Sunday, September 20, 2009

food intimacy

(...not the way you think.)

Despite the fact that Vegas had, at the most, 600,000 people during the time that I lived there, I still considered myself a "city" girl, especially compared to my dad, who grew up in the "country." My dad lived in rural Louisiana, and told stories of wringing the necks of their chickens and using the bark off of trees for shoes (he had one good pair for school and church). I have no such experience.

My belief is that the resurgence of DIY in recent years has to do with people's desire to know from where their stuff comes. This is mostly what drives my interest. The vulnerability that I feel when I think about trying to survive without technology or electricity is sobering.

However, while I've gotten a bit more proficient in general take-care-of-yourselfedness (sewing, baking bread, preserving), I still don't know how to do basic things like catch fish and prepare them, light a fire, or grow my own fruits and vegetables. Therefore, I've come to admire folks who can really get down and dirty with their food.

Emily Weinstein recounts her first lobster boiling experience in this NYTimes article. Although her big apprehension wasn't the killing part, but the "kickback — the lid blowing off, hearing the sound of lobsters screaming, or something unimaginable, and worse" — I can sympathize with the uncertainty of the unknown. It's easy to try out a cupcake recipe. It's an entirely different thing when it involves a live creature. Weinstein even attempts to hypnotize the lobster initially, but finally resorts to tried-and-true method of freezing then plunging into boiling water.

Novella Carpenter's account of raising two pigs in Oakland for charcuterie was one of my all-time favorite San Francisco Magazine features. Her detailed discussion of the process -- the late-night dumpster diving, the salumi apprenticeship, and the heart-rending butchering that did not go as intended.

My favorite thing about the article is that she quickly disabuses any romantic notions of farming that us city-folk might have, but maintains an affection and closeness to her pigs throughout their raising; she says "Bye guys" as they are taken away to the butcher, and when she learns that they were killed in a way different from her wishes, she is truly sorrowful:
They were dead, and I hadn’t been there. Not that I’d been looking forward to watching them die, but I had wanted to close the door on what had turned into a massive task. I had also wanted to make sure they weren’t scared in their last moments. I had hoped that having me nearby would make their deaths easier. I had the same feeling of cosmic unfairness that I had felt when my ducks were slaughtered by an opossum. Injustice. Life gone bad. And, worst of all, it was my fault.
That personal responsibility that she feels towards the two animals she raised, even after their death, makes abundantly clear that being close to your food is a two-way street - you are not only connected to the food items themselves, but the entire process behind what produced it - the farmers, the preparers, the pickers. You get to know where your food comes from, but you also are touched by it.

wild deer seen on a hike

1 comment:

Molly said...

I read the Backyard Farming blog sometimes, and they have recommended naming your animals things like "Christmas" and "Thanksgiving" so that you always have it in the back of your mind that that big fat chicken is going to be on your dining room table in the near future. I still don't think I could handle it very well. Gosh, I have trouble pulling out old tomato plants when they are obviously done producing but still have some green leaves. I feel like I'm killing them for no reason...