I did a Q&A with my Australian publisher Penguin, I’d forgot about it but someone sent me the link they found online. I read it again and it made me laugh! I must have been in a funny mood when I answered the questions. Enjoy
Tell us a bit about your childhood growing up on a farm?
It was a great adventure really. Although there was work to be done there was also a lot of getting up to mischief. My brother and I did a great deal of exploring, up and down the river, in the bush and sneaking onto other farms. We fished with worms on hooks, netted yabbies, chased wombats and treasured our pocket-knives. We slept out under the stars, sat around roaring campfires and pitched old A-frame tents. It was every boy’s dream. But, like I said, there was work: mending fences, bailing hay, planting, harvesting, rounding up stock, splitting wood and the weekly lawn-mowing. It was a valuable lesson that life isn’t all play. That time on the farm gave me my true spirit.
What made you want to write Whole Larder Love?
The book is really an extension of my blog. And my blog was started as a way to communicate what my life was about, what I did, what I believe and what motivated me to do the things that I do.
Are there any parts of the book that have special personal significance to you?
Not any one part in particular, but what has significance to me is that I wanted a particular way of life and I went out and did it. This book captures many of the things that I’ve learnt from the old ways including how to cook food that you’ve played a large part in acquiring. The things I didn’t know I taught myself or I found a mentor for that task or skill. I think that’s something that I’m most proud of, is putting myself in uncomfortable situations. Killing my first duck – in my hands – was one of those moments. I figured that if I was happy to accept my omnivorous state that I ought to take part in how that food got in my belly.
What do you see as the major themes in your book?
There is a subversive undertone of obtaining some level of self-sufficiency. Even though it’s full of pictures of delish food, the theme is that you have the ability to do a great deal of the behind-the-scenes work to get food for your family. I’m not suggesting an ‘all or nothing’ approach, more so a ‘take a little bit of the control back’ one. I walk through the aisle of a supermarket looking at all the fake food and cringe at what we’ve become as a society. Fewer people know how to cook, let alone how to look after themselves properly. I’m not talking about going to the gym (I don’t believe in gyms), I’m talking about having a direction in life, having a relationship with the real world we are a part of – nature that is. That’s lost on many people, and this book provides an alternative to having no connection. You can grow some of your own food, you can take from the wild and you can cook it. It’s a process that results in pride and satisfaction of a job well done, well at least a job completed. I think that’s lacking in people’s lives. We work in jobs that, apart from the pay each week, don’t actually benefit us directly, especially not in a spiritual sense or a physical sense. It’s the paradox of modern living really – a disconnection with reality. People talk a lot about what TV they watched last night, and it seems that people live through the tellie or computers games and don’t actually live the real life. I mean why play ten pin bowling on a wii? Why not go ten pin bowling in the real world?
The idea of living simply has been around for a long time, how has this changed in recent times?
I think the simple life, as an alternative, is so appealing for many people in contrast to the craziness of 2012 living. We’re not only disconnected from nature we’re disconnected from each other. We’ve lost our sense of community especially when talking about food. Think about the process of obtaining your food. You walk down long aisles, the choice for the one product is over the top and then you buy it from a person who you’ve never met, and attempt small talk then go home to re-heat the food and watch television and tweet about it. It’s a lonely system. Living simply means doing tasks to achieve a result. Chopping and splitting firewood, for example, is very rewarding. It keeps you warm, it gives you exercise, the endorphins flow and then at night the wood on the fire keeps you warm. It’s a lifestyle of action and result. That’s rewarding and us humans thrive on it. It’s innate.
Do you see Whole Larder Love as a bit of a “man manual” for blokes who aspire to a hunter and gatherer lifestyle?
In a way most definitely. I think it’s more an introduction to it. Kind of like that nudge your Dad gives you at the end of the dive plank at the pool. If anything it’s cooking that’s accessible for blokes. I’m a very relaxed cook and the food I like to prepare is pretty cabinesque. You won’t find any foam on my plate. It’s peasant food that requires you to use man skills like hunting, fishing and reaping. For a lot of blokes these skills have been replaced with hair straightening, shopping and applying moisturiser.
What are some simple tips you can give people, and in particular, men who are “challenged” in the kitchen?
You’re not going to hurt anyone, so make it up as you go along. I said in my book that the recipes can be treated as a general guide. If you want more chilli, then don’t be a wuss…add more chilli. If you like more butter then add it. Try anything. You’ll only make a mistake in the kitchen once. And, try other things apart from the bloody barbie.
Page 83 references the term “redneck” can you elaborate some more on this and your passion for hunting food?
In different countries hunting is a rich man’s sport, in other countries it’s the pride of the bravest men of the tribe. In Australia it’s viewed by many to be a pastime of redneck blood-thirsty killers who shoot road signs. This is obviously not the case (although it sometimes is I’ll be honest…I’ve met some redneck hunters). But from my point of view, hunting is a means to and end. I hunt an animal then I cook it and share it. The land is my supermarket, it’s my butcher. But it does involve wearing hunting attire, 4wds, guns, ammo and killing things, so it attracts a redneck label.
I think if you eat meat then you should not only know about the process but hell you should take part in it from beginning to end. If you can’t go through process then you shouldn’t eat meat. Grow veggies, it’s a hell of a lot easier and more dependable anyway.
Do you like to fish for pleasure? Or do you like to catch fish to eat? Or, are they the same thing for you?
I only fish and hunt for food. I don’t believe in either of them being sports like. You’re killing an animal and taking a life to fuel your body. There is absolutely nothing sporting about that. And I abhor competitiveness so trying to catch the biggest fish to beat your mates is out of the question. In any case, I always catch the biggest fish so if it WERE a competition I’d totally win.
The only added pleasure in fishing, especially fly-fishing is that it gets you out in nature and off the couch.
Do you feel more of a sense of “community” amongst like-minded people as yourself since the advent of blogging?
Do I ever! I love that there are so many people that are thinking in a somewhat similar vein. My next-door neighbour doesn’t feel the same way about these issues that I do but Ben from Arizona does and we’ve discovered this through blogging. Even though I live a simple life I love the Internet. It’s a real community.
Does having a blog make it easier to feel more at home with your life choice?
No not really. I’ve always done what I wanted to do. Blog or no blog, I feel comfortable with my life choice. I could stop blogging tomorrow and still enjoy my lifestyle.
Should living off the land be a subject taught at schools or are the digital generation already too far removed from it?
I volunteered my time at my daughter’s primary school and taught kids how to grow veggies. Prep kids learnt and knew more about veggies than their parents. So I encourage and support any funding into teaching kids about food production. The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden school program is an amazing feat. I wish it could go to every school.
What would you like to think people can get from reading your book?
Hopefully some nice food to eat, but more importantly I’d like people to question their current choices in food acquisition, and to consider at least planting some veg and herbs and making the effort to support local growers and food providers.
What three things can a city-dweller do to feel like they are living a more simple life?
Buy less stuff. Live with less stuff. Grow vegetables.
If you’ve had other jobs outside of writing, what were they?
I’ve had some real doozies. I worked in the music industry, I worked in biodiversity and I even worked many years for my nemesis, Coles-Myer. I don’t regret any of those jobs, they’ve all been valuable lessons in life and have made me the man I am today. I think in a way there is value in working in a job to show me what I don’t want out of life. It’s been a good contrast.
What do you like to read? And what are you currently reading?
I’m not really into fiction. I love reading about amazing people, and ideas. I love philosophy. Books like ‘The Last American Man’ about Eustace Conway (that mad bastard) are my favourite type of read. I just admire the bloke, such a real man and super inspirational. I like reading about men who have challenged themselves like Guy Grieves and Henry David Thoreau. I also like reading about people’s ideas on life and their approach to life, like Angelo Pelligrini’s book ‘The Unprejudiced Palate’. I also love ‘Deep Country’ by Neil Ansell.
You mention Chet Baker in your book, are there any other musicians who inspire your way of life and in particular cooking?
Louis Armstrong once said there are two types of music: good music and bad music. I love good music: jazz, blues, folk, classical, rock and Latin. Cuban is my summer cooking music! But I’ll listen to anything that does that thing to you when you hear it. My taste is mega eclectic, I have albums upon albums. I don’t like trashy, disposable music. I have no idea what is popular, what’s on the radio. But I do know what Gram Parson is all about.
What do you think your life will be like 20 years from now?
Same as now, but I’ll have more wrinkles and I guess my bones will start to ache in the cold weather and I’ll say things like ‘kids these days…huh” “in my day…” and I’ll probably sigh a lot.
But I hope I’m still planting veg, cooking hearty meals, hunting, fishing and talking to people about food…oh and singing Muddy Waters albums in the car, by myself.
Describe yourself in three words?
What star sign are you and are you typical of it?
Star sign? Is this a trick question? I’m not answering that. Stars are for navigation and burning gases, not describing one’s personality traits.
Abrasive…is that a trait of a Piscean?
What three things do you dislike?
The curse of materialism
People who say they can’t do things
When good cheese goes mouldy
What three things do you like?
Absolutely totally and unashamedly (don’t deny it, every adult thinks the same)…
(in that order)
Have you a family, partner or are you single?
Yes I have a big family, two girls, a partner and an ex-wife. It’s a pretty good deal really. I love them all.
But I don’t need to put a stick figure sticker outlining this detail on the rear window of my car.