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)...my 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!