Archive for the ‘Subsisting’ Category
It seems that chicken is all over the news this week, and things are no different here at the Sundmark household. Monday evening when we came home from work we discovered carnage in our yard. The security of our chicken tractor—the one that got us through last summer with 25 healthy birds—had been breached. Some kind of critter, most likely a dog, had broken the fiberglass greenhouse siding off of one side and proceeded to slaughter seven of our chicks. The others went in to a state of shock and huddled together in a corner. The ones on the bottom of the pile suffocated. All together we lost fifteen of our chickens.
I know that eating local food isn’t going to save the world, but it’s a cause our family has decided to put some effort toward. For us it means growing a garden or buying from local growers. It means harvesting salmon, buying beef from our local cowboy, and raising our own chickens for both eggs and meat. After the slaughter we found in our yard on Monday it looks like next winter we’ll have fewer chicken dinners.
There are plenty of foods I’m not willing to give up in order to eat a strictly local diet and so we spend a great deal of money on food that comes from places much warmer than Alaska. I’m a big fan of apples, for example, and I have a weakness for the Rugged English Cheddar cheese that Save-U-More carries. In fact Save-U-More is full of surprises, including an aisle of Trader Joe’s foods and an extensive organic produce section. It’s a goofy grocery store with its bizarre layout and its incessant rearranging, but for the most part it keeps the foodies in Homer happy.
For the size of our town we have a good selection of restaurants and cafes as well. Back in the day when we ran a bed and breakfast we had a guest one time that expressed surprise that a few of our nicer restaurants stayed open through the winter. I tried to explain that in Homer people have priorities that might not be the same as in other parts of the country. We may only buy a new pair of jeans every two or three years, and we may drive a Subaru that can only be entered through the passenger side door (true story) but we’ll spend good money on good food. A few of our higher end restaurants have survived when Arby’s and Burger King couldn’t make a go of it.
And so it’s safe to say that after living in Homer for eighteen years I’m no expert on fast food. I eat at the local Subway once every couple of years, and I haven’t stepped inside the local McDonalds since my niece worked there several years ago. When I go to Anchorage there are so many great places to choose from that fast food doesn’t even cross my mind. What all of this is getting at is that I’ve never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A, and I never will. I wouldn’t have even if Dan Cathy had never made his statement in opposition to gay marriage, or if the company had never donated millions of dollars to organizations like the Family Research Council.
When I came home on Monday to find a bunch of dead chickens in my yard I had the realization that something I thought was secure was in fact very vulnerable. I feel the same way today after seeing photos from around the country of crowds of people lining up to eat at Chick-Fil-A’s. I thought we were moving beyond homophobia, but I see that we have a long way to go. I believe that for some people eating at Chick-Fil-A this afternoon was a matter of showing support for our first amendment rights, but I don’t think that was the true motivation of most.
I’m in the fortunate position of having a diverse group of Facebook friends. They cover most sides of any political issue and this whole Chick-Fil-A thing is no exception. One of my friends stated in a thread that people were just taking a stand for Godly values by showing their support for Chick-Fil-A. A couple of people on this thread even evoked the old saying, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It shows me that to them today’s turnout for chicken sandwiches wasn’t about first amendment rights. It was about speaking out against homosexuality. What I want to point out is that hating the “sin” in this case is synonymous with hating “the sinner,” because it’s not a matter of deciding to be gay; it’s a matter of being gay. And that hatefulness, no matter how it’s framed, is disheartening.
A line from a John Gorka song comes to mind sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the way humans build up walls and divisions between one another… We are here to love each other, that is all…
I know it’s only a line to a song and that it’s not realistic to think that this world will ever be a place where all people show love to one another all the time. But the truth is that we all have the capacity for love on an individual level. Every day lives are changed and attitudes are changed; every day individual worldviews are changed because one person somewhere decides to imagine the world from another person’s point of view.
We’re a diverse bunch, us humans. Some of us will raise our chickens ourselves, some of us want ours served with a side of waffle fries. Others of us would never think of eating a chicken. The reality though is that we all get hungry. Our differences are lower on the scale of importance than the things we have in common. Let’s focus less on the ways we fill ourselves up, and more on the fact that we all need food.
I think about food a lot. It seems like I’m constantly going over grocery lists in my head and thinking about what to prepare for dinner. I have to say it’s a lot of work to feed a family well, both from a time standpoint and from a money standpoint. My family, like so many others, has fallen into the trap of creating hectic lives for ourselves by trying to do so many things. We work long days. Then in the evenings we take classes, drive kids around to their various activities and generally keep ourselves busy. While none of these things are bad, they don’t always leave us with much time to do the things that are required for eating well, like planning meals, shopping, cooking, and my least favorite food related activity, washing dishes.
I know that when my life gets busy I’m less inclined to make a salad to go with dinner and I’m more inclined to reach for things like frozen pizza. After all, frozen pizza is cheap, easy and it doesn’t mess up the kitchen. I joke that it fills all of the food groups (even though I know better) with tomato sauce as the vegetable, white crust as the carbohydrate, and pepperoni and cheese as the protein. If I start doing this too often though, it doesn’t take long for me to start feeling the effects of such a diet. I’ve figured out the correlation between the crappy food that I eat and the crappy way I feel the next day, so that keeps me from going overboard with the junk food.
This week a teacher at one of the local schools posted on his facebook page pictures he’s been taking of junk food. Most of the meat was nearly unidentifiable and it was always served with something starchy, like white bread, mashed potatoes or French fries. I know for a fact that with my metabolism, if I were to eat those meals, or meals like them several times a week I would weigh at least twenty pounds more than I do now. I would also feel like I lived in a constant state of hangover. The “meals” he photographed weren’t from a gas station or from a fast food franchise as it looked like they might have been, but from the public school lunch program.
It seems like the USDA has prioritized convenience over nutrition as a policy. As long as it’s cheap, easy and doesn’t mess up the kitchen, the USDA will approve it and the schools have no choice but to serve it. This may seem a lot like my reaching for the frozen pizzas when I’m pressed for time and money but there is one important difference; I recognize that frozen pizza is junk food, and even though I joke about it meeting the nutritional needs of my family, I know for a fact that it does not. It might taste alright, and it might fill everyone’s bellies, but I know I can’t serve it all the time. Unfortunately the USDA has twisted the rules around and has tried to convince us that they’re meeting the nutritional needs of schoolchildren. They fumble their way around the requirements by saying that French fries and apple juice count as fruits and vegetables. They serve junk food every day of the week, only they call it “well-balanced” and “nutritious.”
A healthy, well-balanced USDA approved lunch
Unlike the kids who depend on public school lunches five days a week, I have choices. I don’t have to eat frozen pizza or mystery meat on a daily basis. Most of the time I have the ability to figure out meals that are inexpensive, relatively quick to prepare and healthy for my family; and as a parent it’s my obligation. Come to think of it, I imagine that the folks in charge of making the policies regarding school lunches are pretty smart as well. I know they’re probably busy and feeling over-extended just like the rest of us, but feeding kids real food should be one of their top priorities. It’s what they signed up for. Have they forgotten?
One of my chickens is dying. On Monday morning when I went to give my small flock of seven some food and water she had that look that I’ve come to recognize as the dying chicken look. She was huddled on the ground instead of perched up high on the branches I’ve arranged inside the henhouse and she didn’t show any interest in what I was bringing. I thought she’d be dead by the end of the day, but she’s been hanging in there all week.
This isn’t anything new. I’ve been keeping chickens for quite a few years now and we’ve watched many of them grow old and die. Some people are very systematic about culling their chickens in order to keep their egg yield high, but I don’t have it in me to kill something just because its productivity isn’t optimal. I did banish one from the coop once when she wouldn’t stop eating eggs and I found a pile of feathers a few days later.
I first started raising chickens when my children were little and I didn’t work away from home. It was always exciting to get the baby chicks in the spring. We’d go to the feed store and each kid would choose one that they could call their own. Adella usually chose a Buff Orpington. Dillon was partial to the black and white spotted Barred Rocks. We raised them in cardboard boxes in the house for a few weeks before we introduced them to the older hens in the coop. My kids were proud of their chickens and loved showing them off to their neighbor friends.
Times have changed though. Now that my kids are teenagers they show no interest whatsoever in anything farm or garden related and I spend big chunks of my time away from home. I’m pretty sure it no longer makes sense to keep chickens. I should probably make my life easier by buying eggs at the store like most reasonable people, but I guess my chickens aren’t just about the eggs.
I love to watch them in the spring after the soil thaws; manic in their search for worms after a long winter. I love that to them, nothing is more luxurious than a dust bath. They remind me that a good life isn’t always about high productivity. It’s more about enjoying the life we’ve been given.
I started working at the local public library just over four years ago. Besides getting first dibs on the new releases and getting to help choose which books to buy, another benefit of my job is the amount of money I save. I know you don’t have to be an employee of a library in order to reap the benefits of them, but I didn’t really use it to its full potential until I worked there. I am continually reminded of the fact that I can get my hands on almost any book I’d ever want to read for free. Sometimes though, I come across a book that I feel compelled to own. Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is one such book.
Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors since I first read “The Bean Trees” back in 1990. And I’ve referred to her personal essays in “High Tide in Tucson” many times when I’ve been trying to transform my own thoughts into writing. When I read the premise of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” I knew it would be a good investment so a couple years ago, on the day it was released, I made a special trip to The Homer Bookstore and forked over $26.95 plus 6% sales tax for a brand new hardcover.
In case you aren’t familiar with the book it’s about a year in the author’s life when she makes a concerted effort to feed herself and her family only food that is locally produced. She describes raising turkeys and chickens, growing a garden and seeking out goods produced by other farmers and ranchers near her community.
The concept wasn’t entirely new to me. I grew up eating lots of food that my parents had either grown or killed themselves. In my adult life I eat salmon and berries that my family harvests each summer and I keep chickens for the fresh eggs they provide. We try every year, with varying degrees of success, to grow a vegetable garden. But Barbara Kingsolver’s book inspired me to take it all a step further.
This year we bought half of a cow that spent the summer grazing at the head of Kachemak Bay, just a few miles east of our house. Every time I drive to and from town I pass the place where it was born, and the butcher shop where it was processed. It doesn’t get much more local than that. I spent the better part of Friday afternoon sledding three huge boxes of meat to our house, and rearranging the salmon and halibut in our freezer to make room for it. Somehow I managed to make it all fit. The arrangement is precarious however and I feel like I should post avalanche warning signs on the upright freezer in the garage.
There’s something deeply satisfying about having a full freezer, and knowing the stories of how all of the food came to be there. For me it’s the stories that make life more interesting and everything has a story; every item I buy, every tune I play on my fiddle, every person I meet, and every meal I prepare for my family. I guess that explains why I feel compelled to write, and why I’ll never be able to read all the books on my list. It’s a good thing I don’t have to pay for all of them.