A question I get asked on occasion is “do you need to be vegetarian to be a Witch”.
The answer is always a resounding “no”.
But it does start a conversation about being mindful of what we eat.
Here I would like to delve into it in more detail, what Pagan cooking and eating is and what the key points about being mindful of what we eat and how important seasonality and sourcing is.
What is Pagan cooking?
When I was asked to write a book proposal for ‘pagan cooking’ I was of course excited about the prospect, but then it got me to thinking, what exactly is ‘pagan cooking’?
I seem to have a bit of a reputation for cake…and I must admit I do love baking. I find it quite therapeutic.
Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of writing a Kitchen Witchcraft column for the Pagan Dawn magazine and in it I have covered food for sabbats, different intents (such as prosperity, love, etc) and food to honour particular deities.
Is this perhaps what I would call ‘pagan cooking’?
If it is, then is that a bit restrictive?
What does it cover?
In my ponderings I have come to the conclusion that it covers quite a lot…
Cooking specific foods and dishes for the sabbats.
Using magical ingredients that correspond to particular intents, such as love and prosperity.
Creating food dishes to honour deity.
Baking bread and cookies to consume within ritual.
Food prepared to serve at workshops and gatherings.
Dishes created in harmony with the moon phase.
Working with seasonal ingredients.
Being mindful of where your ingredients are sourced from.
I could probably go on to include pretty much everything including cooking food for your family. Which I do on a daily basis and it always involves using seasonal ingredients and being mindful of where the ingredients are sourced from.
Whenever I cook, I add a dash of magic, whether it is cakes for an open ritual or dinner for my family. I recognise and acknowledge the energy of each ingredient. I stir clockwise to bring positive energy in. When I wash the vegetables, I visualise negative energy draining away, and I try not to cook if I am in a grumpy mood. (Your energy will affect the success of the meal and transfer to the ingredients).
I do eat meat, although much less than I used to and not every day. However, I am very mindful of where the meat is sourced from. In an ideal world I would also purchase my meat from a local organic supplier, but the price is a bit outside of my budget as I have to feed a family. I do make sure the meat I purchase is farm assured and I always buy free range eggs. At least I know that the animals have been well cared for. Having worked on a farm in my younger days I am well aware of the ‘other side’ of the fence from a farming point of view. In the past year I have discovered online a supplier down in Devon who delivers lovely boxes of meat products that are all from local farms. The quality is excellent, the price is good and I feel assured that the sources are good.
Supermarkets are very convenient, and they do sell cheaper items, but there is a knock-on effect. If the supermarket wants to sell meat or produce at a cheap price then they will force the suppliers and farmers down in price, which puts a lot of strain on them to produce in quantity at stupidly cheap prices.
Farmers markets are excellent if you have one near you and do support your local shops if you can. Sadly, there are no local greengrocers in my area but the lovely veggie box people deliver which makes life much easier.
I do believe that only you can make the choice about eating meat or not. Don’t be bullied into a decision. As a Witch I honour the animal in all forms and when I cook with meat I make sure nothing is wasted. If I have bones left then they get used for magical purpose. Because as a Witch I also work with bone magic. My drum is made from stag skin, from Scotland where the herd is well looked after but has to be properly managed to make sure that they herd doesn’t get too big for the land that they live on.
There are consequences to all of our actions and I am very mindful that each person has a right to make their own choices and will have their own reasons for doing so.
Not eating meat may not be the right answer for all. There are knock on effects for every single decision.
For me, the key point is probably seasonal. I believe we have gotten incredibly lost in the world of food supplies. Being able to purchase strawberries in December is convenient but they never taste of anything because they are grown out of season, often in a polytunnel somewhere around the globe. Not to mention the cost of airfare to ship them here and the eco damage incurred as a result.
When I was a child my father always had an allotment for growing fruit and vegetables, in fact he still does grow a lot of his own produce. In my past I owned my own allotment, but I sadly don’t have the time to give it the attention it would need these days. I do have a small garden where I grow lots of herbs and plants and last year acquired a greenhouse too, so I do my bit in a small way.
I have for many years subscribed to local vegetable and fruit box deliveries. Fresh locally grown and sourced produce delivered without any plastic bags or unrecyclable packaging. It is a little bit more expensive than supermarket produce but the quality is far superior, as is the taste. Not only do I get delicious items but there is no waste packaging and I am supporting local growers. Of course, it is all seasonal as well.
Back to my childhood again, when food didn’t seem to ever be wasted. Sunday we had a roast dinner, if it was beef then on Monday we had baked potatoes with cold beef and on Tuesday we had rissoles made with the last of the beef minced up and mixed with the left-over potato. One joint of meat served four of us for three days. Bubble and squeak was a regular too, using up any cooked vegetables and potatoes. One of my favourite cakes is bread pudding, a recipe created to use stale bread and of course treacle tart which uses stale breadcrumbs. Bananas that are particularly ripe get made into banana cake. I often make a big chilli on a Sunday and on the Monday we have the remainder served over baked potatoes or on top of hot dogs. Any vegetables at the end of the week, just before my next vegetable box delivery, get thrown into a stock pot and made into soup. The amount of food that is thrown away in the world each day is shocking. Just a bit of creative thinking makes food go a long way. It will reduce food waste and help the environment, but also help your pocket too.
I know I have pushed buying fresh produce locally and using what is in season. However, I am also totally realistic. I am a working wife and mother to hungry (and expensive) teenage children. Cooking should be enjoyable, but I do know that having to create a meal every day for the family can sometimes be a chore. I put my hands up to it – I often use frozen vegetables and tinned fruit…there you go, my secret is out. It is OK, honestly the food police are not going to bash down your door if you make soup from a couple of bags of frozen veg. Or if you make a pie using tinned fruit. In fact, I have made some brilliant dishes using frozen produce. Some vegetables I find are better frozen. Peas for example, shelling a bucket load of peas to get enough for a family meal would take hours and I don’t have that kinda time. Frozen peas are an excellent ingredient. French beans are also good frozen. I find broccoli, carrots and cauliflower go a bit mushy to serve from frozen as a side dish, but they work brilliantly in soups and casseroles. Sweet potato and butternut squash from the freezer work really well for mash, casserole and soups. The only vegetable I don’t ever buy frozen is Brussels sprouts, I love sprouts, but frozen ones are just so mushy and tasteless. I often keep frozen berries in the freezer, they make good crumbles and pies, but the fruit does go very squishy when defrosted. Do what works for you and makes things easier, life is complicated enough as it is!
To watch a replay of my chat, click the link below