An Omnivore's Contentment

I just finished reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It was published in 2006, so I am (typically) tardy in discovering it. This was a very interesting read, in my opinion, and much of what the author puts forth in this volume fits right in with my own thoughts about what it means to feed our family.

The book is a "natural history of four meals" and one of those meals is basically the meal of a hunter-gatherer. Near the end of the book, Mr. Pollan writes about what it means to hunt, gather and prepare food in this way, and what he said resonated with me.

If you have been reading my blog for any time, you will know that we have long been a hunting family. We have usually had a garden, have raised chickens, turkey and beef for our own table. In short, we have never been a fast-food family. Mr. Pollan touches on the fact that  such "slow food" has a great personal significance for the cook (and hopefully the diner, too).

There have been many times over the years that we sat down to a dinner consisting of meat, vegetables and bread that each took important labor on our part to obtain.

Meat. Yes. One of us killed it. Somebody killed your steak, too, of course. But when we sit down to a piece of meat on the plate at my house, we are looking at an individual animal which has an identity to at least one of us. It may be the deer that my sweet hubs hiked 16 miles into the wilderness area to hunt, and packed back ON HIS BACK that same distance out. It may be a bit of a heifer we raised, or a turkey we have pictures of when it was alive and strolling about the back yard. Whatever it was, it was not a feedlot-finished, mass-produced, antibiotic- and hormone-laden mass market animal. And that isn't all there is to it. We cleaned it. Whether it had to be skinned or plucked, it's a messy job, no matter what. Most of the time, we also butchered it and packaged it, too. If we're having corned elk roast, I corned it. If we're having chorizo and eggs, we made the chorizo.

Vegetables. We have almost always had a garden, so we have grown a fair amount of our own vegetables. There were times when we had a really big garden and ate from our own patch for at least half the year. We also can, pickle and freeze.

Bread. I've been happily making bread for my family for 30 years. I don't make ALL the bread we eat, though in a perfect world I would love to do that. While we have never grown the grain, or even ground the wheat to make our bread, we do have some notion of the labor involved in putting a buttered slice of this most basic food on the table. My next project in bread making is going to be to try to capture some wild Montana yeast and see what I get.

Those three paragraphs make it sound like a lot of work to get dinner on the table, don't they? Well, it is. It is a lot of work; in many homes it is work done by others, and I get enormous satisfaction out of knowing that WE did so much of that work. It wasn't all accomplished by some faceless industrial machine, by teenagers with shiny foreheads standing over a fryer or someone dumping feed onto a conveyor belt. We aren't the homesteader types, although we do possess a lot of the skills that homesteaders have. We are on the grid, employed outside the home, our kids went to public school and drove cars and we don't go to church. We don't hunt and garden and bake because we want to make a point to Monsanto (exactly). We have learned that we each get a great satisfaction out of being personally involved in obtaining what we eat. We like knowing how our meat was processed, what it ate, etc. We like knowing exactly what is in the apple butter. We LIKE it that the bread can actually get moldy if not eaten within a few days.

More than all of that, it is satisfying to me on a deep, almost visceral level, to feed people I care about. To put my own energy and creativity into trying to make something that will please their palate, nourish their body, support their health and fill their tummy. It is an expression of love and caring. It is also personally rewarding because it does something that my paying job does not do: it yields a visible result for my efforts.

When I finish a long day at work, crunching those numbers or whatever, nothing looks different. You can't stand back and say, "see what she did!". But when I spend the time baking, canning, pickling or butchering, I can SEE what I did. There it is: my hard work in neat rows of jars or tucked in the freezer or sitting pretty on the cutting board. I can take a picture of what I accomplished. This reaches down to the most basic level of being a contributing human being, and is profoundly gratifying.

And that is what Michael Pollan was saying near then end of his book. That to stand back and see the meal in front of you, and to really know what went into getting it on the table, and to be personally responsible for a large part of it being there, is not only enriching, it is powerful and ultimately human.