Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Home Grown

As I prepare to head home to rural Tennessee for Christmas, my thoughts turn to our family farm and the food traditions with which I grew up. Because as a farm girl I was well acquainted with the cycle of birth, life and death so early and so intimately, I’d say it has made me less squeamish than most when it comes to such matters, and it has taught me that it’s possible to develop respect and regard for an animal I know will end up on my plate.

This is the time of year when we’d select one fattened hog and one fattened steer to be butchered, packaged and labeled, then divvied up among the deep freezers of my grandparents, my uncle’s family and my family. This represented the bulk of the meat upon which we’d feed until the next winter.

After all the tidier pieces of meat had been put away, on a cold, cold night, we’d all convene in the smokehouse to make sausage. My mother would sew casings out of old flour sack dishrags (recycling on top of recycling!) and bring them out to the smokehouse, where my father and brother were grinding the hog trimmings with fat and seasonings. Then I, with my tiny hands, would take the squishy ground mixture, redolent of fresh pork, pepper and fennel, and stuff it into the newly-stitched casings. And my uncle would bind the ends with twine and hang the brand-new sausage with the hams to while away the months until it was needed.

I was an adult before I ever bought prepackaged meat in a grocery, or for that matter, cans of tomatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas or relish. Those things had always come out of the deep freezer and the stash in the hall cabinet. And when I finally did start bringing these items home from the grocery, they were never as satisfying as those I’d had a hand in putting up as a child.

This represents a vanishing way of life that organizations like SlowFood are working hard to reacquaint people with. Perhaps it isn’t practical for everyone to raise all their own food, but to the extent that we can, we should try. Even if it’s just a couple of pots of herbs on the kitchen windowsill, every little bit we grow for ourselves reconnects us with our initial bond with the earth from which we came.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Yodeling pickle anyone?

As I troll the offerings at one of my favorite websites, Archie McPhee, I’m astonished by the number of bizarre food-related gifts that are available. Can you imagine receiving any of these things for Christmas: gummy haggis, a yodeling pickle, a t-bone air freshener, or a sushi shower curtain? The bacon products alone boggle the mind: bacon-flavored toothpicks, a bacon wallet, bacon bandaids—that’s bandaids that look like strips of bacon, not bandaids for your bacon—and bacon air freshener for your car. (As if the yodeling pickle wasn’t strange enough, there’s also a remote-controlled, hopping AND yodeling lederhosen. Can you imagine? Surely, everyone needs one of these!)

Why is it that these things have such appeal? What urge is it that causes us want to inflict them on our friends and family? And what do those poor—and probably hungry—workers in third world countries think of these oddities they’re creating for those unfathomable Americans? (And how is it that I can use the word “unfathomable” twice in about week in this blog? It’s unfathomable.)

I’m not going to try to make sense of this right now. Perhaps there’s just no sense to be made. But if you’re intrigued by the idea of having your very own yodeling pickle or gifting someone with a gummy tapeworm or a corndog air freshener, check out Don’t you think sushi pencil toppers would make great stocking stuffers?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

She Ain’t Heavy . . . She’s My Earthling

A couple of days after Thanksgiving, we visited the Griffith Park Observatory and mused over one of the new exhibits in the revamped and expanded facility, one devoted to the individual planets. In each planet’s section, you can read up on its attributes, then step onto a plate in the floor and learn how much you weigh on that particular planet. On Mars, I rang in at a whopping 350 lb. (Aieee! Waaaaay too much Thanksgiving cheer!), while on Mercury, I weighed a waifish 20 lb., and thought perhaps I should rush home and tuck into those Thanksgiving leftovers.

I also observed women who wouldn’t step onto any of the scales because they didn’t want those around them to know what they weighed—not on ANY planet. It didn’t seem to matter that others might not be interested in trying to do the math and convert some stranger’s weight on Neptune into her weight on Earth. Those women weren’t going NEAR the interplanetary scales. Children and men had no problem leaping onto the scales and telling everyone around them how much they weighed all over our solar system.

Don’t worry—I’m not going to rant about how poor self esteem and skewed self image are epidemic in this country’s women (We all know it's: a. true and b. sad). I’m just saying if you’re concerned about your weight, sure, do something about it. But also take a minute to do a little math and find out what you’d weigh on Mercury. Best to keep these things in perspective. Moderation—and cultivating a sense of humor—is the best defense against both weight problems and low self esteem.

And if you exhibit a sense of humor when your jeans split because you have a big butt, you’ll impress people with your attitude!