How maggots drove me to gardening

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By Helen Walne Time of article publishedJan 26, 2016

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Cape Town – After doing a monthly grocery shop last week, I drove straight to the nursery and bought a selection of edible plants: cherry tomatoes, cucumber, butter lettuce, chillies, rocket, butternut, brinjal and carrots.

If we’re now entering pre-apocalyptic survival mode, I want to be prepared.

Drought, fires, global slumps and a rand plunging faster than Mariah Carey’s neckline means less food at higher prices. The till slip slapped in my hand by the extremely happy and fulfilled supermarket cashier was like a ribbon plucked from Satan’s sacrificial kimono. It was long, burnt my hand and the numbers on it were evil. There were even a lot of sixes: R16 for a bag of lettuce, R69 for a pocket of potatoes, R26 for onion. Feeding ourselves has suddenly become a luxury.

If things are bad now, what will they be like 10 or 15 years from now, when the dystopian plotlines of novels become reality? We might have to be innovative and resort to eating insects and weeds. While I know people who claim to have eaten crickets and Mopani worms, the weirdest thing I’ve eaten was a McDonald’s breakfast in Prague. I had no idea scrambled eggs could double as flower-arranging oasis.

When I was at primary school, KwaZulu-Natal storms would brew and build all day and smash open for 10 minutes in the afternoon. Once it had stopped raining and steam rose from the beds of cannas, the quad would fill with swarms of flying ants. It was slightly horrifying – all those long, dry wings drifting down and those fat little bodies packing the air. And the swarms seemed to make the kids – especially Kevin Weldon – crazy. They would run around the place squealing and ripping the wings off the insects. They would also brag about having eaten them; how they tasted of peanut butter.

But I never actually saw anyone consuming a flying ant. Sure, I once saw Kevin Weldon scoff down a pile of sugar ants, but never flying ants – and I’m beginning to think the whole thing was a scam.

I’ve recently been pondering the state of the world and food shortages and insects. I imagine a future where well-dressed ladies holding large butterfly nets will wrestle each other on Rondebosch Common as they compete for clouds of gnats. I imagine heading out early to the market to pick up a few bags of salted mosquitoes and pickled slugs. And I imagine that when water dries up and foliage eventually disappears, even these will die out and all we’ll be left with are maggots. Hence my trip to the nursery.

I don’t mind any creature in the world – rats, cockroaches, frogs, spiders, worms – but place a single maggot in my field of vision and I feel bilious and can almost taste their creaminess in my mouth.

When we moved into our apartment in Durban – a stylish art-deco affair – we quickly discovered the previous owner had stuck some kitchen tiles on to the wall with Prestik. When they clattered to the floor one sweaty morning, a writhing knot of maggots came crawling out of the skirting. I refused to enter the kitchen for three days.

While I was selecting my plants, I thought about the different ways one could prepare maggots: deep-fried with a satay sauce, dried and spiced like Indian sev, liquidised with coconut milk. And as I crushed basil leaves between my fingers and inhaled the green smell, I realised that in a post-apocalyptic world, there would be no oil for frying, no masala powder and no coconut milk. There would just be raw maggots, a few scruffily dressed men with Australian accents and, possibly, a few sacks of reconstituted scrambled eggs.

My plan is to try to grow as much of our own food as possible. It’s an ambitious plan considering that: (a) our garden is like a convention centre for moles; (b) I have killed every plant I have ever bought, except the orchid in the bathroom which lives off shower steam and nail clippings; (c) our dogs are fond of archaeological digs; (d) the vegetable patch is a hotbed of obscene slug action.

However, I shall persist. I might buy a straw hat and decorate it with silk flowers and pre-rolled cigarettes. And if I’m successful, I may even consider planting some vegetables in the small patch of soil outside our fence so the homeless and the moneyless can help themselves. I don’t know how those with less than me are surviving. And without rain, there aren’t even free flying snacks to be had.

Cape Argus

* Helen Walne is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Cape Town.

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