Monday, 6 September 2010

Will Work for Food

The kitchen window

I've been conquering the pile of fruits I collected from Lord and Lady's garden (plums) and public parks (crabapples) as well as from my own greenhouse (tomatoes). I'm processing them into preserves and sauces.

While waiting for some plums to stew, I happened to read an interesting passage in Temple Grandin's book Animals Make Us Human (p282). It pertains to the enrichment of captive animals' environments in zoos:

"They are not pets or farm animals; they're wild animals and they're built to go out and find food. Many, many studies have found that captive animals will choose to work for food instead of just having it handed to them. Wild animals don't want a free lunch.

The reason they like working for food is that it feels good. That's because in all of the studies 'working' actually means SEEKING. The animal has to forage...or manipulate a puzzle...They let the animal hunt.

Another great thing about using food as enrichment is that animals never get bored with food. Animals habituate very quickly to everything else, but they stay interested in food and will work for it even when they are not hungry."

I think this behavioural assessment applies to people as well. Anyone reading this who grows their own vegetables, forages for mushrooms, goes fishing or hunts does so because it enriches his or her life somehow. It may explain why someone goes to the trouble of preserving found fruits instead of just buying a pot at the grocery store.

Personally, I derive pleasure and contentment from the act of harvesting the food (even when I'm not hungry) and from preserving it. So far this week I've made 4 apple cakes, 11 jars of jelly, and two family-sized servings of plum sauce (excellent with venison). The happiness was in the labor.

And what's more appropriate for Labor Day?


  1. Just had to go and buy jam jars!!!!! That is a first!!

  2. Colette - URGH! I have lots and you're welcome to as many as you need. Want me to drop some by or are you stocked up now? Do you want cooking apples?

  3. I agree. I love "finding" food and then canning it.

  4. There's something about the food being clean and pure too. You know exactly where it came from. And to actually create food, to grow it, is self sustaining. Everyone wants that.

  5. Funny you should post this. This Labor Day weekend was spent in the country with my husband's sister's family, and because they live on the coast and they had lousy weather, and because this is the first time in eighteen years she's worked full time instead of part time, their garden was pretty much a bust. So I brought a bunch of veg, per her request. It felt really good to be able to finally contribute something that was produced by the sweat of my own brow for a change. I've brought farmers market produce down before, but never my own, and I have to admit that it felt pretty darn good.....

  6. There is certainly something very pleasurable to preserving. I get such a kick out of seeing all the jams, jellies, marmalades lining my cupboard. So it makes sense that things are going to taste better when you have 'worked' for it.

  7. Indeed. My husband once remarked that he was glad I had "so much fun gardening." It stopped me mid-stride. Gardening is not fun for me, though I wouldn't say it's unpleasant either. Mostly I would describe it as feeling *right*. Deeply satisfying, even. I'm not sure I would have understood the distinction before seriously plunging into food production. "Fun" now seems both too frivolous, and too exciting for what I do. But I'm going to keep doing it anyway. Right is enough.

  8. Bingo. That's exactly it.

    We were just talking about this at our house (I think it's generally a popular topic at harvest time). There's something primal about providing. It taps into the most basic instincts of our reptilian brains -- the need for food. If we hadn't evolved to feel satisfaction and reward at procuring our own food, we would have died out a long time ago.

    The other night Kevin was pan-frying some of our potatoes to make a hash, and the table in the kitchen was crowded with a bowl of our tomatoes, two beautiful eggplants, a basket of eggs, a bunch of scallions, and the jars of grape jelly I'd just put up. I took a picture of it because it was so very gratifying to see it all there, laid out.

  9. I love how we are all on the same page on this topic. And I especialy agree with Kate - it isn't FUN, but it is RIGHT, and that's all I need to keep gardening, canning, preserving, freezing, etc. It's work, but very satisfying work that I seek out, because the work itself is right, and the end product is worth the work. And now, I beg you, PLEASE post your recipe for Apple cake?!

  10. Living in San Francisco and having a not-so-green thumb, we only manage to grow Meyer lemons and strawberries (though we're trying to grow onions and what I think is a squash plant) but this weekend we decided to go blackberry picking on the hillside near us. We gathered about 2 quarts of super-ripe berries and had them with vanilla ice cream. I swear they were way sweeter than store-bought berries, but that may have been a mental justification for enduring the thorns, spiders, and berry-stained clothing.

  11. Yes please to some jars (but don't you need them?) I am around all week as on holiday!! Trying to have a bit of a sort out. Kettle is alwasy on.

    Colette xx

  12. I guess my fellow foragers and canners are all in agreement here. Kate, you nailed it with the distinction that it's not exactly fun but it feels right. Everyone's using words like "gratifying","pleasurable", "satisfying". It's damn hard work and we seem to agree that we wouldn't do it if there wasn't a deeper intrinsic reward involved.

    DHimC - I will put the apple cake recipe in the sidebar of the blog in the next day or so. It's a bit English (ie stodgy and calorific) but tasty and easy. I hope you like it.

    KEG - I was really impressed with your roof garden, I thought mom's gardening skills must have rubbed off on you (along with her cooking skills). I'm glad you enjoyed the berry harvesting.

    Colette - I'll drop off jars this week. They're surplus (friends save jars for me so I have a good sized stash to share)

  13. So true! I've been canning and freezing manically all September and yes, it's work, but it's good work, the best, most fulfilling work perhaps. And like the zoo animals Grandin speaks of, I believe we also want to work for our food. I mean, feeding the clan *is* the real oldest profession, right?