“Keep things simple and you always live well”- Giuseppa Pipicella Callipari – my Mum.
I express this quote from my Mother as a mantra. According to her 79 years of lived experience, simplicity is the essence of success. I am in accord, that if we all lived more simply then we would clearly understand sustainability.
Preservation is at the essence of sustainability, therefore the notion of maintenance and conservation is also about tradition and culture. Within tradition of culture maintains a lineage of heritage, as something that is passed on. Like the seed from a fruit can be propagated, an heirloom of sustenance.
Gustave Marlow wrote Tradition is not to preserve the ashes, but to pass on the fire. I love this quote because I saw it one day when I was manifesting concepts for my Mother’s chili paste. She had sold it in her café, Peppa’s for 18 years, her own Calabrese style recipe. I sell it for her now through word of mouth, there are no preservatives added, guaranteed to provide a burning ring of fire! (Johnny Cash)
Gustave made me realize that preserving food in jars was her way of classifying her culture and passing it onto others. Her pride in her ability to make a valued product and demonstrate what it means to be a talented and proud Calabrese Australian. Her education was limited to grade three, yet her ability to innovate is a skill she has passed to her children.
Without education, our parents relied on intuition and gave us a model of living that involved family, mentoring, a connection to the earth, the seasons, the cycling and recycling of birth, love, marriage, faith, death and moving towards one’s rightful place in the order of things. The place you have at the table, versus the place you have in the family. The aged one was valued for the lessons they taught us as we grew up. Our elders.
I look to the past for inspiration on how to live in a way that supports climate change. I lived with my family in our flat roved house on stilts in Nichol’s Point, sunny Mildura. No heating in winter, but for the wood stove. It was engineered to heat our water and keep us warm, fueled by the gnarly grape vines, pruned from the previous winter and olive tree wood, sap sizzling in the flames. It also cooked our meals religiously. I recall the winter feast, after the pig slaughter and sausage making, the fresh sausage, cut and skewered onto a large fork held over the inferno for a ‘flame grilled salami’ sandwiched between two thick pieces of white, wheaten, gluten pane di casaand devoured for lunch! Definitely a Calabrese feast of unique proportions!
Generally, Mum was enterprising, inventive and sustainable in her ability to manage a garden, sew our clothes, cut our hair, feed us, help her husband on the farm and she also coached us to do our errands.
It was my job every day after school to cut the wood and fill the wood box. It was on the side of the house with a trap door. We often crawled through it if the door was locked and we could not find the key. Every night I also gathered a pile of kindling neatly propped on the stove hearth. My Father, Giuseppe’s morning ritual was to prepare the stove. I saw him as the hero of awakenings. Rising at five every morning to light the fire, setting the daily machinations with one match and then he took off with metal bucket in hand to milk the cow.
My chores also involved walking Reddah our Cow on a chain up and down the rows of vines interspersed with lucerne to fertilize the soil, so she could feed. She must have sensed my restlessness for at times she would buck and take off down the row, annoyed by my pulling at her neck with the chain. She brought me back to the present, to concentrate on the task at hand rather than dawdle in delusions of acting and singing. Mindfulness is a lifetime of work. It was a hard lesson for a five year old, as Reddah bucked, pulled and dragged me on the end of the chain!
We were rewarded though with creamy unpasteurized milk, homemade ricotta, cheese and butter, the gifts garnered from keeping a cow: I was often beside my Mother awaiting a morsel, but more importantly knowing my place as the dutiful daughter.
“You’re dreaming!” My Mum used to say when I expressed my desire to be a performer. And when influenced by sloth she would curse that I would have many days of hunger. It’s an omen for it has stayed with me as I work to pay for an unrelenting mortgage. A good life paid in advance- an ironic sentiment.
Meals were the essence of bliss, the defining moments of the family routine and the celebration of a daily milestone. Work, meal, rest, work, meal, rest, work and so on!
Amongst the daily routine the seasons were punctuated with rituals of food production that had migrated from Calabria and have since become engrained in the Australian psyche.
Bread, milk, ricotta, cheese and butter were an ongoing staple. Biscuits also made in bulk at my Nanna’s house once a month. The bread was also baked fortnightly and Mum would store it in a dark room. For longevity she would bake ‘hard bread’ – biscotto that was wetted to soften it, then laced with olive oil, squashed tomato and a pinch of oregano for a quick lunch. For breakfast the biscotto was covered with warm milk, sprinkled with white sugar, the Australian addition that has been the culprit for an epidemic of diabetes. It was warmed in a ceramic dish on the iron cook top, and we would eat this for breakfast when the cornflakes had run out.
In late January the harvest took place.
During picking season Mum would provide morning and afternoon tea. A large kettle filled with scalding black tea- fresh milk and deep-fried sweet donuts prepared that morning, a set of metal cups in a cane basket, transported by wheel barrow to the workers in the dusty mid-morning scorcher amongst the vines. Smoko! We were famished by the efforts of hard work. In summer, Mildura temperatures go up to more than 40 degrees, unrelenting, oppressive and grueling heat. You were lucky to be picking on the shady side of the vine. We covered up with hat, shirt and gloves. It was important to be protected, for sun could be a stroke of bad luck! After tending to the needs of others, Mum would then take her place in the picking line, with knife in hand, racing us to the end of the row.
Mildura is known as a significant food bowl. In the 1970s it was known for producing the majority of our country’s dried fruit, but with the free market economy, imported dried fruit was cheaper than purchasing and supporting local farmers and local produce. The market has become diversified with fresh fruit and 98 % of Australian table grapes supplied by Mildura farmers. The opportunity of table grapes has also seen new products and exports to overseas markets. Humble family farms have traded the pick, the spade and the tractor for technological advances. They have been transformed into corporate enterprises. The water-selling debacle, gave local farmers the opportunity to sell their water and leave their farms, or the choiceto grow their livelihood.
We live in a political climate that wants us to believe that there is not enough to go around, so policy props us up with the notion of choice. Whatever choice we make, the consequences then rest with us. We haven’t heard much about the rising suicide rate at the time of The Millennium Droughtin Mildura. A fruit farm was more than an economic transaction. To the Italian farmer a fruit farm represented lineage, an identity traced to past traditions and future prosperity.
After the dried sultana summer harvest of sun burnt shoulders and sore’s healing on fingers, March was the time to make sauce preserved in Carlton Draft beer bottles. Dad tells stories of being a young migrant in Australia, travelled to Melbourne to work on the railways, the Carlton brewery, wherever work could be found, saving to buy his own farm. Making the sauce also involved collecting seeds from the tomatoes in preparation for the following year. To move out of poverty, sparks invention and the need to plan and prepare. Now we buy seedlings from Bunnings in plastic punnets.
We also collected the seeds from the watermelons, the cantaloupes and pumpkins. Seeds often sat on the kitchen sink and Dad would firmly encourage us to spit them into a bowl for safekeeping. Seeds are the essence, the beginning of a process, the sprouting of reproduction and propagation. The seed is the reminder of origin. We now have a preference for seedless fruit, there’s nothing to spit out, keep or replant, no past, no future- no lineage.
April and May was the time we searched for olive trees that lined the side of the road, who knows who planted them, but the locals did not know what to do with them and so the Italians would descend upon these trees like the Eureka of Gold! And olive oil was gold for the Italians, a taste of home here in Australia. The harvest-required hessians reused from the sultana drying racks, neatly spread under the tree, a stick that had broken from the rack trellis tall enough to reach up and bash the olives from the branches cascading to the ground like a hailstorm. Little fingers ordered to gather those that fell off the hessian, saved for the oil press.
The winter ritual in June involved the killing of the pig, salami, capacollo and frittilli making; this was days of work and shared amongst the family. As children we took instructions from our parents – slave drivers- or teachers of invention.
These seasonal lessons were not in vain, for I am well equipped to grow, make, appreciate and value food. I have an innate understanding that in the future of the economic imperative, that food production needs to be front and center of sustainability.
The practices I’ve mentioned are what Italians have embedded in Australia, synonymous with the sustainability movement. This is also uniquely Australian. Italian’s that visit observe this practice like an ancient ritual of yesteryear, a production that has become indoctrinated into the methodology of sustainability, a trendy phenomenon, a competitive edge of who can make the best salami, home made wine or sauce. The local shows celebrate the best of the best of the best.
Giuseppa and Giuseppe, my Mother and Father’s dream was to buy land so that all their children could build a house and live close by, just like in Calabria. This tiny memory bubble has become a living museum, an oral history of gastronomically proportions, which reveals under the microscope a way of life.
From a paper titled Environmental issues and household sustainability in Australia by Lesley Head, Carol Farbotko, Chris Gibson, Nick Gill and Gordan Waitt- the household is seen as an organization, one microcosm of society, like Bruce Lipton’s one cell theory the house is like that cell. If we want to make change start at the micro- level, zoom in on the way in which a house is run and better understand how one house hold addresses climate change. The paper proposes that instead of trying to change behaviors, why don’t we actually work with what people already do sustainably and encourage them to keep doing it.
The migrant perspective is not includedaccording to Carter 2013 and their perspectives are often ignoredGuttry 2016. Migrant farmers were labeled as unskilled labor, there was lack of recognition for the knowledge migrants brought in agricultural production. In the Australian landscape of sustainability whose knowledge counts? Will my parent’s knowledge and practice be valued? Will their knowledge contribute to policy and the democratic process that this country espouses? A fair go for all?
As children of this sustainable generation what we have learnt we carry with us and implement. It seems that we have been misguided by technology, supermarkets and plastic. The notion that happiness can be achieved with more. We are coming back to the lessons we learnt in our youth. They seem to be more relevant now.
Nostalgia takes me back to a feeling of expansion, spaciousness and simplicity.
Looking back, there was a tip where we took the stuff we did not want, whenever our own pile of junk became unruly. There was the man with a truck who collected the empty beer bottles at 1cent each.
Incinerators burnt the rubbish we did not want and the ashes were scattered on the soil in the veggie patch where the chickens scratched and clawed before settling for the night, leaving us large white eggs. Sometimes the ashes found their way to the priest’s little dish at church. Holy ash, it was, that we believed to have come from Jerusalem.
The hills-hoist dried our clothes and entertained us as we clung to it swinging around in circles our legs ricocheting to the front and back.
A large limestone rock dug up from the surrounds, sat in the concrete sink of the laundry where the soap made from pig fat and caustic soda scrubbed the whites of blood stained underpants from us girls. Pads were made from redundant nappies, repurposed to menstrual pads to wear in loose underpants, slipping often, uncomfortable and bulky. The sanitary napkins from the supermarket were a rare commodity, as they were expensive and my Mother was not able to get to the shops unless Dad drove her, handing over $100 to last a large family for a while.
Food security connects us to memory and place. The indicators point to food being available, accessible, utilized and enable stability. We had all this way back then. Fortunately to a certain extent we still do, however when our parents leave this earth, we will not continue to bake hand made bread in a wood fired oven, because gluten upsets my tummy; nor kill a pig to make salami, because I am a vegetarian, nor pick olives to press for oil, because we do not have trees or an olive press and I can buy it from the supermarket with less effort, nor milk a cow or make sauce. We just won’t do all that any more!
Our parents taught us to save, to afford an education, to be able to “have a better life”. I question who has the better life? What is the good life? To sit in traffic for hours in a day, to drive from one place to another, to make money to pay for the house you will never own? The carbon emissions continue to leech out, like the gasses emanating from the garbage waste dump.
There is value in a microcosm of a life lived with purpose, the purpose to maintain a cultural practice in sustainability, to enable a way of life, simple, but lived with integrity. My parents will not return to their Mother Country, they recreated her here. It has become a time bubble etched in the red earth of Mildura- piccola Calabria. This bubble is like a puddle left in the sun, drying up one generation at a time. The water dissipates –schiarisci-a Calabrese word that means to vanish. When our parents leave this Earth who will continue the rituals? We have all become professionals in a routine that stifles the natural flow of the human condition on earth’s ritual of seasons.
I want to return to an appreciation of traditional ways, an intuition of what it means to be human and learn to appreciate the imperfections- to live – self-less and participatory, for oneself, all and the good of the planet?
In order to get to this point we need to be prepared to let go of the ego, acknowledge our common unity that then focuses on our weaknesses. Not all fruit grows perfectly round, though the supermarkets make us believe in perfection.
I practice yoga now to manage stress. Yoga has taught me important lessons about limitations. When we feel stuck, we need to extend ourselves more, go through the pain rather than avoid it, face it, allow it, investigate it, get to know the difficulty, the pain the challenge.
When we can investigate the crapwe live with, maybe we will realize that we need less. We need more acceptance for lack ofthan always wanting more.
To simply understand our link to our heritage, our place in time and that we already have what we need to make change.
Start collecting the seeds and prepare to propagate.