Wonderful food, a warm welcome and a beautiful location.

Observations, So Far

[This is one in a series of blog posts written by Charlotte the Intern.  Tune in daily to find out about what she’s been up to, what she has been learning about, and all of the crazy things she does as part of the Manna from Devon team.]

A couple of days ago, I asked if there was anything in particular that you guys wanted me to write about or explore, and I got two responses that said almost exactly the same thing: what are the main differences between food culture here in the UK and in the US?  This is a really interesting subject I think, and something I’ve thought a lot about over the last three weeks since I arrived here.  It’s hard not to.  Of course, there are the well-trodden diversions like: what we call fries, you call chips, etc. etc.  But there are many more subtle, nuanced cultural differences that I’ve started to pick up on as well.

This is a big subject, and one that I will have to cover in many posts, as both the UK and the US have incredibly diverse and rich food traditions, cultures, systems, and all the rest.  And, hey, I love to wax on about this kind of thing anyway, so I’m sure I could write a handful of posts exploring different facets of the issue.

I want to put a little more thought into those posts, so I won’t get to them yet, but something sort of related has struck me very much in the last week or so: the level of commitment that people here seem to have to their communities.  I don’t know if this is specific to Devon, or even just to this part of Devon, or if it’s a more generally English trait.  Either way, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by this persistent and unique civic-mindedness that I encounter on a day to day basis.

For example, tonight David and I went to give a bread demonstration to the Churston WI.  This type of community organization exists in the US, but in ever-shrinking numbers.  To be completely honest, I was expecting a group of about 8 women to come, ask a few meek questions, and turn down half of the bread samples we were to offer because they had recently sworn off gluten.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The group was large, probably about 30, and many of the women were eager to ask questions and try their hands at rolling loaves.  Most admitted to being complete beginners when it came to making bread, but that just made them more eager to learn.  And the samples I passed around practically flew off the plates.

Or, perhaps more tellingly, my work so far with the Dartmouth Food Festival has shown me a group of people with the most incredible level of commitment to making the food festival a success, and they’re all volunteers!  It is hard for me to imagine something of this scale, or this level of success, existing in the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to play to stereotypes of Americans as being some sort of money hungry crazy people.  First, I am incredibly proud to be American, and second, I think that that image, like all stereotypes, belies a much more complicated truth.  But I can certainly say from what I have experienced so far, that this phenomenon of people actively participating in community groups or events, of putting so much time and energy into a project out of a commitment to building and promoting a community, is stronger here in Devon than in any place that I’ve lived in the US.  I like that.

So that’s one of the first things that has impressed me so far.  It isn’t totally food related, but I don’t think it’s a difficult stretch to see the implications that that sort of mentality has for a local food system.  People that feel more connected to where they live are more likely to buy from local producers, to pay more for good quality food, to cook from whole ingredients and therefore to have fewer health problems.    It’s not science.  It’s just common sense.  And it has certainly made an impression.