By Nerissa Card
How many of you know someone who never sets foot in a supermarket to buy food?
Well, let me introduce you to eco-warrior and food activist Nikki Brighton.
Nikki, who lives in Howick, began her life in the rural Midlands in her mid-30s. She was a crafter in Dargle, who traded her time running the shop on the farm where she lived for rent.
Over the years she has been involved with a number of causes, starting with the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMEP).
The project began with a focus on environmental education and tourism, but it soon became apparent that a more holistic approach was necessary.
Food gardens and creative lessons were added and, later, after observing the trauma many children faced, the programme began to address these issues too.
“We couldn’t really expect a hungry or abused child to care about dogs and frogs and trees,” comments Nikki, who believes that livelihood should embrace building wealth in one’s community.
On the subject of food, Nikki tells me about her and her partner Paul Van Uytrecht’s transition to vegetarianism.
“It was Christmas in the late 80s. We thought a goose would be just the thing for lunch, but couldn’t find any in the shops, so a friend suggested we get one from the townships. Soon, a big bird was delivered that ticked all our boxes. We named him/her Mandla, which was probably our first mistake.
“Anyway, after a few days in our yard it was clear that killing and eating the creature was beyond us, so we released him/her onto a dam nearby. In retrospect, this must have been the start of our conscious-eating journey.
“First, we gave up eating pigs, after learning how intelligent they are. Other creatures followed, until, after many years, we emerged vegetarian.”
Nikki points out, though, that she may not have given up eating meat all those years ago had there been the ethical producers there are today.
She avoids supermarkets like the plague, preferring to know exactly where what she eats comes from. To achieve this, she either grows her own, trades at various barter markets, orders from small, ethical producers through REKO Howick or forages for edible weeds.
“Every meal we eat I am able to thank everyone personally for the contribution they made to my plate of food. Not forgetting the butterflies, rivers, bees, farm workers, sunshine and shopkeepers who played a role before the ingredients got to my table. This is perfectly natural to me now, but often surprises others.”
A firm believer in “local is lekker”, she aims to protect biodiversity, increase food security and build resilience in her community to enable it to better adapt to the challenges climate change will bring.
“I am aghast at the disrespectful treatment humans dish out to other species. Honestly, do we really believe that the incredible biodiversity on our planet is here only for our benefit?”
Her book, Mnandi, which celebrates the cooks and gardeners of Mpophomeni, embraces these concepts. All proceeds from sales of the book go to providing free WiFi to residents of Mpophomeni in the area around the library.
Nikki is a prolific blogger and uses every opportunity to raise awareness about the causes she cares about – local food; simple, creative living; animal rights; conservation, and community. She puts a lot of effort into the REKO farmers’ markets’ movement and Midlands barter markets, organises the annual Trashion Show (showcasing the creative use of waste) and is a committed Slow Food member.
“Food is both cause and victim of climate change, but also a possible solution. Our food choices have a direct impact on the planet. I enjoy participating in the international Slow Food – Food for Change Challenges, creating zero waste and using only completely local products.”
Nikki understands that it is unlikely people will value things they have no knowledge of, so her efforts are focused on sharing local treasures.
She believes that everyone should have access to good food and wild places to boost health, stimulate curiosity, inspire creative thinking and foster a sense of connectedness to nature.
“We need to pay attention to the little things, become more mindful about the choices you make throughout any given day and how they may affect the environment. Small actions often have a big impact that is not always clear at first.”