cooking as essential life skill
or be a slave to their offerings
I contend that in order to grow and raise truly nutrient dense foods one must also be an unabashed devotee of such foods. An eater of great gusto. An admirer of the simple peasant foods that come to us dripping in flavour and rich, glorious fat. A keen awareness of the need to offer that beautiful food little more than a gloss of fat and a sprinkle of good salt.
The beauty of such a goal is that it happens all on its own when we raise animals as they were created to live. Ruminants move through grasslands and forests. Waterfowl swim and dive and forage. Pigs dig and burrow and wallow. Sheep and goats nibble and herd, leap and run. Muscles oxygenate. Brains signal stimulus. Weather changes around them. Their bodies are called to lay on heavy coats and then shed them because the light of the sun sends invisible messages that their ancient bodies understand. They live within the structures and hierarchies of their herds exactly as they were designed to. They make babies and nurse babies. They lay eggs and hatch them out and protect the little balls of fluff that appear from the ether. They are fully in the lives they were specifically designed to live.
These are the animals that leave, as sacrifice to the living, their bodies as nourishment. What do we lose when we offer an animal the bare minimum to keep it alive? If the meat or the milk or the eggs look similar, are we satisfied? Or do we just keep moving people ever further away from the truth of real food until, suddenly, a lab grown sausage patty isn’t all that different from the other stuff under the grocery store cellophane? And are those our options - a sickly, soggy pork chop or a lab grown franken-flesh slab? It’s not too hard to convince someone that they might as well skip the tortured pigs living in concrete pens for something that looks relatively similar but without the death (well, not theirs anyway).
It’s in the knowing of food, as it should be, that we strive to be the kind of farmers we need to be to produce it. And it’s in my understanding of how to cook food that I came to truly know it. That was long before we had a farm of our own. That was when our children were small and we were buying food from farmers. We would never have been able to afford to buy our meat in cuts so it was always direct from our farmers, whole animals if you please. And it was in learning what to do with that whole animal that my skills grew in the kitchen. As I learned how to make use of every last bit of, I came to realize how the marriage of my nutrition background with my cooking skills were essential.
Later, when we started farming, there was a standard that was clear to us. We knew what good beef tasted like and what bad beef tasted like. We knew, from having bought meat and from working on a myriad of farms, what we wanted to do and we had some idea as to how to get there. I didn’t care what it took to raise a chicken to butcher weight. I wanted to know how to raise a chicken that would hatch out her own chicks and raise them successfully, moving through grasses and pastures and eating all manner of little critters so that when we did butcher her, she was short on white styrofoam breast meat and big on dark, well oxygenated and used muscles. That’s the type of chicken that trying to chew on their bones might break your tooth, but won’t break their soft bones. Ever notice that you can bite right through a commodity breed (cornish x) chicken bone without issue? What do you think that means about the mineralization of their bones?
And so, too, with all animals. What does it mean to raise an animal that will produce or have meat in the end if it’s not the most wonderful, deeply flavoured, richly pigmented, golden fatty deliciousness possible? Why go through the effort? Well, you’d go through the effort because it’s food and food is what you’re used to. And that’s where we circle back to my original statement. To raise really healthy animals is to raise really healthy food and to raise really healthy food is to raise really delicious food. Every cut corner delivers a diluted result. That goes for all of life.
I don’t think making the connection between the taste and the health of food is reserved for those growing or raising their own. Like I said, I figured this out well before I had a farm by learning how to cook cuts that were less expensive for our family on a meagre budget. And it was through that necessity that I was introduced to the most unctuous of meals. A long braise of beef cheeks was a revelation. Oxtail, was the most sublime thing I had ever eaten. Blade roasts, in fact every roast, cooked low and slow with that precious, tenderizing, taste-voluminizing bone left in (always, always, I plead with you always!) was my final confirmation into a world that had me leave the flavourings and fancy ingredients at the gate. No need for those when you have beautiful food just waiting to shine.
It’s the union of tastebud with honest food that tells the story we need to remember, need to keep alive, need to teach our children and our grandchildren. That our Creator designed these little receptors on our tongue and then put food on this planet that matched them precisely is simply extraordinary. It’s a gift given to us by our God and one that corporations have maniacally harnessed to pervert and twist the connection between us and this beautiful earth and the creatures that nourish us. Our poor little tastebuds, jacked up on synthetic flavours, poisonous vegetable oils that pretend to be the wonderful animal fats we have eaten since the dawn of time, and the refined sugars and flours that deliver a hit as good as any drug (‘cause they are a drug). What chance do they have against such an assault? We are animals unsuited to this zoo.
And it’s in that altered state, fed those altered foods, that it’s so darn hard to even recognize the beauty and incredible flavours of real food. When a mouth is hijacked by the extreme flavours found only in processed foods, even the wild, juicy, sweet and tangy golden globe called an orange tastes ho-hum. What of a roast with salt on it? How to eat such a thing without barbecue sauce? We have to make the choice to let those manufactured foods go if we want to experience the pleasure and the health of the real foods designed specifically for us by a benevolent and wise Creator over the empty foods of a corporation trying to make money regardless of the consequences to your health.
So, let’s start there with a simple metric we can apply to our food that asks the question, “Is this man’s food or is this God’s food?” I’ve never understood why, in all of the churches I have gone to over the years, there was never a sermon or even a whisper about what goes into people’s mouths. I learned about what goes into people’s ears, their minds, their marriages, but never what happens when we allow God’s food to be replaced by a corporations manipulations. Why is that? Probably because they’re serving up the oreos at coffee afterwards.
Don’t believe in God? Use nature instead. From there, the power is ours to make the decision to allow a corporation power over our bodies or to keep it for the sacred. After that, it’s a question of witnessing the marvel that is the resetting of one’s body and tastes as the hyper-stimulating foods are removed. Suddenly, even ground beef and salt is delicious. If it’s delicious. And if it’s not, maybe some time and effort looking at the quality of the food you’re consuming. If you’re raising it yourself, are you happy with your farming practices? If you’re buying from a farmer, are you happy with theirs? If you’re buying your food from a grocery store, could you switch out some of the food you buy from there to a local farmer? Maybe even eggs? Maybe some raw milk? Buy bulk, a whole cow or pig, but if you can’t, buy the cheap cuts and get better at cooking. How? By cooking. There’s no secret. Nothing is going to happen to you that will make you more skilled in the kitchen. Libraries are full of cook books. That’s how I got started in the kitchen. I had to eat, my people had to eat, and there was a free resource that housed all the books to make that happen.
I just got back inside and came up to the computer to finish off this essay. My husband and I harvested the first of three steers that we will be butchering this year. His name was Bud. He was Daisy’s calf from three years ago and we figured that a cow named Daisy needed an offspring named Bud. His last moments were the same as his first. Lying on the green pastures after a feast of red clover with his herd. His eyes were closed in pleasure as he chewed his cud when a bullet killed him instantaneously.
The body that Bud left behind for our nourishment is beautiful. His fat is deep, golden yellow from a life on pasture. Even his bone marrow is bright yellow. His flesh is dark red as the meat of a well finished beef animal should be. Not pink like in an animal taken too young. He was a life and now he nourishes ours. Is it not my responsibility to ensure that every last bit is illuminated as best I can? Gratitude is wonderful, but gratitude manifest in actions of service are all the more powerful. I owe that animal my efforts. We all do.
And maybe that’s the biggest sadness of all in our industrial food system - the division of eater from source. Do you still owe the food you eat, the gifts of creation on your plate, your reverence even if you don’t know where it came from or what kind of life that animal had? I think you do. I think we all do. I think the gifts given to us as our birthright are worth preserving and fighting for.
We open our mouths and accept a foreign substance into our bodies, hoping it will fill us, nourish us, help us to live a vibrant, healthy life. Shouldn’t such a profound act, such an intimate act be considered thoughtfully and with reverence? They have normalized the slow demise of the vitality of our species and we willingly participate, one bite at a time. Don’t participate. That power is yours to wield. Do so with wisdom and decisive intention.
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