Does it matter where you are, or what season of the year it is?
Given the way global freight and food supplies work, seasonality and locality are not as critical as they have been to previous generations. When it comes to finding adequate nutrition or pleasing our tastebuds, it’s all there for us, pre-prepped and splayed out. All we have to do is purchase, like everyone else.
In most modern cities, on a regular day, almost anything you desire of a material nature can be acquired, no matter where it was made. From online “remote” retail there is arguably even more choice, with a delay for delivery of a mere matter of days.
And so we are divorced from our physical environment, independent of it. If it’s cold outside, we can put on the heating. If it’s hot, the air-conditioning. Brilliant, we’re immune!
But what, if anything, are we missing out on?
For us, the epiphany came when we, a whisky distillery, started to research making a gin. Juniper, which everyone knows is needed to make gin, grows wild on Islay, albeit in small quantities on the extreme edges of where grazing animals cannot reach.
But what we didn’t know was that there were many other edible, aromatic, flavourful plants growing all around us, phasing, marking the year. New birch leaves, a tiny-flowered high-summer bedstraw, meadowsweet from the roadside ditches, heather, bitter wood sage – a relay team of below-the-radar local flavour. They didn’t have the high status juniper had, or the track-record for use in spirits, but in their season, they were each magnificent. Collectively they were completely evocative of the flora here in Islay.
Treating these common plants like herbs, applying some distilling expertise and a bit of engineering improvisation, and we were granted access to a richness and depth – not only of flavour, but of co-creativity, and connection, with the place we call home.
There is something so satisfying in strengthening that connection. It’s the sense of being part of your surroundings, of being a living thing in contact with a living world. Identity is relational, and identifying with a place, belonging to it, can get you right in the core.
In an applied way, when you find edibility, it is meaningful. You have agency, and the environment has function; you can matter to it as a grazing and seed-spreading animal, and it can matter to you as a source of sustenance.