Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Question: Why?

The Question: Why?

Changing everything-- from diet to hygiene and more

25 April 2011

Growing a vegetable garden these days has become more common-- especially with the sudden rise and attendance of farmer's markets in local communities and such. But even with keeping a garden, most people tend to stick to the things they like the most-- which is natural. Tomatoes, lettuce, maybe broccoli. But what if you take it one step further-- or two or three steps? What does a garden become? For me, it's transforming into a new way of living.

I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania-- nestled in Dutch country, I was surrounded by farming communities, intermingled with white-collar businesses for those who liked the scenery of the country, but not necessarily to live off the country. The farm was a dairy farm but also had loads of land for crops. Most of the crops were for the cows, but that didn't mean it couldn't yield food stuff beyond what the cows needed or wanted. I remember my dad selling soybeans and alfalfa on a regular basis to other farms and through local auctions. We lived off of the milk those cows provided and off the meat the steers would provide every year. On occasion we would even butcher pigs and chickens-- it was a working farm, after all. It was a way of life I knew-- I knew of no other and it's interesting now as an adult to look back and examine that way of life and just how far removed I am from it.

A few months back, Carrie began looking into natural products. I look to Dr Bronner's Soap as the catalyst that began the transformation or how we use, procure and dispose of things. For those not familiar with Dr Bronner's Soap, it comes in many forms but the one I'm used to is castile soap that is highly concentrated-- a drop goes a very long way. Dr Bronner and his family (I believe the good Dr has since passed) are committed to making natural, bio-based soaps that are meant to simply clean, not destroy every living thing in it's path-- and it does just that. Anyway, this gate-way "drug" into the natural products world is what opened up my eyes to not only the possibilities, but the insanity of my daily living and just how much toxicity I lived in. I even considered myself a environment-conscious individual and a clean one at that!

Dr Bronner's was about as far as I was willing to go at first. It's like trying out something before buying-- you are skeptical of the new product or new way of doing something and need proof to further invest yourself in something that could change your way of life. I wish kids were this way, but they seem to be an all-or-nothing product. Carrie really focused on the cosmetic side of things, though-- mostly because of her epic struggle to find things that work for her but also because Colorado has some of the driest air you'll ever experience and she uses a lot of moisturizers etc-- well these products have some of the most bizarre ingredients, most of which haven't a single drop of naturally occurring elements in them. I on the other hand looked at food. Why food? Well, we all have our reasons for things, right?

Because of a personal health issue, my attention turned to food. I never considered myself an unhealthy eater but looking back, there were some serious flaws. I ate vegetables and fruits but I also ate a lot of meat (maybe not compared to others but compared to now, definitely). The amazing thing is, I could not tell you one single thing about where my food came from. Was it local produce? Was the hamburger from the next town over? Where was the bread baked? No idea… absolutely none. And I should know better, right? I mean, I grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania where were knew precisely where our milk came from-- where our cows were butchered and our ham cured (our farm!). I am many years removed from that way of life and sadly, I slowly and quietly progressed the point where I am now-- wondering where my food comes from and why the food I eat is not necessarily helping my body.

My change in eating and in my food is simple-- I learned too much bad stuff about the food industry. Monsanto is not a tool of the Devil, but just might be the Devil itself! (Devil claim is a personal belief of mine and is not based in fact) This company, in particular, has been the focus of some more recent outrage in the food industry. Companies like this are pure evil and are taking ingenuity, tried-and-true traditions and the very essence of living off the land and stomping on it with its huge, well-funded legal boot. Monsanto and others like it are unwelcome in my life and are strongly urged to stay out of my wallet. Given that our food industry is controlled by very few companies now, it is near-impossible to cut them out of the loop, but I'll never stop working to that end. Other issues focus squarely on meat. I love meat-- especially a good hamburger (steaks are nice but they mess with my stomach too much!) but the cost of raising an animal under healthy circumstances and butchering it humanely makes meat very expensive. (The American Association of Meat Processors is an organization that lobbies for major meat-producers-- and nothing says trust than a huge lobby with a logo that has a piece of meat in it! A law suit from a Brazilian company about producing bad meat in the US). I should mention at this point that I'm not a huge fan of using my money, either, especially when I know it goes to corporations instead of my neighbors. The economic impact on me and the ecological impact on our land is a good enough case for me to simply lower-- even by half-- the amount of meat I consume. It feels odd to say it, mostly because of the stigma around diet and food in this country, but I've changed my diet from meat-based vegetable supported to vegetable-based meat supported. And though we're still using up our supply of store-bought meat, our plan is to purchase our next order of meat from a local butcher. It'll cost a lot, I'm sure-- but the responsibility that goes with how we live and operate on this planet falls on the individual. I'm tired of shrugging off my responsibility for the sake of cheap food that makes me sick.

Knowing where my food comes from is the major factor that drives the changes in how I live. My experience and childhood on the farm is something I long to return to. It wasn't an easy life-- my parents and my siblings all worked very hard and went without plenty of things to make life work on the farm but times are different and I'm also not running a farm-- rather, I'm introducing things I know are good and though they may not be easy-to-do, they are much better than the alternatives. So for the first time since leaving the farm, we have a vegetable garden planted. It is 400 square feet and I'm stoked to learn how much money we save (if any) in terms of produce that we get out of the garden. We have plans to freeze, can, preserve… you name it. We also bought chickens. Yep. Chickens. Sybil, Helen and Edith are three buff orpingtons that we got just over a month ago and they are here for one purpose-- eggs. But they're also here for other reasons-- they give great compost, eat bugs in the garden and are funny as hell. One day they'll even be on our table-- but that's not for a while yet! We eat a lot of eggs, mostly because they're cheap, readily available and a good source of protein and good fat but there is a catch-- they're produced from birds that are kept in some of the more outrageous conditions. You'll hear the term "organic" or "cage free" and think you're getting eggs from happy chickens-- but this could not be further from the truth. Eggland's Best defines cage free as, "The hens selected to lay Eggland’s Best Cage Free eggs are not kept in cages and are free to roam. The hens are provided with sunlight, shade, shelter, an exercise area, fresh air, and are protected from predators." If by "free to roam" you mean housed in a huge-yet-jam-packed metal box, then no, they are not in cages. I don't mean to pick on this particular company because I have no specific quarrel with them but I find it very difficult to believe they provide a humane existence for these birds and give them what they need to produce the best-quality egg out there. And I'm not saying I can do any better but at least I know where my eggs are coming from-- my yard.

This movement to a more natural way of life makes sense to me. It takes work and thought but it is rewarding and I enjoy the work. I've even come to enjoy the look on people's faces when they hear I have chickens! It's the "are you nuts" look-- classic. And no, I'm not nuts, it is perfectly natural to have such animals in my care and on my land. Nowhere else in the World, than in America, does one buy acreage of land and not use it for a single agricultural purpose. I like having several acres of land, as it keeps other people away from me, has a great view of the mountains and is full of birds and deer and other cool animals-- but it is land! It can be used responsibly to provide me and my family and in the healthiest way possible. To me, there is no question as to whether or not to do this-- the answer is clear.