I recently made a conference presentation about the role of flavour in understanding the experience of community gardeners. I’ve been wrestling with the idea that gardening and growing your own is a way to reconnect with food and where it comes from. Many organisations and authors are hopeful that this is the case. But it’s probably not that simple. Thinking about what people like eating and how people respond to different tastes shows this.
As I discussed in the presentation, I’ve eaten all manner of things at community gardens. Food I’ve shared with gardeners ranges from vegetable stew to nasturtium flowers, to chocolate bars. I’ve asked them what they like eating and the answers are even more varied. One thing that’s been surprising is just how many gardeners don’t like vegetables. Even if they grew them. The taste of broccoli is unpalatable to many, and is not as appealing as crisps or chocolate.
There are many reasons people eat what they do, it’s undoubtedly caught up with who we spend time with and who we want them to think we are. Then there’s convenience and cost. And habit: most of us eat what we’ve always eaten. That’s why it’s so hard to get people to change their diet. Campaigns like Five A Day face the huge challenge that many people – especially children – don’t like the taste and texture of unfamiliar fruit and veg. Plus a veggie rich diet is associated with femininity- real men don’t eat salad.
Programs which have successfully encouraged people to try new foods and eat more vegetables required cooking lessons, information, tasting sessions, educating the mind and the palate, not just gardening. Even then the taste and texture of certain foods remained off putting. At some community gardens food isn’t really the focus, the aim is not to influence what people eat. Those who chose to spend time growing plants – even edible ones- may be motivated by a range of things, not necessarily food.
Lots of things don’t taste that nice, and few will agree on which they are. I think it’s important that we don’t ignore this unpleasantness. Let’s not assume that gardeners are going to love eating all those things they ‘should’ eat. Or that they’ll learn to love eating the ‘right’ things through gardening.