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Exploring the food chain, one job at a time.
In this newsletter: My adventures in oysters harvesting// An ode to the outsiders// Reader question: Who found out a beaver's anal glands smell like vanilla?

The week fills up like this, one task following the other. Days start early and end with a shared meal around six in the evening. I learn to split and clean oysters, sort them by size and pack them up for transport. The objective there is to fit at least 150 oysters in each box, a sort of 3D Tetris, while trying to match or approximate the speed at which my colleague Isa is performing the same task.

Last month I was in the business of oysters & fish. I was helping out ‘Goede Vissers’ (the good fishers) Jan and Barbara, at their restaurant and place of production in Lauwersoog. You will find the full story on my website. See 'One week in oyster town'.

Oyster harvest in the early, early morning.
The outsider's perspective.
There are a few themes that consistently come back with each place I work at the past few months. 'Who does the work?' is one, especially with countries increasingly putting limits on migration. The 'local food'-mantra also comes up a lot, and is one that I hope to further explore in the next months. And when speaking to producers, increasing regulations and bureaucracy always make an appearance. 

But the one theme that stuck out most this month was that of 'the outsider'. For one, I see Jan and Barbara as outsiders in their industry, and they are perceived as such at many fish auctions. They challenge the way the industry is organised, which can be perceived as a dismissal of how others run their business.
Outsiders harvesting outsiders.
The Pacific oyster Jan and Barbara harvest is also an outsider in the Wadden sea. Like many other species across the globe - sheep in New Zealand for instance - the Pacific oyster was intentionally introduced to a new environment, in this case into Dutch aquaculture in the early sixties. Unintentionally, this newby turned out to do well in the wild waters of the Wadden sea. Whether that is a good thing or not is still an ongoing debate.

I see it in 'De Aardappeleters', a Dutch TV show that just started it's second season. It explores the origins of food rooted in Dutch culture but originating from somewhere else. These are often cherished recipes brought by outsiders, migrants, refugees, adjusted and renegotiated to survive the different Dutch palate. Which Dutch resident can imagine a market without a Vietnamese loempia? Or a life of memories without roti, rijsttafel or patat. All once culinary outsiders, brought in by outsiders.

It's the outsiders that challenge the status quo. It's very difficult to have change, or progress without the outsiders perspective. So my cheers this year go to the outsiders, especially. And to you all of course, whether you're inside or out, or a little bit of both sometimes.
 
Things to read, watch and consider
'Whoever found out beaver anal gland tastes good!?', Jamie Oliver once asked David Letterman.

I tried to find the answer to this question. You can find the result here!

I have a few questions like this listed. If I have time, I will do a little research in between projects and provide an answer in coming newsletters.
This year has given me the opportunity to read a lot. My favourite food related book so far is Charles C. Mann's 'The Wizard and the prophet'. This book has given me great perspective on the global debate on climate that's going on right now. If you still have a vacant spot on your Christmas wish list, put this on it!
Last November, a short documentary about fishers Jan and Barbara was released. This 30-minute film by Andrea Pellerani gives a beautiful insight into their daily life. I don't know how long this link will be available, so watch it as soon as you can.
 
Up next: Food Chain Traveling in 2019

Since August, I've processed eel, volunteered in a major food event in Copenhagen, cycled from the Netherlands to Italy, packaged potatoes, harvested oysters, moderated a few live talkshows, and read a lot about food. 

I like this lifestyle. It's addictive. To be able to set my own agenda, to travel across the Netherlands to meet and work with new inspiring people, to nourish and follow my intuition. I like it so much that at this moment I can't really see myself quitting this lifestyle after a year.

So my assignment for 2019 is to slowly start making a living out of this. By August 2019, I want to be able to make the decision if I can continue traveling the food chain without eating away at my savings. It's quite a challenge, but I'm excited to face it head on. And of course I'll keep you posted about the progress.

This December; I'm working with Willem & Drees, a meal-kit company that provides their customers with organic, locally sourced meals. Story will follow!

Enjoy your holidays, you will hear from me again in January!

Maarten

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