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a year's worth - debrief
lessons learned from eating solely from our farm
I think this whole experiment, of eating solely from our farm, would have been a grander gesture had we not already been subsisting off the fruits of our labour. In this case, would that be the ‘meat of our labour” or maybe the ‘milk of the land of our labour’? Either way, had we gone from zero to sixty, I think this would have made a more dramatic experience and, thus, titillating story to share. As it is, we went from consuming all of our own staple foods with some extra non-essential (but sure lovely) consumables to making our meals and our nutrition flourish.
So with our meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit generously provided by our land and our hard work, what were the things that we were getting rid of? Well, they were things that may seem small here but felt very challenging. I suppose that’s more about want than need. The whole purpose of this exercise was to see if we could feed ourselves well and solely from our farm. A nice offshoot of the year was learning the clear delineation between want from need. And that sometimes, when wants are removed, needs become a little more special.
Here’s a good example of that - oysters. We order oysters straight from the east coast of Canada like we’re the Rockefellers or something. Oysters are one of those non-negotiables with us. They are such an abundant source of minerals and nutrients that are hard to find anywhere else. But to understand our love and need of oysters, you have to understand the role they play in our home.
Every Friday night we have a party in our house. When the kids were small we put on dance music and danced in the kitchen or wherever was close to the food that we were slurping up between twirls. Lately, it’s been a party for two, but with our middle daughter staying with us for the last while, it’s been a party for three which is so much more fun than two. On Fridays, I make my famous margaritas, we put on some old, party vibe music, and we have surf and turf. Now, living where we do, the turf part of that equation is easy, but the surf? Well, we have had pickerel and bass, but nothing quite says party like crab or lobster or fresh oysters that have captured the brine of the Atlantic ocean and deliver it to our gaping maws.
So that gives you an idea of the types of things we were eliminating from our diets. A lot of the foods that we dropped were the foods that added some dimension to our lives. Maybe dimension isn’t necessary, but it sure is pleasurable.
We had already quit coffee when we decided to forfeit outside foods, but there were those Sunday morning rituals where we sit down together for hours and I read to my love by the fire, or on the porch, and we sip leisurely on a steaming cup of… frothy milk or herbal tea. It’s lovely but it’s everyday, see? And everyday just isn’t as special.
Remember in the old days when authors expressed such wild joy at having found a Christmas orange in their stocking? Such a rare treasure. Today there’s oranges at every grocery store. Their ubiquitous presence feels almost mundane. We wanted to rediscover the thrill of the exotic. What if we couldn’t buy a bag of coffee from a grocery store but were handed a paper and burlap satchel of these rare, magical, roasted beans from the hands of our great Uncle Leopold - an adventurer par excellence that just stepped off the beautiful ship, Princess Helena with stories of swashbucklers and flying camels to accompany every sip of this exotic, bitter, intoxicating elixer?
Scarcity brings appreciation home to the heart. It makes us more mindful. Things feel special again.
With the way things are going, I think manufactured scarcity is going to continue to pick up steam as the goals of shaping how we live and eat and take care of ourselves continues to thunder along. That’s something different. What I’m suggesting here is that by really leaning into the foods of our locale, we can get benefits beyond health.
There’s a great move afoot to remind people that their local food carries the light signatures, the essential, ordered messages familiar to our bodies to ensure our vibrant health. An apple from South Africa in the midwest? Not so much. But eating from source, literally and figuratively, delivers so much more than resonance and nutrients. It brings us closer to the rhythms of scarcity and abundance. We learn to live in conjunction with the rhythms that are also built into us. We learn that we are nature, too. Not admirers of it. Not humans that dip our toes in the wilds. We are nature, too.
By removing the extra foods, we were hoping to get closer to her - to the natural world we belong to. We weren’t sure what was on the other side of oysters and dark chocolate and exotic, raw French cheeses, but we wanted to see.
What we learned is that we’re doing alright. The whole experience brought us a new sense of confidence in being able to feed ourselves. You don’t know if the things you enjoy become a crutch for what you need until they’re removed. Here’s some of the things we no longer consumed over our year of eating solely from our farm:
the wild, Atlantic seafood I already mentioned
aged pu’erh tea
culinary mushrooms (the ones I can’t forage)
bottarga/roe/some seaweeds (although I have probably a lifetime supply right now it’s worth mentioning because I use them often)
organic vanilla bean
margaritas - we had virgin ones without tequila or lime which just wasn’t the same
supplements other than magnesium, iodine, and minerals which we wouldn’t give up (this isn’t the apocalypse quite yet)
some exotic spices
lemons (I had received a bartered box from a lovely reader here that I salted, cured, and then freeze dried to make a powder that I could use for flavour, but in some situations, the juice would have worked better).
root cellar veggies - when we ran out, we ran out - end of that story until the next growing season
I’m sure there are some other things in there I’m not covering. Because we haven’t eaten grains, seed oils, etc.. for decades, there was nothing there to give up. I suspect that if grains were a staple in someone’s diet, that would be a lot more challenging because we don’t grow any. But then again, we don’t grow any because we don’t eat it. For us, eating preserved and fermented foods, cold storage vegetables, a true nose-to-tail diet of bone broths, organs, meats, and weird bits, and raw dairy all from our farm has been a wonderful way for us to truly come to know what our body’s need and thrive on.
After this year, I’m even more committed to singing the praises of local, seasonal foods. It’s something all of us can do and all of us would benefit from. It’s good to have scarcity sometimes. It’s good to find pleasure in abundance when it comes. Feast on the berries when the sun kisses your shoulders! And, when you use this as a guide, it drives you to local farmers for your food. There is no local in the big chain grocery store. Processed is just another word for chaos. And who needs more chaos in their body?
Things are shifting mightily in this world we’re in. I subscribe to a food industry newsletter to keep my finger on the pulse of their marketing and other diabolical shenanigans. A couple of years ago, the one “protein” section of their newsletter was expounding on tactics to use terms like “grass fed” and “pasture raised” to their advantage. Today, the “protein” section only talks about lab grown meats and other scientific creations with conversation around getting consumers to buy in (and lobbying governments to bypass consumer knowledge altogether). During Covid, I had farmer friends, with on-farm stores, that were suddenly getting pillaged for their food. People that had never been to a farmer suddenly wanted everything the farmer could sell.
Don’t be one of those people. That’s not the answer. The answer is relationships now. The answer is in weaving yourself into your food supply and truly, and ruthlessly, sitting down and looking at what you’re buying. Where is it coming from? How much of your food is want over need? What do you actually need to get by? This is exactly why I’m so resistant to recipes. They’re a fun exercise on a Friday party night, but they often demand things that do not grow where we live or grow when we need them to. I think recipes are special events but the every day cooking is plain and delicious simply because of the care and attention it was given in life.
My friend, Kate, a butcher and all around wonderful egg, often tells people that the best thing you can cook is ground beef. I think this is brilliant. Ground beef is loaded with connective tissues and collagen. If we can’t be satisfied with some ground beef, maybe in a little bowl of well made bone broth, with a little brown butter ghee or ferments on top and a sprinkling of salt, well, I would say our tastebuds have been hijacked and that in itself is a condition worthy of attention. Our bodies will respond to nourishment when the static of exaggerated flavours is removed. Please remember this when feeding your wee ones. It’s critical. If you find yourself there, know that it’s also reversible with consistent effort. Our bodies will always return to homeostasis when the interruptions are removed.
So I leave this year now with a deeper appreciation for the exotic and the special foods I have access to but may not for long. We ordered our first batch of oysters for Friday’s surf and turf. We’re going to have them with some ribeyes from our steer we harvested a few weeks ago and are now starting to butcher later this week. I will top those seared ribeyes with this summer’s hand-churned raw butter compliments of Olive the Jersey cow and me, the devoted butter makin’ gal. And yes, we will have a margarita with frozen strawberries from our garden and a splash of lime from an organic farmer somewhere in Mexico and a tipple of mezcal from one of his neighbours. I will delight in the treasure of it all because it’s a treasure again.
And for that, I am excited to continue to be nourished solely by the foods of our farm with an organic vanilla bean or box of ocean water dripping oysters alongside for the ride. Taking on the responsibility for our nourishment with the delight of some rarified gems every now and then. Things that are actually worth it. This is how we want to eat while we can.
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