Exploring the food chain, one job at a time.
  Picture by Bruno van den Elshout.

October. I was meant to be out on te sea. Two weeks ago I would go sailing with the the Nordlys, a fairtransport cargo ship, one of the oldest still out there on the open seas. My trip would consist of three days, between Den Helder and Bremerhaven. Then I'd go along with fisherman Rene, for one week of harvesting mussels out of Zeeland. I would.

Unfortunately, unforeseen weather conditions around the coast of Portugal have prevented the Nordlys to raise it's sails so far. And Rene, it turned out, had quit the business.

Three months ago I first spoke to Rene, a mussel fisher working out of Bruinisse, a 'Mosseldorp' in Zeeland. We agreed that I'd come aboard in the first week of november. Rene was more than happy to welcome aboard his ship for a week.

'We decided to call it quits.’, he tells me now over the phone, ‘After 32 years as a mussel fisher, I'll have to start sending out resumes again..' Rene tells me that he and his family haven't been able to make ends meet for a few years now, driven out of business by Danish and Belgian competitors who are, for some reason, able to deliver at nearly half of Rene's prices.

So all of the sudden, I’m at home, feeling more unemployed than I've felt in a while. A open horizon ahead without a destination can be an overwhelming thing. It takes a few days before I get accustomed to that unexpected freedom. But finally, I kick myself in the butt and appreciate this gift of time to read, research and plan ahead. And also to nap, take walks and bake cookies (me baking cookies, who would've guessed).

And I remember, when I left my job, each of my wonderful colleagues gave me a personal food question to research during this year as a food chain traveler. Questions like: 'How (un)healthy are dairy products?', 'Can we still justify eating eel?' and 'How did we discover that a beavers anal glands taste like vanilla?'. These and more questions will be answered on the website, you can take a sneak peak right now!

All this free time on my hands allows me to finally dive into these questions, and a few questions of my own. I can't seems to find any bitter almonds for sale anymore, a necessary ingredient in the making of bitterkoekjes. And apparently the juniper bush was until recently a protected plant in the Netherlands, so what do we use to flavour all our jenever?

The first one I chose to dive into: why should we eat local? Eating local is something that is often proposed as a way to score some extra food karma points, but what does local mean exactly, and does it really benefit anything or anyone?

I thought it'd be an easy question do start of with, as I've been debating this question with myself and others for a few years. I was wrong. Answering this question will be an ongoing project throughout this year, and probably beyond. 

My intuition so far: e
ating local can be a fairly arbitrary mission if it is not part of a bigger idea. That idea can be being connected more to the people who produce your food, re-evaluating how much you know about what’s on your plate, or trying to eat more sustainable.

For me, so far the outcome is a mix of all those factors. I hated hearing fisherman René tell me that he had to quit, not because he wanted to, but because ‘most consumers will always go for the cheaper option’. I love finding out more about ingredients of typically Dutch food items, like juniper berries. And I loved getting to know some cool people along the way. You can expect to find a more elaborate version this answer and along with some reading tips on the website later this year.

See you in a few weeks!

Things to read, watch and consider
Yesterday I visited two traditional 'appelstroop' producers in the south of the Netherland. Making this product has been linked to this landscape for centuries, but is becoming more and more difficult to maintain due to increasing regulations and the hard labour involved. If you ever want to see this proces for yourself, go to Hombourgois.
'We love where we ride. Let's act accordingly.'

One of my awesome fellow travellers on the cycling trip from Maastricht to Turin has started a long overdue initiative to make cycling culture more sustainable. Check out Shift Cycling Culture for more information.
Mona Caron is a Swiss born, San Francisco based artist we came across when we lucky enough to stay at her sister's house in Malvaglia, on our way to Turin. Caron uses her mural paintings of urban weeds as a tribute to the resilience of all those who no one made room for, were not part of the plan, and yet keep coming back, pushing through and rising up. Check out a short video on her work here.
Up next
Late November I'll be harvesting oysters out of Lauwersoog.
The trip with the Nordlys from Den Helder to Bremerhaven might still happen, depending if it fits in my planning when they finally set sail. 

What's up after that I don't know yet, but I'll keep you posted. Thanks for exploring along!
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De Seizoensarbeider · Hoofdweg 229-2 · Amsterdam, Netherlands, Noord Holland 1057CV · Netherlands

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