Bruce Pascoe: The Way We Cook Honors Life and Death


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There is a poignant story, common to many indigenous groups across Australia, that features a whale and a traditional message about the importance of sharing Earth’s spoils with one another.

Uncle Bruce Pascoe – founder of Indigenous social enterprise Black Duck Foods – reveals a side of the story to SBS. “Many years ago the inhabitants of the earth had a relationship with the whale because it was a land animal,” says Pascoe, an Australian Aboriginal writer, teacher, scholar and farmer. “Then one day we saw her go to the sea. People were standing on the headland and begging the whale to come back to land, because they couldn’t imagine that it would be able to live in the sea.

“The whale did not return to land. Instead, the mammal came out of the water and showed people its mouth full of algae. He said ‘look’. I can eat and live here in the water. I’m fine.

“We eat way too much. We process our food too much. We need to respect the Earth a lot more. [and the foods it provides us]. “

The people, threatened by rising sea levels, were brought to safety by the whale which took them to the lands of other Australian aborigines. “The whale is warning the group about how they will have to learn to live with their [new] hosts, saying “you will ask them to share what they have with you.” They will give up the amenity of their land because of you. You will therefore have to be polite ”.

There are so many beautiful environmental and social themes in this condensed version of the traditional story. Pascoe explains that it serves as a reminder of the relationship between animals and humans. It also stresses the need for friendly and respectful sharing of the Earth’s resources with animals as well as with other groups of people. More importantly, however, the story emphasizes the need to be respectful when we share.

For Pascoe, this respect extends both to man and to the natural environment, which nourishes us. “The way we treat the Earth is so important to Australia and the world,” says the Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian. “We must be modest about our demands on it. In today’s world, we have too much of it. We eat too much. We process our food too much. We must respect the Earth much more. [and the foods it provides us]. “

Share our waterways & respect the fish

The indigenous food advocate and fishing enthusiast, who learned to fish from his father and uncle in his youth, says he catches the fish he eats. Living remotely along a river in the far east of Gippsland Victoria, the Saltwater Man feels a sense of freedom being able to have his own meals and eat the food that nature provides.

But with the privilege of being able to get fish to eat, fresh from the river, also comes responsibility.

Pascoe reminds us that in order to sustainably share the food the Earth provides, we must also respectfully share our waterways with its inhabitants and all the other people who use them. “We need to share and take care of our rivers. You can take your fish from the river, but it is also your responsibility to ensure the health of this river: it is the object of the aboriginal law; not only your rights, but your responsibilities.

“I have taught my kids, and now my grandchildren, to remember that when they catch a fish to eat it, they actually kill something… The fish used to have a pretty good life before you did. ‘catch and remove him from his kingdom. When you eat fish, you must honor the kingdom where the fish lived.

“You must really appreciate him because you took his life. When you cook it, you want its flavor and character to stand out.

Cook fresh fish, simply

To do this, Pascoe recommends cooking the fish in the wild, perhaps over a fire by a river, so that you can really connect with the environment around you. Of course, baking fish in the oven is also acceptable. But, he says, remember not to hide the flavor of the fish with a sauce that exceeds its essence.

“If you’re not sure how good the fish is, then okay – add a sauce to mask the flavor. But if you’ve just taken a fish out of the river and cleaned it up yourself, and you’re sitting on the sand and the sun is setting, then it’s a beautiful thing to cook it as simply as possible so that The flavor of the fish can be distinguished.

For cooking fish simply, whether it comes from the store or from the river, Pascoe recommends the following.

“First I clean the fish and stuff its belly with [native] herbs like lemon daisy (asteracea). It has a real zesty lemon flavor. If I don’t find that I am using green veggies or Warrigal samphire.

“I add a slice of lemon. Then I wrap everything in pocket paper or foil, smeared with a little butter. I put it on the embers and cook for about 25 minutes. If I bake it, I give it about five more minutes.

He says the packaging of the fish keeps it moist and infuses it with the taste of the herbs used.

“I think if people could cook fish just that way, they would taste the difference between a bream and a flathead and enjoy the fish a lot more.

“They will remember the country around them, they will remember where the fish came from, and they will remember the importance of honoring this fish.”

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