Why DIY?

In food on 12/08/2009 at 9:08 pm

When I met the other half, I was a foodie, the gluttonous kind. But under intensive tutelage, and sampling farm-raised meat, I have tasted the error of my non-discriminating ways. The other half is all about knowing the provenance of our food, batting my hand as I reach for that pesticide-laden bag of conventional potatoes.

Though our (pipe)dream is to start a homestead on a rural property (<5 acres) in the hills of Vermont, it’s just not practical at this time in our urban careers. We’re not so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that we can drop everything and just go. For one, I like the civilized trappings of TV and slothily laying about. However, we did listen with much envy while our fellow boarder spoke of her daughter’s misadventures while renovating a homestead in East Montpelier.

Our resident homesteading expert describes our dream plot of dirt:

Q: How big would the homestead be?

A: A house with a small shed that holds a cow, a pig, a turkey or two, and a dozen laying hens, some which we will kill ourselves for meat. Our small vegetable garden would have heirloom tomatoes, Chinese vegetables (i.e. bitter melon and greens), hard-stalk garlic, root veggies (carrot, parsnip, red onion, beets, rutabaga) and broccoli. We might want to try corn, and we’d actually cultivate dandelions. Hydroponics might be cool and high tech in the wintertime. Also, a tiny orchard of Winesap apples, Asian or Bosc pears, nectarines, grapes (for wine and eating), a mix of berries. Don’t forget the beehives for the honey.

Q: What kind of house would be on the property?

A: Something that is an integral part of its surroundings, hidden in plain sight.  A barn would be nice, for jumping in and out of the hayloft.

Q: When are we moving?

A: When we find a pink cow.

This month, as I while away the hours at the office of the medical examiner, I kill time by reading the only type of book I can stand to read anymore: non-fiction food publications packed chockful of trivia, a.k.a. sociological treatises loosely focused on food history and people doing stuff revolved around food. So far, I’ve made my way through Heat by Bill Buford and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

The former is the most pleasurable read I’ve had in ages. The author writes for The New Yorker, so he knows how to spin a yarn and stretch it out. It also reminded me of my time behind a professional range. In another life, I would have become a chef, but only if cooking schools in the US actually taught Asian cuisine. I don’t really want to learn that particular European ‘skill’ of turning animal parts into completely unrecognizable blocks composed of varying shades of brown and call that ‘head-to-tail’ eating.

The latter scared the bejeezus out of of me. Did you know in factory farming post-mad cow scare, i.e. the standard practice now, instead of feeding spare cow parts to cows (the suspected origin of the disease), farmers don’t want to waste possibly non-diseased cow scrapple so they feed it to chickens, then feed the random chicken bits back to cows? Those prions are no joke, man. I know eating can be an extreme sport, but this is taking it a bit too far.

Besides freaking you out with post-apocalyptic mutant food stories, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is really about hard-core homesteading. The key is to become a locavore first, i.e. eat it if you know where it came from. There’s a diner in Vermont that’s already doing that, and showing you can make a profit while supporting local businesses.

The other thing to do is to learn how to make exotic foods you can’t squeeze into your locavore philosophy. I was surprised to find out how easy cheese curds or  fresh mozzarella are to make, especially since Italians always make a big deal about the art of pulling the savory taffy.  This is definitely going to be a post-holiday project. After calculating overhead costs, paying $8 for a fistful in the store is actually a great deal. But the point is to make it yourself instead. Read the book to understand the weird logic of fossil fuel economics and combating it by consuming close to home. There’s also Slow Food Intl., an organization which was started to fight the evil forces of American fast food.

But mostly, this DIY stuff is all about gathering together with family and friends, because unlike people of our age, we’ve never really understood what’s so fun about getting drunk in a loud bar while conversing at the top of our lungs. I still can’t get over the bewildered look on my Russian classmate’s face when I said I wasn’t ‘going out’ on Halloween, I was headed into the woods for a hike.

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