Dark Kitchen – A call for submissions for Dark Mountain: Issue 23

Calling all writers and artists, cooks and growers! Submissions are now open for next year's spring issue.

Times are bad. I take an oath of loyalty to the table

Coated with white formica

 – Aharon Shabtai ‘Times Are Bad’

 

‘I thought you were all about collapse at Dark Mountain,’ was the question.

‘Love of the Earth and wild nature is at the heart of everything we do,’ was the reply.

What happens when the storm comes in and floods the land with saltwater? In the Norwich Arts Theatre in a heatwave three short dramas about farming are being enacted in response to climate catastrophe. Dodo, Phoenix, Butterfly, inspired by Rupert Read’s book This Civilisation Is Finished, places three characters on an imaginary farm on the Norfolk Broads. After each act, a panel of speakers responds to the three post-flood scenarios: total collapse of the food system; a mitigated collapse; and the regeneration of the land and its ecology. Afterwards a lively conversation ensues. It’s clear that we can’t just choose one of these futures, nor can it be an individual decision. None of us holds the answer: they are all happening in non-linear time. Our response, real and imaginary, depends on everyone in the room, from the actors to the audience, being in communication with each other.

What would happen if every time we sat down to eat we considered all those scenarios? If we invited the dodo, the phoenix and the butterfly to our table, knowing that any day now there could be a closed farmers market; or empty shelves; or a chance to begin again? Because somewhere in the world one of them is already playing out, and in most places all three at once.

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Dark Kitchen began as an online series in 2018, with a introductory essay by Charlotte Du Cann:

‘Around all our sentences lie the deforested lands, the denuded and poisoned oceans, the lost soil, the vast herds of creatures living and dying invisibly in dark sheds. We know what is going down. Our core question is, once you have railed at the machine that holds us in its palm-oiled maw, what do you do as an artist, as a storytelling human being, knowing that every time you venture out with a shopping basket, you return with blood on your hands?’ Uncivilising the Table

Each essay in the series has used food as a lens to bear witness to the state of the world, as civilisations have yet to balance the way they feed their under-nourished and over-fed populations. It is an inquiry that has brought both despair and joy, and a gleaning of untold stories from the floors of banquet and soup kitchen, market stall and threshing barn.

The elderly neighbours (‘les dames denoisillenses’) gather around the kitchen table to process walnuts, Perigord, south-west France. The women chat, sing in Occitan (the local dialect and the language of the troubadours), or are simply immersed in an activity they have known since childhood. Photo and story by Manuela Boeckle (from ‘The Walnut Project’ in Issue 8 – Techne)

We have foraged for chestnuts, acorns, seaweed and salt, fermented cabbage and kefir; we have stirred beans and nettle soup, and delved deep into the terroirs that have fostered and sustained cultures around certain foods. We have looked critically at the global meat industry, followed the ancient tracks of dairy herds into the Alps, dreamed of wild rice recipes in prison in Minnesota. We have gathered production techniques from a forest community of Japanese elders, a Native American Hoop of wildtenders, Mexican maize resistance groups, Palestinian seed bank activists, and Syrian refugees  – each story revealing a vital connection to place and people, as well as a sobering look at the way industrialised monoculture strips land and oceans everywhere for its own profit.

We have asked ourselves: how can we change the story of our culture, built as it is on millions of years of living in hunter-gatherer bodies, thousands of years living in wheat and barley-fed civilisations, in nomadic milk-herding geographies? How can we tap into food’s deep time memory, and appraise our personal and cultural relationships with domesticated and wild creatures, plants, watersheds and cooking fires?

How can we tap into food’s deep time memory, and appraise our personal and cultural relationships with domesticated and wild creatures, plants, watersheds and cooking fires?

In 2021 we co-produced a publication called Sheaf with the grain and pulse pioneers Hodmedod. We invited three Dark Mountain writers to go into the fields at harvest time to report their encounters. This meeting between farmers and writers came from a gathering where we realised a crucial link was missing: the  connection between people and the land that fed them, once provided by ceremony, story and craft. 

George Young among his Emmer and Einkorn varieties of wheat, Fobbing Farm, Essex. From ‘Field’ by Joanna Pocock for ‘Sheaf’

How to restore that relationship while not turning away from the realities of modern food production is the core tenet of this issue: not just to engage in the regeneration of soils, or right stewardship, but also our relationships with each other, a culture of cooking and conviviality that can sustain us through the dark times. As well as considering the way food is grown and produced, Dark Kitchen will also look at how we eat together; how the exchange of food, seeds and produce can be a bridge across cultures in cities across the world, even as divisions continue to tear us apart; how recovering the myths and teachings about animals and plants will restore right relations in our fields and kitchens.

When the pandemic has caused a widespread loss of taste and smell among humans, how do we now restore faith in the senses? After many meals eaten alone in isolation and fear, how can we rediscover ways to gather and bring back the heart and soul to our tables?

We don’t have to look far to see why such micro and macro restoration is overdue. After decades of intensive farming that has smothered the land in chemicals, much of the world’s topsoil is wrecked, leading to dire predictions of ‘only X number of harvests left!’ (sometimes 100, sometimes 60, sometimes 30 depending on the model used, but the disastrous trend is clear whatever the final number). The tropical forests of yesterday – beef farms and soy plantations today – are tomorrow’s degraded dustbowls, leached of minerals that have built up over thousands of years. In the oceans fish stocks continue to collapse, sucked up into floating factories.

The tropical forests of yesterday – beef farms and soy plantations today – are tomorrow’s degraded dustbowls. In the oceans fish stocks continue to collapse, sucked up into floating factories.

Palestinian heirloom seeds: Yakteen (Green pumpkin) packaging prototype – (package and photo by Vivien Sansour) from Dark Kitchen: ‘Seeds of Ba’al’)

Our current food culture reflects these pendulum swings of boom and bust, marked as it is by extremes of abundance and scarcity. As culinary consumerism grows ever more excessive and fetishised, the last five years have seen an 81% rise in the use of food banks in the UK, and crops have gone unpicked in the fields due to a lack of European workers. In Afghanistan people are facing starvation, and disrupted shipments of grain from Ukraine, the breadbasket for much of the world, threatens millions across the global south. The Dodo and Phoenix scenarios of collapse – whether sudden or gradual – are being enacted in real life even as we order the next online takeaway.

While conventional ‘solutions’ are imposed from above with increased market and corporate control, more industrial intervention, more chemical inputs, highly processed ‘lab meat’, genetically modified crops, taking us further and further away from the Earth, other forces, mostly below the radar, push more gently from the grassroots and the margins: heirloom seed banks to preserve genetic diversity, agroforestry, urban gardens, community ‘waste’ kitchens, indigenous practices, interconnected and thriving partnerships in cities and rural districts that mirror the mycelia present within healthy soil. An approach to food growing and eating that is regenerative, rather than entropic, diverse rather than monocultural. This was the radical shift  proposed in the play’s Butterfly scenario that followed the transformation of a female farmer and beekeeper, who decides to reverse the fortunes of the farm, uniting her traditional agricultural  partner and idealistic stepdaughter.

Public workshop as part of Cooking Sections’ CLIMAVORE project to reverse the damaging effects of the commercial salmon industry on the iIsle of Skye. Seaweed forager Rory MacPhee explains regenerative seaweed reproduction and harvesting cycles. Meals were held with fishermen, politicians, residents and scientists to discuss another cultural imaginary for the island. (Photo: Colin Hattersley) From  Dark Kitchen ‘Salmon Island’.

Dark Kitchen sets out to foster these regenerative conditions: to invite and take part in an ensemble story of resilience in times of climate breakdown. As human connections with the living world increasingly untether, we aim to expand our online enquiry into a book – a collection that will look at ways of restoring  the vital kinships with the plant and animal kingdoms that succour us, as well as within our own communities and neighbourhoods.

Our books have always been deliberately diverse, a mixture of genres, mediums, people and places, each one housing up to 70 contributions of writing and art that deliberately cross-reference and form an interconnected whole. We consider these imaginative gatherings eminently practical, building a networked culture that can withstand the fallout and the storm and where wild nature is at the heart of the story we tell  In 2023 we are focusing on creating two handbooks that bring together the head, heart and hands of that culture: artwork, poetry and essays that sit happily alongside new and old recipes and techniques. 

For this issue we are interested in submissions of non-fiction, fiction, artwork, poems, photo essays, portraits, interviews, testimonies, ceremonies, recipes – as well other contributions that might not fit any of those categories As with all our anthologies, do read the Manifesto for an idea of the uncivilised writing and art we might be seeking.

We look forward to seeing what you send us between now and November.

 

Dark Mountain: Issue 23 will be published in March 2023. The deadline for submissions is Friday 11th November. For details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines. Please note this is a new online submission process and form, so do read carefully. Thanks! We cannot read or respond to work that does not fit within those guidelines.

 

Sheaf

A small book of regenerative stories about grains and the people who grow them by three Dark Mountain writers

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