Tuesday, June 5, 2012

For Granted

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be born in the Western world have a tendency to take things for granted. Anything we want is usually a quick trip around the corner.

Case in point: the other day, Little Fire Faery was not feeling well and wanted potatoes in her chicken soup. There's a problem with that. It's summer. Potatoes are not in season right now. We've used up what potatoes we had stored from last fall. I might have been able to find storage potatoes at the Farmer's Market ... except it was a Friday, and there are no Farmer's Markets open on that day here where I live.

Sorry, sweetie. There are no potatoes.

But there are potatoes ... down at the store ... two miles away. They have potatoes. I could have bought some potatoes.

Except that I can't.

It's true, I occasionally buy produce at the grocery store, and sometimes it's not even Maine-grown produce, but the rule is, if it grows in Maine, we buy Maine-grown *period*. So, sometimes we'll have oranges (when they are in-season in the US - which is around Christmas time), and I actually bought cherries the other day, because they're in-season in places where they grow here in the US. Generally, though, eating locally and in-season means that when it's not growing here in Maine, if we don't have it stored, we don't eat it.

So, she didn't get potatoes. She had plain chicken broth with bits of chicken and seasoned with some salt and a whole lot of garlic powder.

And after she ate, she felt better.

The other day, I had a talk with a friend about drinking alcohol.

*It's related, honest, bear with me*.

I mentioned that I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and my friend confided to being a teetotaler. Alcoholism is a fact in my friend's family, and this friend wishes to allow the cycle to stop with this generation. I admire and respect that decision.

I wonder, though, if like so many things in our society, we haven't also corrupted the whole idea of drinking alcohol, and like so many things in our society tainted something that's actually beneficial.

Some time ago, I was reading some articles about corn. From what I recall, corn became a cash crop early in the history of our country - right around the beginning of the 19th Century. The problem was that there was more corn than there was market, and so, they had to figure out what to do with it all.

Someone discovered that corn distilled very nicely. Unfortunately, distilled corn is pretty potent stuff, and so the new nation suddenly found itself with a bit of a problem, which heralded the Temperance Movement of the 1830s and is attributed with eventually resulting in the 1920s Prohibition.

The problem is that there is a very big - HUGE - difference between distilled alchol and beer and wine.

Specifically, distilled alcohol has no nutritional value other than providing calories. By contrast, both beer and wine have proven to be healthful. Everyone knows that drinking a glass of wine a day is beneficial, but now research is showing that beer may well have some of the same effects consumed in moderation (i.e. one or two a day - not a whole six pack in one sitting ;).

Unfortunately, all alcohol has been lumped into the same category - as bad for you - and that's a problem, I think, because rather than being a pleasant accompaniment to good food to be savored and enjoyed - like eating chocolate cake -, wine and beer have been relegated to some place that is inhabited by social deviants.

The other problem is that fermented foods (including wines and beers) have been a part of human history for ... well, all of humany history ..., and not only are fermented foods (including wine and beer) healthful, but they are also a great way to preserve a harvest for the future and prevent waste when there's an abundance of one food or another.

Deus Ex Machina and I brew our own beer. We also make hard cider (aka apple wine) every year, and our crowing glory in brewing was the five gallons of cider entirely from foraged apples. Recently, we bottled mead (made with the honey from our bees) and what we call "freezer berry wine", which was made using berries that were in our freezer and needed to be used up before we start harvesting this years' crop (we also made raspberry jam, and it was delicious!).

It takes, a minimum of, four weeks to make beer. It takes MONTHS for cider, wine and mead to be ready to drink.

It's a long process. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time, and it's made us understand that, like so many things in life, we shouldn't take it for granted.

It's true, we could go to the store, and we could buy beer or wine or potatoes, on any day of the year, but we don't, because we want to savor the process, we want to enjoy the potatoes when they are in season, and we want to enjoy pulling the cork on a bottle of wine we made from berries we picked from brambles we grew. Knowing what an incredible amount of work that went into that single bottle of wine and knowing that the person who made that beer or wine and who grew and/or harvested the ingredients of those products, makes consuming those beverages that much more pleasurable.

We want to savor the thrill of tasting our creation and knowing that it was more than just a "job" that made those things.

I am currently reading Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do. In the first section, he worked in the lettuce fields of Yuma, Arizona. In the second section, he worked in a chicken processing plant in Alabama. The sheer volume of product that is turned out boggles my mind.

His crew harvested 10,000 heads of lettuce per day.

The chicken processing plant where he worked processed 250,000 chickens per day.


So much ... and because of the enormous quantities produced, there is an equally enormous quantity of waste. He describes chopping up heads of lettuce and leaving them on the ground, because the machine was going to fast, or dropping the bits and parts of the chicken on the floor that will simply be discarded, because the machine was going to fast.

It's too much ... too fast.

Living locally and in-season, growing our own, and brewing our own has made me realize how precious is the each. We don't waste it, because it took too much of our time and energy to get it in the first place. We're too intimately aware of how much goes into growing a head of lettuce or raising a chicken to simply toss it in the trash because we were going too fast to care.

We work very hard not to waste, but more, we don't over indulge, either. We don't gorge ourselves on food until, like Mr. Creosote (from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, we're in need of a bucket.

It takes six months to go from apples to apple wine, and there's a finite amount of wine available between the seasons, which means that, not only, do we savor every drop, but that the temptation to guzzle a bottle at a time is eliminated.

To not take things for granted is one of the best lessons we've gleaned from our experiences with living locally.

But when we forget, the reminder is acute ... like the dog eating our dinner, or lingering spring rains making it more difficult to dry the laundry, or a hot dry summer killing the bean plants.

We strive to be grateful for each gift ... even when we're not sure what we've been given :).


  1. Wendy - GREAT post for so many different reasons! Thank you for this today!

  2. Hmmm...well I can say with certainty, that an alcoholic WOULD guzzle handcrafted precious alcoholic drinks until they were gone. And then they would go on to finding different sources of alcohol. And not the typical beer/wine/liquor sources...

    With the risk of sounding a little right-wing, I think what you're saying is that the minority has branded alcohol use as negative. There is a minority of people that can't handle the responsible use of alcoholic products, but their experiences are what we, the public, are most bombarded with. Thus, the association is alcohol=bad.

    Now if ALL alcohol was seasonal and handcrafted and thus more scarce and to be savored/treasured would that stop alcohol's bad image? Probably not. Because you're still going to have that minority that have a manifestation of some disease that causes excessive alcohol consumption as a result and thus negative effects.

    And because as a society, it seems much easier for us to sink our teeth into the negative news--be it the norm or not--alcohol will probably still have a negative connotation. Which makes those studies you cited "novel."

  3. Kaye - yep. Seems a bit ironic, to me, in a country where we are, supposedly, ruled by the majority, that more often than not, the minority sets the standards by which we are forced to live ;).

    The US is unique in our view of drinking. In Germany, for instance, every town has its own brewery where they make a local hand-crafted beer. Drinking beer is part of their culture, and in fact, having a beer at lunch - in the middle of a work day - is normal. In France, researchers have been puzzled by what they call the "French Paradox" in which the French people, overall, have a diet that is very high in fatty foods, but they have a very low incidence of heart-related illness, and the conclusion is that it's because they drink wine with meals

    Drinking in Germany and in France is socially acceptable, but drunkeness is not.

    It's interesting, to me, that they seem to have figured out how to have both, but over here, we're too often prone to an all-or-nothing paradigm.

  4. Your discussion about savoring the fruits of labor reminds me of something I did with my kiddos several years ago.

    I used to occasionally buy cookies in the store. Occasionally, because I noticed that the kids (then about 12 and 13) would eat the entire package in one or two sittings. Despite several conversations about moderation, the cookies would still be gone in a day or two.

    I decided that I'd no longer buy cookies, but I kept cookie-making ingredients on hand, and told the kids they could make cookies any time they wanted to. They thought this was great, and spent two hours (supervised) making a batch of chocolate-chip cookies.

    What happened next still makes me laugh. The kids carefully divided the cookies into 4 equal portions, since there are four of us (parents get cookies too, since we paid for the ingredients!). They counted their cookies and figured out how many each could have in their lunch, or after dinner, and how long their own little pile of cookies would last.

    After putting so much labor into their cookies, they were DARN sure to parcel them out carefully, and enjoy them to the fullest. After that they made cookies occasionally, but only when they REALLY REALLY wanted some, because they knew how much work it would take. It's too bad things aren't more like that in everyday society... I think we'd all be better off for it.

  5. Wendy,
    Have you read The Last Pilgrims? It's fiction, but Mr. Bunker brings in a lot of his beliefs about fermented food & drink, including discussing the healing properties of beer several times. In our family there's no more alcohol due to alcoholism and general addiction issues in our bloodlines, but having spent a lot of time in Germany as a child, I've definitely seen the difference as well. When I hosted a German exchange student about 10 years ago she made the same comment - that drinking was no big deal to her, but it was clear that the American teens thought it was SO.COOL. to drink if they could.

    Loving JenJ's comment about the cookies, too. :D

  6. Wonderful post. We've been raising our boys in a false food environment--they've had anything they wanted any time of the year because ALL our food was shipped in from afar. Now we are in a place where we can (and are trying) to retrain them to eat local and in season. Not easy! But worth it.

    I'm curious, have you ever made your own kombucha or kefir? Not alcohol :) but fermented beverages and good for you. Both are on my list of things to try to make.

  7. @ Melonie - No, I haven't read the book you mention, but it sounds interesting. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

    @ Lorna - funny that you ask. I just set-up my next batch of kombucha this morning ;). I actually wrote a post about making kombucha. It's easy to make and very tasty. I looked into making kefir and talked to a friend of mine about it. She says that the grains need a lot of attention. With kombucha, the SCOBY doesn't need a lot of care. When you're not making a batch, you can store the SCOBY in the fridge in some sweet tea, and as long as it doesn't dry out, you're good. Also, the more you use the SCOBY, the more it grows, and eventually, you have two ... or more, which means more kombucha ;).