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Spinach: How Human History IS Natural History

2019, May 15 | A Practice For Spring


What on earth does LOCAL food mean? Looking past our immediate frame of reference (the 80 some odd years we grace this planet and the hundred years or so a couple of generations of our living family members have been here) we see that millennia of human and natural history intersect to evolve the foods we grow locally and think of as part of our native cuisine. Let´s use spinach as an example.

I have thought of spinach as a “local” food everywhere I have lived. That includes Upstate New York, Boston, London, Helsinki and Copenhagen. That begs the question, where DOES spinach come from? Spinach does not appear in English cookery history until the 14th Century.  The earliest written records of spinach date from 647 AD China. This is a notation indicating when spinach was introduced to China via Nepal, so that is not an origin story.  In fact its origin story we may never know, but we can be a bit more certain about when humans began to cultivate a plant similar to the spinach we know today.  Very likely, human history and spinach history began to intersect somewhere in Persia. 

What humans were doing tens of thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent very much impacts what you pile onto your plate today. What we think of as a local food (a food that is part of a specific cuisine) most likely is far more of a global citizen.  Sure, it is GROWN in our local area but, how did it get there in the fist place? Does it grow in the same conditions in its land of origin? How has the plant adapted to grow in different regions of the world? How have different regions of the world adapted to growing the plant? What would you be eating if you only ate truly native species?

When you look at food history, you quickly notice that the distinction between human history and natural history are blurry. I think the answers for developing a more regenerative world lie in understanding the impacts of our creating this distinction between human history and natural history.  When it comes to food, if we spent less time trying to cultivate our environments so that we all eat the same food, wherever we are in the world, logic dictates we would start to move away from intensive mono-crop production that is destroying soil and leading to biodiversity extinction, which in turn is threatening the future of our own species on planet earth.  We would eat more seasonally by default. We would look at systems that nurture our local environments and their bio-diverse production. If we accept that human history and natural history are one, perhaps we will then design systems that support all of nature to thrive.  This is the story a single leaf of spinach has to tell, if you choose to listen.

Spinach has a story to tell


This is the Beginner’s Mind question that will aid you in your nature relatedness practice by expanding your curiosity and helping you build your fluency in the language of nature – a language you intuitively know as nature is not something that is OUT there, it is IN you. Cooking and eating can be a way to remind yourself that you are intricately connected to the full cycle of life.



Spinach and Aged Cheddar Crustless Quiche

Rituals are how we turn thoughts into actions and reinforce our values.  When cooking is as much about the process as it is about the end product, you can create moments that help to reinforce your intent to enhance your identity as a part of nature.  Tell stories, consider beginner´s mind questions, use all of your senses as you cook and you will be creating mindful moments that enhance your well being and eventually will transition into more eco-friendly habits by default as you see yourself as nature, in constant exchange with life cycle that you can see and that which you cannot.  Here´s something to chew on before you chew on your spinach and cheese crustless quiche! 

Spring is a time of hope. But, when the growing season comes, we tend to get overexcited thinking that all food is fresh once again. The truth is that most of the future harvest is still vulnerable and developing. This spinach and aged cheddar crustless quice recipe blends preserves (the cheese, the flour) and fresh foods of spring (the spinach, the egg) to firmly place you in the present season as you eat it.

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons butter, melted, 3 eggs, 250ml milk, 130grams flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 500 grams shredded cheddar, 500 grams spinach, 1 tablespoon chopped onion.

Method. Preheat oven to 175 Celsius, add melted butter to a rectangular baking tray, mix flour, baking powder and cheese together. Mix wet ingredients together. Slowly combine. Mix in the spinach add a large pinch of salt and a pinch of smoked paprika if you have it.