In this month's Talking Travel series, we had the pleasure of chatting to Tammi Jonas aka tammois. Tammi is a travelling mother, a studious traveller and a well-travelled cultural theorist from Melbourne, Australia. As well as working on a PhD on the role of food in cosmopolitan, sustainable societies, she and her husband have just purchased a farm near Daylesford, Victoria, where they intend to farm free-range pigs and advocate for sustainable, ethical agriculture and a low-consumption lifestyle (which helps fund their incessant travels). To give you another insight into Tammi, her email signature reads: "I awake each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. This makes it hard to plan my day." ~ E. B. White
Tammi and her partner Stuart at Canyonlands National Park in the US
You're a few months in to what's been dubbed 'RoadTripUSA', tell us more about this? Including info about the shipping container!
RoadTripUSA is one of those things I guess people now refer to as an item on a 'bucket list' – we've wanted to drive across the States (and Australia) with our brood for a while, and a mystical alignment of events led to our current adventure:
1) We were evicted from our rental in Melbourne so the landlord could renovate;
2) Stuart and I had solar and food and ag conferences to attend in the US in May and June;
3) We said, 'what the hell', booked flights, bought a 1977 GMC motorhome on Craigslist, and commenced planning for RoadTripUSA;
4) We bought a farm near Daylesford, Victoria a fortnight before we flew to San Francisco;
5) We bought a 40-foot shipping container, packed all our worldly belongings into it and dropped it off at the farm a few days before we flew.
The trip was all about spending a solid few months on our own as a family exploring and discovering America up close. We wanted history, culture and nature, and we wanted to learn how they vary from coast to coast. RoadTripUSA has hugely exceeded all our expectations for family fun, learning and adventure, as you can read on the Crikey Back in a Bit travel blog.
The shipping container we bought will be converted into our bedroom/study/bath to supplement the existing three small bedrooms in the farmhouse as soon as we move onto the farm. Stuart's just ordered windows from a supplier in China (good to have a man with a useful skillset - he is importing things directly from China at a quarter of the cost we'd pay in Oz, plus the ability to then build us a home!), and we hope to be in it within six weeks of moving onto the property.
The 'RockVan' courtesy of Craigslist
What do you hope to have learnt by the end of your trip?
One of the things I like to learn on every trip is just how little I know about the world. Even though I'm a west-coast American who migrated to Australia 20 years ago, I have loads to learn about this complicated, confounding and beautiful country full of people who floor me with their constant acts of personal generosity yet who are collectively individualist to the detriment of the greater good, in my humble opinion.
Travel helps me better understand my own contradictions as well as others, and so hopefully serve as a sort of cultural translator at times – a latter-day Atticus Finch who probably just irritates the crap out of everyone with my 'it's just their way, Scout' attitude about difference as I experience it.
This trip in particular though is intended to help my children understand the American side of their heritage better, and to give Stuart and I insight into the 'rebel farming' movement, including real knowledge about raising pasture pigs and running a small family farm.
You're travelling with your partner and three children, what advice do you have for families on the road?
We've travelled with our kids since they were bubs – I remember flying to Europe with all three of them when they were four, three and three months old. People said, 'how do you cope?' My response was always, 'I'd rather they have a tantrum somewhere new and interesting than at home in the lounge room.' We only had one 'international incident' on a flight from London to Paris that challenged that view.
I guess the most important things we've learned from travelling with little kids are to be flexible, manage our expectations, help them predict what will be happening in the days ahead, and when all else fails, say yes to pancakes. As for expectations – in Paris we had this silly idea that we'd revisit and recapture our youthful experience of falling in love in Paris – yeah, right, 'cos that was going to happen with three kids aged four and under! So instead of long days at galleries, we plan a couple hours, and instead of lots of cafes, we picnic in parks more. When they were very small (they're 11, 10 and seven now), I'd make pre-trip scrapbooks with them – we'd cut or print out photos from the internet of places we'd be going, people we'd be seeing, foods we'd be likely to eat, etc, and make up a timeline (even if rough) so they could see at each stage what to expect next. I knew it was working when we walked into our courtyard apartment in Paris for the first time and Oscar exclaimed, 'this is it!'.
The ages they're at now, I think the most important thing we have to remind ourselves is that they still need play time. If they don't get a couple hours of adult-intervention/direction-free time each day, they're more likely to resist our attempts to expose them to culture or go for long hikes. Their play time also gives us time on our own (sort of), which means that even after two months 24/7 together in the RockVan, we still love each others' company. ;-)
The non-troublesome trio
You're currently doing a PhD on the role of food in a cosmopolitan, sustainable society – what role does travel play in your research?
I've had the privilege to travel a fair bit for my research – to both Vietnam and Italy for fieldwork, and to India, Finland and the US as well as domestically in Australia to give conference papers. I've had to self-fund a lot of it as universities keep decreasing funding to research students (and even tenured academics, actually), but as I've always valued travel enormously I certainly haven't regretted the money spent.
Before I commenced this PhD Stuart and I had been keeping a 'food diary' when we travelled for a number of years – when I'm too busy to keep a 'proper' journal of my travels, I simply note down what I eat each day. It's an incredible mnemonic – I know exactly what I ate the day I met Stuart in London – mushies on toast.
So my research has simply honed a travel technique I'd been using for a long time – but it really has sharpened my insights into what I'm eating, why, and how it's affecting me and everyone I'm with. I love what my PhD has given me personally, especially when travelling!
It's hard to ignore the impact of food in your life, why are you so passionate about it?
Food is central to everything. One of my greatest pleasures is simply to cook and feed others. To do so, I am conscious of my connection to so many people, places, and animals – it helps ground me and understand my part in the world, as well as simply providing an intensely pleasurable creative outlet.
I figure if everyone was more knowledgable about and connected to food – where it's produced, by whom, and to what effect on the local environment and economy, as well as how it's prepared and consumed, again, by whom, under what conditions, to what cultural norms, with whom and why, everything would really be okay. Until everyone 'gets it', but especially those with the economic, political, social and cultural power to do something about it, we will still have obesity epidemics, hunger, and famine, often in the same country at one time. And we will watch our soils die before us as agricultural workers are poisoned and impoverished. And the wealthiest nations in the world such as America will continue to dive on 'happiness' ratings, at least partially because we've outsourced the things we need (to do) daily, such as cook, eat, and spend time with our families and friends.
Where's your favourite place in the world?
Wherever I am at the moment.
Check out these recent interviews in the Talking Travel series: