Like most people I occasionally find myself wandering the aisles of big box retailers amazed at the sheer volume of incredibly inexpensive stuff on offer. I’ll load the car with a metric ton of toilet paper and enough tube socks to completely fill the passenger seat. I won’t lie. I kinda love it. But I’m also aware of the dark side of this mass produced consumer wonderland. Turns out, the olive oil wasn’t really from olives or from Italy. The red snapper was actually catfish farmed and processed by prison labor. People died from eating tainted spinach. “Oooops.”
I don’t believe these things occurred as part of any evil plot or conspiracy. It’s much more likely that the farther the store shelf is from the source – and the more pressure there is to cut costs – the more likely these things are to happen. So I’ve been seeking alternatives to achieving my personal goal of resilience while also disengaging from the vulnerable just-in-time corporate supply chain and its opaque practices.
Today, I took delivery of a butchered hog I bought directly from the family that raised it. These are actual humans I can look in the eye, shake hands with, and know on a personal level. I have faith in their ability to produce clean meat and to be directly accountable for its ethical cultivation. I also love the fact that my money goes directly to them – a husband and wife, their kids, and the good work that they do in their community – and skips the middlemen. And by the way, purchasing food directly from a farm family is as easy as buying Pop-Tarts on Amazon. A friend recommended them, I had a quick e-mail exchange on their website and a few days later they delivered in person.
I was given another deep freezer for my birthday last month. How did they know? It’s hard to tell exactly how much food will fit in a given volume. I was tempted to buy a side of beef right away, but an organic pastured hog seemed like a more appropriate baby step. Now I know there’s plenty of room for beef and poultry too.
As I loaded the pork into the freezer I got flash backs to my childhood. My Uncle Tony and Aunt Hilda had five kids and would buy a whole cow all at once. Bulk purchases were more economical. The big delivery would arrive and it was like the ice cream truck had pulled up. Everyone gathered and helped carry the bundles down to the basement and load it into their majestic 1950’s Kelvinator.
My best friend in high school used to invite me over to help as her father made short work of a carcass with a Milwaukee reciprocating saw in the garage. (They also had five kids.) The rest of us wrapped the cuts in waxed paper. I understand that some people may find this sort of thing distasteful. Looking back, it’s the Lean Cuisine, frozen pizza, and microwave chicken nugget world of supermarket convenience food that’s weird. When did we all decide it was a good idea to let anonymous multinationals feed us synthetic crap in little pouches?
I used my late grandmother’s cast iron frying pan (when do I not use that pan?) to prepare pork chops. Delicious. I love to cook, but I’m not good at elaborate recipes or complex sauces. Over the years I’ve learned to start with really high quality ingredients and cook them in the simplest way possible. A green salad, some home made apple sauce (from trees I planted myself a few years back) and a baguette. Voila! Dinner in twenty minutes.
We don’t have five kids, but we do have an extended family of friends and neighbors who are much loved and a constant presence at our table. By buying wholesome food in bulk directly from small family farms I’ve radically shortened the supply chain. By internalizing the function of a grocery warehouse in my own home I’m creating the resilience and redundancy that’s been squeezed out of the hyper efficient yet exquisitely vulnerable big box system. I can’t do anything about corporate factory farms. That’s just beyond my powers of influence. But I can opt out and use my money to support the alternatives. It’s an elegant solution to an otherwise intractable set of problems.
Incidentally, this is the best way I know of to unite Red and Blue America. No Don and Hillary Show required.