for chooks, planting crops and moving with the pace of the seasons. In that time, my lifestyle has changed somewhat. I now have a small family to share my days on the farm. We’ve also started breeding pigs rather than just fattening them. I’ve fenced more land in, and succeeded and failed spectacularly with the livestock and harvest. Remarkably, the table has groaned under the meals from Puggle Farm’s soil, and this from a complete novice. I feel ecstatically alive, as though I’ve moved home at last. The recipes I will share with you here are, I hope, an expression of that feeling of home.
Photography by Alan Benson
As seen in Feast magazine, Sept 2011, Issue 1. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.