The sandwich as offering; or, how to localise out-of-place ingredients and people

Jennifer CB Smith            University of Southern Queensland

Paper presented to SAG 22 November 2018

Source: theguardian.com

I have been working for the last two years with people in southern Tasmania who have started to farm without previous farming heritage, people I refer to as ‘new farmers’.  Every farmer I have met in Tassie with a farming heritage, is introduced by the number of generations in that heritage.  My new farmers comment that others don’t consider them to be farmers as they have small properties, small yields, they do not have enough ‘head’ of stock, they do not make large profits (or indeed carry huge debts).

Most of my research participants are not from Tasmania, and none of these people farm on the land upon which they grew.  Some of the local rural Tasmanians may consider these largely urbane people to be out-of-place. As a Scottish borders hill farmer declared “I wonder about city folk who decide to give up living in the city and move to the country because they are out of place”.[1]  The anthropological definition of dirt is famously quoted as being matter out-of-place[2], the ecological definition of a weed could be thought of as a plant out-of-place, a feral an animal out-of-place, and so it could be argued that these humans started as strangers, aliens, in their landscapes and that they are becoming local through their locally produced and consumed food and locally tended connections.

But first, to that sandwich.  I was attracted to the story of the Frenchman, Benjamin Carle, who decided to make his own ‘authentic’ Provençal pan bagnat (literally, bathed bread) in part because of the image that went with the story.[3]  To me, the way Carle was captured proffering the finished sandwich made it look like a sacred offering.  It recalled food offerings demanded from the first harvest to the god of the Christian Bible and the solemn contracts between people and spirits across the Arctic Circle pledged with food during winter feasts, as detailed by Marcel Mauss in The Gift – the do ut des – we give to get.[4]

From an English translation of the story, Carle also refers to the long process of growing and gathering his own ingredients as a: “sacred epic”.[5]  The epic involved Carle sowing, reaping, milling his own wheat, growing vegetables on his Parisian roof-top, keeping chooks, even going aboard a trawler to catch tuna.  For Carle, these were all new activities and hard work, and it took 10 months to produce a very expensive sandwich – a devotional offering indeed.

Carle declared that the whole journey was a reaction against rampant consumerism and globalism where anything can be bought from anywhere (or, as Ulrich Beck has put it, if you have the money you can “eat the world”[6]) and his desire to return to a time when there was savoir faire (a knowledge about how to make things), when one could be proud of one’s manual dexterity.  This episode was characterised as an attempt to do things for oneself, a DiY project, a rejection of specialisation and an attempt to achieve autonomy.

The contents of the pan bagnat are quite strict (you can subtract, but not add)[7]: tuna, anchovies, boiled eggs, artichokes, tomatoes, green capsicums, radishes, spring onions, pepper, salt, garlic, basil and olive oil.  While Carle is advocating for a return to manual skills, his rejection of globalisation (which has become a mobile slippery term in itself) is interesting as there are no endemic Parisian ingredients in this sandwich, they are from across the globe.  Wheat grows wild in the Near East; radishes and chicken eggs (or is it the chickens) are originally from South East Asia; basil had a range from Africa to South East Asia; pepper was from India; garlic from Central Asia; and, tomatoes and capsicums from South America. When thinking about the chicken walking across Asia carrying radishes and bunches of basil, picking up a garlic bulb along the way and balancing a peppercorn in its beak, it is worth considering that all these plants and animals were likely traded hand-to-hand by human animals.  They moved with humans into new areas and formed new relationships with their new environments.  Humans have been moving around the planet for millennia, following (in the case of herds) and carrying their preferred foods, trading as they go.

Australia in the 1800s had acclimatization societies to facilitate various species of “useful” plants and animals to find a place and become local – and by useful, they meant plants and animals the British recognised as food, preferred to hunt, or wistfully missed seeing and hearing in the Australian landscape.[8]  All the while, and as Bruce Pascoe so skilfully pointed out, largely failing to perceive the range and richness of Indigenous foodstuffs and food raising regimes.[9]  I would emphasise another important detail of this failure: a failure to fully comprehend important rituals that insured a sacred correspondence between Indigenous Australians and associated species.

In two of my research areas – the Huon Valley and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel of south-eastern Tasmania – there is a favoured slogan “Local Food For Local People”. Yet while there has been an increased interest in Indigenous foods, like the pan bagnat ingredients, the main food plants and animals grown and raised in Tasmania have been there for less than 200 years.  Tasmania is associated with the apple, indeed it is known as “The Apple Isle”.  Modern apple varieties have had their genetics traced to central Asia, from where they moved westwards along the Silk Road, eventually becoming crossed with the European crab-apple.[10]  Grown in Tasmania in large quantities in the 1950s and 60s, they were exported back to the UK, and now they are being exported back into Asia and their conversion to cider in Tasmania has triggered an apple revival.  The Huon Valley, and other parts of south-eastern Australia, has also recently imported a luck-bringing cleansing ritual associated with apple orchards – the Wassail.  I write in my thesis that: “these newer ritualised movements across the rural landscape are further embedding themselves and their practitioners into that landscape – they are shifting their gods in once more, legitimising their presence by creating new rituals of togetherness”. 

In December 1837, the Hobart Town Courier reports on another movement across the landscape, something that quickly became a ritual of togetherness for the richer free-settlers of Tasmania.  This movement was a trek up Mt Wellington (now with the dual-name kunanyi) by a party headed by Lady Jane Franklin, the Governor Sir John Franklin’s wife.  The newspaper poetically reports their picnic at the summit:

As you sat hesitating which should be first attacked you might observe five large ships between the legs of the roast fowl, a cold tongue overlapping the whole of Maria Island, a bottle of claret eclipsing Wylde’s Crag, Mount Olympus shot out of sight by a loaf of bread and the whole of that important, that political, that liberal and sensible city Hobarton, included within the embrace of the teapot’s handle.[11]

Lady Jane and Sir John Franklin adopted a young Tasmanian Aboriginal girl, Mathinna in 1839.  The reason I feel it is important to remember Mathinna today, relates to the place we are in now – the Female Orphan School, Parramatta.  When the Franklins returned to England in 1843, they did not take Mathinna home with them – she was placed in The Queen’s Orphan School at New Town in Tasmania.  In 1851, around the age of 17, she died of drowning while presumed to be drunk; she’d been selling sex for grog and food.  She is described as “…caught in a strange nether world between two cultures”.[12]  Mathinna was an Indigenous Tasmanian, yet she was out-of-place – not because of her geographical location, but because she had no family – it seems she had no people she cared about, who cared about her, who she could relate to or trust.  There were no in-place rituals of togetherness for Mathinna; she had become a stranger in her own land.

The British anthropologist Tim Ingold argues that our existence, our constant becoming, is not in place, but rather it is along paths.[13]  All mobile relational organisms on Earth are in a constant state of becoming as they move along, around and across spaces, intersecting as they go.  And some of those intersections are more positive than others – some leave us feeling lonely, abandoned, left-out, whilst others can make us feel included and nurtured. 

So – to return to that quaint term – how are the new farmers in Tasmania becoming ‘acclimatised’, and ceasing to be strangers in their chosen land?  In other words:  how do people new to a place, new to a community, new to a way-of-life, start to feel a belonging, a homeliness; are my research participants becoming local through their locally produced and consumed food and their locally tended connections?

In the winter of 2017 a series of Permablitzes was performed in the Huon Valley, organised by the Huon Producers’ Network. Permablitzes are essentially working-bees, where people (almost all of them in this case recent arrivals to Tasmania) gather on a property to work and eat together.  The work can be thought of as a gift given by group members, it is poured onto the land like a sacred libation.  It is the movement together of the people that is key – their tangled intersecting life lines form bonds of reciprocity.  People are coming into being as individuals, and as a community, through the choreography of activities, they are being captured and carried along by one-another, sharing the time and the place with all their senses combined, extended and joined together in collective intentional acts. 

As well as the work together, the movement together during the Permablitz, the lunch was an important ritual sharing of food grown and produced on the participants’ lands – and it was a time of relative stillness for the group.  That food was special, it could be considered sacred, the body and blood of their land; a holy communion, a gift every body absorbed.  When I participated in the first Huon Valley Permablitz, I didn’t have anything I could harvest from my garden (that is, home-grown fresh food), or the pantry (that is, home-grown preserved food) – so I compromised by making a so-called Persian frittata using eggs, herbs and walnuts grown and harvested by other Tasmanians.  I omitted the overly well-travelled barberries from the recipe, but they are available at my local shop.  The food we shared was delicious.  As well as my frittata, there were potatoes roasted in olive oil, turmeric and chilli, beetroot, goats’ cheese, bread rolls, sausages, pickles, couscous salad, fried yams, the feast spread out along a large wooden kitchen table.  Everyone was hungry, and plates were filled. We sat around chatting impolitely through full mouths – those bits of us were still moving very successfully.  And we all made appropriately positive but truthful comments about each other’s dishes. 

I found it hard to leave the group at the end of that day.  I had a feeling of elation and belonging spending time with these people, attending to our tasks, to our surroundings, to each other with a collective intention, suppressing egos, surrendering ourselves to an entrainment, a movement together. As time has passed, however, I feel less of a belonging and this suggests to me that we need to constantly retie our connections, to repeatedly move together and share work and food together – to maintain our sense of belonging and experience of place and people.  Indeed, just as becoming is a process, so is our belonging; place, the local, are nouns but they can only really be experienced as constantly morphing verbs.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger pointed to the fact that we are temporary beings – we are Being-towards-Death – and therefore we should attempt to live authentic lives (the mine-self), rather than ones owned by others (the they-self).[14]  He was not suggesting that by participating in a group we should not have bonds within that group, rather we should throw ourselves into a world that matters to us, one that we care about and for which we have responsibility – that is, response ability[15] – and we should not lose ourselves in the process.  Many of the new farmers I have worked with in Tasmania are attempting to rebuild tangible and intangible links to one another, to form and perform community, to take actions to resolve the problems of the human-historical conditions they find themselves thrown into – they are forming a response ability, and they are doing it in the process of becoming; becoming less out-of-place and becoming more local.

Now, back to that authentic pan bagnat and the savoir faire that Carle hoped he would feel at the end of his sacred epic.  It is interesting to note that “savoir” comes from the Latin “to taste” (in the sense of experience) and “faire” can be translated as “to become” as well as “to do” or “to make”.[16]  The becoming of the pan bagnat had intersected with Carle’s becoming, his moving with and learning from many other people and animals over an extended period of time.  As he bit into his sandwich (which he proclaimed to be delicious despite the dryness of the bread) – he wasn’t just tasting the food, he was experiencing its whole coming into being and, for a brief time, the sandwich and the man were neither dirt, nor weed, nor feral, nor alien – but in-place. 


[1] John Gray, “Open Spaces and Dwelling Places: Being at Home on Hill Farms in the Scottish Borders”. American Ethnologist, 26, 1999, p.441.

[2] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, Pelican Books, England, 1970, p. 12.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/04/benjamin-carle-frenchman-sandwich-quest-fulfilment

[4] Marcel Mauss, The Gift, Routledge Classics, Oxon England, [1954] 2002.

[5] https://detours.canal.fr/benjamin-carle-lhomme-a-pari-de-realiser-sandwich-de-a-a-z/

[6] Ulrich Beck, “We do not live in an age of cosmopolitanism but in an age of cosmopolitisation: the ‘global other’ is in our midst”, Irish Journal of Sociology Vol. 19.1, 2011, p. 19. 

[7] https://detours.canal.fr/benjamin-carle-lhomme-a-pari-de-realiser-sandwich-de-a-a-z/

[8] http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/T/Tas%20acc%20socies.htm

[9] Bruce Pascoe, Dark emu black seeds: agriculture or accident?  Magabala Books, Broome, Western Australia, 2014.

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/15/geneticists-trace-humble-apples-exotic-lineage-all-the-way-to-the-silk-road

[11] Signage kunanyi/Mt Wellington, Wellington Park Management Trust.

[12] www.ourtasmania.com.au/launceston/mathinna2.html

[13] Tim Ingold, Being alive: essays on movement, knowledge and description, Routledge, 2011, p. 12

[14] Michael Wheeler on “Martin Heidegger”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/heidegger/

[15] Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto. Science, Technology, And Socialist-Feminism In The Late Twentieth Century, University of Minnesota Press, 2016, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=4392065

[16] The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. C. T. Onions, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 1891.

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