The first time I met Greg and Rachel, I came away with a list of DVD’s and books to add to my already long list of things to watch and read. One night, when the children were (surprisingly) in bed at a reasonable hour, I found the documentary I Am on Netflix, and remembered this was one Greg had suggested. I watched it and was so blown away by it I watched it again about a month later with my husband and my children. It was a movie about many things, but the theme that I took away from it, which swirls around in my head at random moments of the day – still – is the idea that the competitiveness of humans is a story that we’re told, and that we tell ourselves. That in fact, humans are much more connected to one another than in competition. That, for our very survival, things such as empathy, cooperation, respect and compassion are much much more fundamental than competition.

I’ve also been reading one of Joel Salatin’s books, Folks, This Ain’t Normal, and in it he writes that never before in the history of human-kind have we been this detached from their food source – to be able to go to the supermarket and buy anything, and not have to grow it, prepare it, store it, or barter for it. I have to agree.

I once pondered while stirring the porridge pot, how many oat plants, how much paddock space, how much work, how many processes it would take for me to grow and prepare just one breakfast of porridge for my children. I didn’t know. I don’t know how much oats you get from one plant – I suspect not much – I don’t know how big an oat plant grows, how much space it takes up, how much of our meagre vegetable patch would be taken up with oat plants if I was aiming for self-sufficiency for this one meal. I was so completely detached from anything that came before going to the store and scooping out some oats from a bin. It’s still on my list of things to do with my children – to grow some oats and get them ready for porridge.

A similar thing happened a couple of years ago when I had a half share in a cattle beast, which was ready for slaughter and I then had to sit down and tell the butcher which cuts of meat I’d like. Holy Cow. It took me a week, a careful study of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s book, Meat, and several mind-maps to figure out how much of the carcass would be steak, mince, roasts, sausages, stewing cuts etc. I started with no idea, and I ended up with a flimsy grasp, and this has evaporated over time through lack of use.

It seems to me that this kind of thing is stuff we ought to know, right? That there should not be six degrees of separation between us and our food. Ever. On my more suspicious days, I wonder what happens to the food at each of these degrees of separation – what gets put into it to keep it safe for the next thing, or to keep its colour, or to make it last until the consumer picks it up from the shelf. On my less suspicious days I trust in a few brands that they’re doing their best to minimise all that stuff.

I feel very lucky indeed that I’m now a part of one of those brands. I’m now officially part of the change – the pivoting back to knowing more about the people who grow my food, having a relationship with them – being able to ask questions about their process, and being able to request certain things and know that they will bend over backwards to get it done. I do really believe that the way forward is a harking back to having a relationship with the people who grow our food (if not growing it ourselves) and one of the reasons for that is connection: to the Earth, to the weather, the seasons, the rhythms and the people. I’m lucky because connection is a huge motivator here on Mangarara Station – The Meat Club and The Eco Lodge are the ways we have of fostering connection, and it’s always where Greg and Rachel come from when we do anything.

The documentary I AM posed two questions:

  1. What is wrong with the world?
  2. How do we fix it?

What they found was: what’s wrong is that we’re focused on competition. We fix it by growing cooperation, understanding, compassion and empathy – by Connection. Let’s start.