From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland
14th of August 2022
Early in the morning, I climbed out of my tent to head over to the kitchen. The night before, around the fire, I had promised my friends, ‘the best potatoes any of you have ever eaten in your life,’ and I aimed to deliver. We had two bags of freshly grown spuds which needed to be washed, chopped, and fried with only a couple of hours to do it all before the entire hungry camp rushed towards our door.
Slí Eile’s climate camp was set up during the first week of August in a field between Lislaughtin Abbey and Saleen Pier, just outside of the town Ballylongford, Kerry. The goal of the camp was to demonstrate organised resistance against New Fortress Energy’s (an American fossil fuel company) proposed Shannon LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project. The project site the terminal would be built on was a fifteen-minute walk away from camp and, at the time of publication, it is currently leased as field space to a local farmer. The camp consisted of three large marquees which hosted a kitchen, a canteen, and event spaces. The other half of the field was kept for people to pitch their tents.
I went to the tap outside the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes and get to work. In addition to my potato-craving comrades, I had to worry about getting the meal cooked before our daily plenary meeting and my friends’ morning workshop about the benefits of Mutual Aid. Luckily, a few other early risers were around to help me with the cleaning and a number of the other kitchen crew were able to work on their contribution to breakfast. I easily found the tools that I needed to get the dish prepared.
If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention.
The campers were a mix of people from different campaigns ranging from climate organisations such as Futureproof Clare and Fridays for Future to broader groups such as MacramÉire and Community Action Tenants Union, among others. Many had been a part of Extinction Rebellion Ireland at some point during their lives, though most had moved on to other ways to combat the climate crisis. Politically, there were two things which connected everybody who was there. We all cared about the crisis, with a hope to stop the methane-leaking LNG terminal which would exacerbate it. We also wanted to take active steps to move towards a world that was actually survivable, though there were disagreements about how much change would be required to get there. The camp and its mission were kept together by a fundamental bond, the shared experience of living in a specific space at a specific time which was only possible because we were able to rely on one another for basic requirements such as food, shelter, waste disposal, and warmth.
When I began to chop the potatoes into small chunks, I noticed how fatigued I was. From the moment I had asked if there was anything I could help with when I arrived Monday afternoon, I was swept from task to task in a way that I hadn’t been used to since I’d worked in a hospital years ago. If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention. That’s not to say that I didn’t have time to rest, it’s just that every action from the most intense work to the special moments of relaxation were deliberate and filled with meaning in a way I wasn’t used to in the city. Community feels different when you’re living apart from the people you build it with. We had weaved a fragile net of mutual reliance on each other; I didn’t have the time or need to dissociate to the same degree as usual. In the city, I tried my best to disappear; in the camp, with the support of others, I tried my best to actively live in the present.
People doing the jobs required to run the camp had a wide range of experiences. In my working group, there were campers who had worked in restaurants, cooked for friends occasionally, or maintained kitchens at other climate camps; we all taught each other the skills and recipes necessary to keep the camp fed. A task to install some complex solar panels turned from a specialist activity into a workshop where everyday people learned how to do it themselves. Direct action and media training workshops both helped people gain the confidence to engage politically for themselves and provided the space to share experiences and raise people’s awareness about various aspects of the struggle against Collapse. Even free transport to and from the nearby town of Listowel became an opportunity to learn about one another along the way and form the bonds necessary to maintain our community. The activities of the camp worked to empower each of us to participate in every part of camp life rather than separate us and disguise the labour happening around the site.
While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.
I needed help to light the stove we used to cook. While someone lent me a hand, I worked to create a spice mix of black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt to add to the potatoes when they were ready. Someone else helped me carry the heavy pot full of water to the tent so I could boil the sliced tubers before sauteing them. While I waited for them to boil, I was able to chat and share a coffee with a number of people who’d come into the marquee’s social area, including a number of friends from the previous night and new people who’d arrived in the morning. A couple of them helped me drain the potatoes while we reflected on yesterday’s Céilí and the upcoming events. While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.
For an extended encounter between a group of exhausted Irish leftists in a field, there was shockingly little drama. When a number of issues inevitably came up, they were handled without resorting to calling the gardaí (which would have put some of the campers at risk of violence.) We would find people who could empathise and communicate with the people involved in trouble and move through it without resorting to exclusion or violence. A lot of this came from a mutual respect we held for each other and our shared interest in maintaining the camp and its mission. A number of people did get tired, and conflict grew over space and scheduling. We knew the only way we were going to get through conflict without turning to older systems of punishment was recognising the worth in each other and pushing through to do the difficult work of compromise. This labour was just another job that kept the camp together, and one of the most hard-won successes we brought into reality.
I was able to fry the ingredients and serve them. Everybody made sure to thank me for the work and I in turn thanked them for what they’d done over the week. We all kept the old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ in mind while enjoying breakfast. We were eating locally produced food made by our friends for the purpose of keeping the camp going. We were a community, politically and gastronomically. The burner I made the potatoes on had been used the day before to create a glue out of boiled wheat flour called wheatpaste. Our actions and our meals were made by the same people in the same place, the heart of the camp as one friend put it. I don’t see these processes as distinct, separable parts of our camp, but different faces of the same fantastic gem. At the end of the day, it was a bold experiment in dreaming a better world into reality.
Featured Photo by Slí Eile
This article was supported by: STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin
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