Saturday, August 29, 2009

(Poppa Nomad speaks) DIY: That Shit Don’t Grow on Trees

Since moving to Portland over two years ago, escaping the imploding Death Star of Bend, and since the economy has gone to shit, our family has engaged in a profound paradigm shift: a (our) new model of urban sustainability. More specifically, our redefinition of essential life practices and values. In our disposable, instant-gratification McCulture, a culture of consumption without actual necessity, we’ve all but forgotten what it means to “Do It Yourself”. I refer primarily to the life sustaining act of eating. Sure we all have material wants (even the more Zen among us), and all consume and use up resources...but can we breeders rekindle the fires of the ancients AND sustain ourselves and our families? With three kids can we be in it, but not of it? (A question I have posed to various monks, sages and other Buddhist-oriented teachers). Our family is blessed with a small urban farm that is our model for future sustainability; a living, changing daily mantra that we and our three children “meditate over” on a daily basis. For us and our little tribe, knowing where our food comes from is an integral part of that mindfulness.

We are a race of modern humans who purchase our boxed and frozen cubes of processed, modified, manipulated, and irradiated food from big box stores. We are scarcely aware of the process of growing and cultivating; farming. Victims of progress, we are frighteningly disassociated from the seasonal cycles. Really, I have not been Mr. Righteous my whole life, but our belief that the kids are greatly enriched by participating in the process that puts food in front of their mouths is an edict I now stand firmly by. Let it be said that I have a profound appreciation for Leah who daily prepares multiple organic, gourmet meals for our family. Meals that take into account personal taste, nutrition, our respective allergies...her awareness of the seasonal and sustainable is profound. As the once-in-a-while Chef in our house, I would like to note the extreme satisfaction associated with preparing food to sustain the lives of one’s family. I can only imagine how it must be for Leah, as she has been doing exactly that for what will soon be a decade for our growing family. She is quite the gourmet chef now.

As husband and wife we are fairly traditional: I hunt and gather, and she tends family and hearth. More recently we both have poured our blood and sweat , literally, into our garden. Those of you who know me know I am an “All or Nothing” personality type. In that spirit, my most recent experience of killing and consuming the food we raised was that reconnection the the ancient I spoke of. As an omnivore, I am mindful of how our ability to hunt compels protein and master fire enabled humans to evolve; as a species, we would have perished long ago if it were not for meat (and agriculture). I’ll spare the readers with my diatribe on “Freegans and Hippiecrite” practices, as it does come down to personal choice, but most of us, if faced with starvation would put aside our PC affiliations and consume meat to avoid death. Few political choices are stronger than the will to live. Personally, I grew up in a “gourmet” home....I love food and meat (and get debilitating headaches without my complete proteins) mother was a good cook...she was friends with James Beard and Julia Child. James Beard, in fact single-handedly defined the modern American palate. Both made being a chef cool for millions; everybody could do it, we just had to enjoy food. In James and Julia’s day, the advent of technology for the nuclear family of the 50’s and 60’s made for an uphill battle: canned and freeze dried, instant and (later) microwavable. Teaching the modern housewife that fresh was better, would take some time to realize.

Hunting, gathering and farming are the quintessential archetypes for tribal survival. Consumption of complete proteins (not found in plants) play an essential role for the development of synaptic pathways of young human brains. That being said, my recent butchering class with my brother-in-law Michael tested my resolve in a new way: looking into the eyes of your dinner before killing it. (It should be noted that the birds we slaughtered came from our farm: we knew them; we raised them, we named them.) It was overcast and raining. Our class, filled with people of various levels of personal conviction was conducted by a mindful farmer who instructed us to "thank the chicken for giving it’s life”. Like any new practice, some were more adept than others. I found myself annoyed at the “timid butchers” among us; there is much to be said for doing it humanely; quickly and efficiently. “Don’t torture the poor beast”, I thought, “Just Do It”! We learned the finer points of bird preparation, after the deed was done....careful excision of the anal cavity, so as not to rupture intestines...gutting and removal of the internals (which were equipped with eggs in various stages of development, like that frog back in seventh-grade science class). A hot-dip and feather removal, cutting off of the head, and legs at the knees, and appropriate gland removal, so as not to leak bile or other toxins into the bird and spoil the meat were some of the procedural highlights. On the drive home, Michael and I were quiet with our two birds on ice. I was not in the mood for a chicken dinner that night, and for several days saw my beloved family members as piles of guts; an existentialist twist on a factual condition. Leah complimented me on my work as we cooked Obama, remarking how she looked just like as if we had gone to the store and bought a chicken for dinner. Its the in-between process that most of us are disassociated from. That was the big enlightener here.

20+ years ago, I lived on a sailboat (commuted to work as a sailing instructor on my rowboat) and fished daily for my meals for some two years. I slept on the sea and ate from it. Yet, fishing and slaughtering a higher life form (that you raised, fed and interacted with on a daily basis) seem quite “different animals” to me. Hunting or fishing to survive is something few of have ever had to do, yet it is the reason why all of us are here today. It is my belief that this skill is something all modern humans should again nurture. Few understand the difficulty and complexities of cultivating even simple rice and beans; making tofu. Fewer still could do it even if it was a matter or survival.

Urban Farming is the new cool thing to do (especially in PDX). Just listen to NPR and pay attention to media. For me, it’s more than a PC trend; I want to practice what I preach, as it were. I’d be a total “Hippiecrite” if I wasn’t willing to kill, then pull the still-pulsating guts from the abdominal cavity of a chicken (or any other farm animal I keep) in order to feed our family. Truly, being a butcher is a fine art, and I have renewed respect for those who prepare our meat. Presently our survival is not based on my hunting and slaughtering skills, but it may one day be. This felt very different from the catch of the day provided by the ocean so many years ago.

Last year, I cooked eggs from our chickens with potatoes that we grew on our wood burning stove with wood from our property that I cut and split myself...oh yeah, and the stove heated our house, too. This meal had a profoundly different feeling associated with it. DIY never felt so good. Caveman DNA runs deep. Thank you eternally to my wonderful wife for her hard work, constant growth and nurturing of our family. I never wanted children until I met Leah, and now fatherhood is the greatest gift three times over on top of our marriage. The daily practice and ritual of farming and gardening engenders discipline for children as well as adults; mindfulness of the cycles of life and death; growth and change. Self sufficiency: something that you can’t buy at the supermarket. That shit don’t grow on trees!

~Poppa Nomad

7 comments: said...

Well said. Thank you for caring deeply enough for your family to take on the role of butcher. I was raised with a backyard large enough for a garden and chickens. Dad cut off chicken heads with an ax or wrung their necks and the chickens would flop all over the yard, then mom would take over the gutting and dipping and it was the kids job to pluck. I hated it. But the chicken I ate then tasted quite differant than it does now and I think its because of the freshness and the food our chickens ate. I cant imagine not having fresh vegs or thinking they only come from a store and I am glad my grandkids are being taught to appriciate the truth. Again thanks for the story. How did the girls do, eating Obama?

Nicole said...

well written b.
i admire your family's commitment.
i do not think that i have it in me to do any hunting other than fishing (which i have done on many occasions). My rational is that I will trade my skills (i have chosen to focus on storage and preservation of foods that i grow) to another for the butchering skills. I am hopeful to be planting a kukui nut tree in the next year...awesome for lotions and treating skin aliments.
btw...if i haven't said it before, i love your writing style. very accessible.

MamaLou said...

Here! Here! Great post. Do we only begin to think of these things when we begin to question what we are feeding our kids? and what we are doing to our planet? (that we are leaving to our kids) We too have been travelling down the path to self sustainability, organics and raising our own veggies and meat. (And learning about feedlots, industrial organics, monoculture, nutritionism, imitation food, ...) Not topics I gave much thought about in my earlier years. Hopefully we will be able to model to our new knowledge and awareness and make a difference in our world.

Mama Nomad said...

Mom--thank you for sharing that story! i knew you guys killed you own birds but never heard you talk of it in detail...The bird was too tough to eat (of course i JUSt leaned that we could have made coq au vin with it...) so we made broth and Isadore esp enjoyed handling it and tasting it.

Nicole--barter is a great way to share the must-be-done deeds, all around and honor each others strengths. you can preserve my goods anytime:-P

MamaLou--thank you for you kudos, Blake will be pleased to hear you liked it.

thats the things about kids, they are little mirrors that force you into questioning...they often "take our word for it" so we, the parents, have this great responsibility to examine how askew our own perceptions are (in this case the food we eat) before we can feel at peace with passing them on to the next gen.

Nicole said...

As an aside...I will be planting in the next year a cinnamon tree(shrub,allspice, and a black pepper vine. Oh and a macadamia nut tree too (once they start fruiting they produce a ridiculous amount of fruit...expect some to come your way when this happens!)
The kukui nut tree's fruit can also be used as lamp oil.
yeah...i can go on about the planting for days. do you have any of the books in the foxfire series? b needs them if you don't.

Marketing Mama said...

I was so confused in the beginning of this post, I knew this wasn't Mama Nomad's voice. I thought perhaps you were quoting someone else. I had to scroll to the bottom to see... ah yes, a guest post from Poppa Nomad. Awesome! Fine writer and compelling topic. Thanks for sharing your views on society and your role in it. My life in the suburbs is so very different from your lives, but I am inspired by you and enjoy so much seeing your family love and live and grow.

Saam said...

truth and beauty and love shines through this post. so well written. i hope some day to live a life of self sustainablity instead of being sucked into this go-go-go process everything life that the world has created.

one step at a time. :) much respect to the nomad family.