JO ROYLE: THE STORY OF A FOODIE

April 25th, 2010, posted by Jo Royle Tags: Food, Jo Royle

The story behind the sourcing of food for the Plastiki started over a year ago, so I wanted to go into the background in a little more depth, as I don’t want the Plastiki to come across as a luxury food tour! Fundamentally, I wanted all the food on-board to have a story behind it to highlight the importance of healthy eating, and to showcase the relationship between healthy eating and our natural environment.

Let me just say at the start this is a topic close to my heart so apologies if I go on a bit!

Lee Mond and I had become like peas in a pod during our four years studying in Leeds. We had been born and raised in the same town and, even though we had lived only a few miles down the road from each other for 18 years, our paths had never crossed. In fact, it wasn’t until one very hazy morning, when I wobbled down my stairs making a bee-line for the tap that my eyes first came across ‘The Sprout’ – this random guy who was comatose on my sofa after the party the night before. From this day on, our relationship came to be like siblings. As Lee Mond was born about 12 hours before me in the same hospital, he was like my elder brother. Together, we discovered the freedom of university years and life in a buzzing city.

My holidays were spent living aboard the boat exploring the West Country and English Channel and the plan after finishing Uni had been to find a job on the ocean. Four years later it was time to move on. Lee Mond was off to explore South America, and I had said that I would be hitching a lift across the oceans to join him at some stage.

A couple of years later I made it to South America, but Leeroy was long gone. He and Frannie had met in Equador, lived in Columbia, married in Miami and were now living in Chico, three hours north of San Fran. We always knew that one day we would get to hang out and share life once again. Joining the Plastiki crew gave me this opportunity.

As soon as I moved to SF, I went to stay with Lee and Frannie in their international community, home to part of their multi-crop farm. While Lee was waiting for his Green Card to enable him to work, he, Frannie, along with Max and Sherie, who now also lived in the community, began to harvest fruits from the trees around Chico to sell to the community. They would harvest the fruit trees of Chico residents in return for the excess fruit to sell on. They then went on to plant veggie gardens for people in return for the excess harvest to sell on and, eventually, they moved to the outskirts out of town to develop the farm they work today.

The Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) farm they run today is known as GRUB, Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies (www.grubchico.com). It works on a membership basis, whereby each week members will call by to collect their weekly veggie box of whatever is seasonal. Pick-up is a family event, and children will come along to play on the big trampoline in the field and sit to hear the stories of how their veggies are grown and harvested.

Each time I visited GRUB we would be on a different mission, from tying back rows and rows of perfectly planted tomatoes, to foraging and canning the excess fruit from the trees around the town. My love for GRUB grew; one visit that particularly stands out in my mind was when I was given a baby cart attached to the back of my bike and asked to go to visit Susan to harvest her cherry trees. It was a house event, the twelve members of the intentional community split off into teams to go to various homes around Chico in search for Cherries, which were nearing the end of season. We were given a time limit of sunset.

As dark began to creep in, I was dragged away from the cherry tree with red teeth and we all met in the big GRUB kitchen to compare harvest. Wow, so many cherries! Under the expert organization of Steph, we started a conveyor belt of activity to get all the cherries canned before we went to bed. Teams of us were pitting them, while the other end were boiling jarred cans, a process that went on well into the night. One of these cans is on board the Plastiki.

The GRUB community taught me so much about eating sustainably and resourcefully, a gift I will now treasure for the rest of my life. I spent a fair amount of time hiking and in cities with beautiful Max, who knows the values of every plant and tree we come across, along with being able to identify bird songs that I don’t even hear until he points them out to me. At sea I am continually aware of living resourcefully in the natural environment around me, yet over the recent year I had developed a growing urge to have a deeper understand of surviving off the land. I think this comes with getting a little older and wondering if I will ever grow my roots in a certain location on land.

The team working on their house project.

Having seen GRUB and food bring the Chico community further together in learning the merits of healthy eating, I started to go about planning how we, aboard the Plastiki, could eat sustainably and locally during our voyage across the Pacific. To ensure we had a story to tell behind the fuel, we were powering ourselves with, which is just as important as the fuel with which we are powering our HP technology and Inmarsat communications dome.

My motivation for this plan was furthered when I watch the film Food Inc (a must-see), and learned that over 70% of food items on the supermarket shelves contain corn syrup, and as a knock on effect of this grossly shocking fact, 1 in 3 children born in the US after 2007 develop diabetes. The sad thing is that a vegetable is impossible to come across in many downtown lower income neighborhoods, such as Oakland. Yet the trees still drop their un-harvested fruits on the pavement, and the climate is perfect for every family to care for a veggie patch if there was guidance and education provided to do so. This would cost the government a lot less money than diabetes does, while at the same time would chip away at the barriers that seem to have developed between society and nature.

This mission has taken me on several adventures, from walking the streets of SF in search for fruit trees, but not having a clue what anything other than an apple or pear tree looks like, foraging fruit trees in Golden Gate Park. To preserve my findings I learnt to can and dehydrate, all very time-consuming yet incredibly rewarding and cheap activities. I spread the word of my mission to friends around the Bay Area and was eventually introduced to Samin Norsat, a Bay Area foodie with a focused interest in preserving, who has spent time working alongside one of the infamous founders of The Slow Food Movement, Alice Walters.

Samin is a true foodie; her incredible cooking showcases her passion for sustainable and fine foods. Samin taught me to can, and then rescued me from canning nightmares. One particular time was when Lee and Frannie turned up with over 100lbs of almost too ripe tomatoes. Following long days working on the build of the Plastiki in the Pier came long nights of drying and canning. It was too much; as was the stench of ripe tomatoes and the family of flies that began to fill my container at the Pier. I called Samin. The next day we had taken over the kitchen at the yummy Italian restaurant, Eccolo, in Berkley, to get to work on roasting the tomatoes, with whole foraged garlics for 12 hours, then canning. All 30 jars of tomato sauce are stashed away in Plastiki’s Galley.

Some more of the fresh canned food taken on-board the Plastiki.

I had met a few weeks previously the wonderfully shiny Christopher, the owner of Eccolo, who is from Chicago, but should have been born Italian, and a few weeks previously on a Sunday in a back yard in the ghetto of Oakland. This was the same ghetto where someone is shot every three days. We had met while chasing rabbits around Novella Carpenter’s urban farm called Ghost City. I was sure I was lost as I drove the run down sticky clutched Plastiki crew car down the road given on my directions to Novella’s farm. As I reached a dead end, greeted by street gangs, I prayed the car was not going to choose that moment to give up. I pulled a U Turn next to a car that looked like it hadn’t moved for a while. On glancing further at it, I noticed a fairly shabby looking chap asleep in front of a TV in the back seat; was that car really his home? It worked out that for once I had not drifted off in thought and had focused on the driving directions that had been given to me, I had arrived at the gates of Ghost City Farm.

Novella lives in a cute top floor flat, on the end of a row of terraces, which ‘conveniently’ has an area of wasteland adjoining it, now her squatted farm. She shares her flat with her long term very chilled boyfriend, his collection of a million books, and her collection of rabbits, goats and a pantry full of self-preserved foods.

If we were going to eat meat on board, it had to have had a happy and healthy life. If we were foraging fruits and veggies, it only made sense to forage meats? Novella’s happy, filled out rabbits had reached the end of their life in the Oakland ghetto, and I had been invited to learn how to kill and undress a rabbit. Really the purpose was to face up to my fear of killing a warm blooded, soft, furry cute thing. Maybe the kill is a story for another day. I had mixed emotions, that flowed from the hilarity of running round the land chasing rabbits who were hiding out under clapped out, never to be driven again cars. To the adrenalin and stark reality of life and death of the kill itself. The kill involved me very humanly, calming the rabbit down after the chase, placing it on the floor face down, then using a wooden pole placed perfectly across the back of its neck. I stood on the pole with one foot either sit of the rabbits neck, whilst simultaneously snatching upwards on the cuities hind legs, breaking its neck. We then gave an offering of sage for the life we had taken, before hanging the rabbit from a tree by it’s back legs and slitting it neck to drain the blood. With a shacking hand, pulsating heart and white face I then proceeded to undress the warm bunny, under the close guidance of Novella.

Novella at City Farm.

Novella is a complete hoot, and I really recommend reading her recently published, hilarious and informative book Farm City, which received glowing reviews in the New York Times.

The tales of the food on-board the Plastiki and the wonderful characters involved are endless. As the time of the launch drew nearer, I became swamped with working actually on the boat. Everyone at AE had been highlighting the value of Twitter for sometime, which I had been previously avoiding, always having been wary of having a traceable web presence. I knew that the Bay Area was overflowing with foodies that could help me achieve my food dreams for the Plastiki, but I had to reach them. I entered the world of Twitter, and reaped the benefits immediately.

The next day Jennifer from SF cook phoned. From that moment on, I had a partner in the goal. She has been incredible, so much motivation, reaching out to local farms and farmers’ markets. Without Jennifer’s help we would not have such an in-depth story behind nearly all the food we have on board. Aside from Mr T’s Dairy Milk chocolate stash (although Cadbury Dairy Milk is now fair trade – phew!).

Jennifer and Jo in the Plastiki galley.

My job became crazy in the weeks working up to our departure, which were also the most crucial weeks in finalizing the food. Jennifer took the provisions list I had created and ran, well, sprinted. She would call me, email me jobs lists, contacts she had made, pursued and then partnered with. Her and Nona of SF Cook, spoke to nutritionists, created meal plans, canned the local sustainable meats over nearly a week of long nights in a professional kitchen, weighed the produce we were putting on-board, worked out how to store everything, the list is endless! It is as if Jennifer and Nona are on-board The Plastiki, as if every time I put something into my mouth or enter the galley their faces are shining back at me, along with all the fond thoughts of the beautiful farms and talented farmers around the new love in my life, the Marin Headlands and Bay Area.

Right now I have to dash, and sorry for such a long waffle, are you still with me!

Love Jo Mond (the inexplicable nickname invented by the Turk).

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