Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles

Ruminating, involving ruminants.

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Ruminant!

Ruminant!

Some thoughts on my former too-extreme version of this project and some speculation on how we’ll adapt this year:

When I faced down actually doing this I found I had to change some major ways I had interacted with food for most of my adult life. At times this was awesome, and created a sense of connection, ritual, and deep gratitude. At other times it was fussy, annoying and exhausting. My first attempt actually was immediately set back by a bad flu that left me unable to do the planning and preparation that make this work. Green tea and raw fish, my go-to for any illness, were too much of a draw and I didn’t have the resources and community to find alternatives. Of course, I also hadn’t really told anyone about my project. I had this idea that if I tried it and no one knew, success or failure would be dependent on myself only, instead of peer pressure or a need to meet expectations. Also I was stupid scared.

…Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing you need buddies for. So my first try failed immediately.

I got back on the horse and after some serious caffeine and grain withdrawals I actually got into a rhythm that worked. It worked so well, I went ahead and kept it going. Then life got complex. In a very large way. I became the guardian of a kid. So for a while this project, and my plan to phase all the way into it by January to do a whole year, got put on the back burner. But the kid, being a rockstar, is not an obstacle to pulling this off at all. And as the stores of dry beans, winter squash, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes piled up in the kitchen and cabinets I began to really want to not miss this chance. Ironically, one of my initial thoughts about this project was that I should do it now, even though I don’t have as much land as hopefully I will have one day, or as many animals, because if I had a kid it would be much harder. Well. Never say these things where the universe might hear you. What it means for us is that our household will probably not be 100% local. I am a cruel mother who makes her child shovel goat poop on a near daily basis, but I am not so unkind as to ban Nutella. Since I will be eating 100% locally, and we eat together, this will be a journey for her as well. Maybe I’ll even con her into writing about it a bit.

We’ll be eating from the whole county, and while we’ll try to focus on trade, foraging, and growing our own, we will use money when its appropriate. I went a month without cooking oil because, while I knew farmers made olive oil inland, I didn’t know any of them well enough to ask to barter. I also was too shy and too embarrassed by my own audacity to tell people about what I was doing and ask for help. Sarah does not have this problem. Outreach will be the least of our worries, and hopefully we’ll avoid some of the things that made it physically tough on me the first time around.

In which I discuss food and my body in potentially gross ways:

I work a lot. Between the plants, the animals, the kids, volunteers, restaurants, cafeterias, planning and maintenance I have a lot of moving parts going at any given point. Confessing some bad habits, I have been a habitual breakfast skipper. Eating in the morning has made me violently nauseous since puberty, no doubt my uterus’s vengeance for managing to have a kid without her, since it seems to fluctuate with my cycle. I have had coffee with milk and called it a meal for basically my whole adult life, excepting a few years of veganism. Yes, this is shameful. And then I start working, and between every need that all these things have, its like getting sucked into a quickly moving stream. Usually when it spits me out the day has passed, and I’m starving. So I eat a shocking amount of food and pass out. Not the healthiest of patterns! I’m young, active, and have a fast metabolism. I can go through food in a serious way, and I’m pretty much always hungry. But my patterns of eating haven’t always been that aware or self-loving.

This project forced me to change that. I still started the day with tea, made from lavender and mint from my garden, but I found that I had to eat something in the morning or in the evening I wouldn’t have the energy left for cooking everything from scratch and what should be a blissful, cozy process would become a death match between my calorie deprived brain versus the stove.

I also had to plan. I had to make extra food at dinner and save it for lunch the next day, I had to think about things far in advance, and re-learn the skills that were second nature to all our grandmas, like remembering to put beans in to soak before bed. I’ve never been that much of a cook or very domestic- I’m great with mud and tools, not so much with the kitchen. I now have infinitely more respect for the work that it takes.

There is a reason why traditional farms had cooks! After the work outside all day, there is a whole new day of work to be done inside: shelling beans, sterilizing jars, slicing veggies for the dehydrator, minding the various cultures. I felt a very serious need for a housewife. And also a sort of shame about my attitude about that work up to that point. I had rejected traditional gender roles so much in my life that I had internalized some negative crap. Which I had to get right over, since when I came in muddy and bruised and tired I had to basically get cleaned up and go back to work.

My body adapted in some interesting ways. My digestion went into hyperdrive. My stomach is now basically an incinerator- I could get nutrients out of eating brick, seriously. Getting rid of wheat had a huge effect on me. I felt more alert, my sex drive went way up, and my skin got clearer. Raw goat dairy, I found, didn’t give me the stomach ache that pasteurized cow milk always had.

I had a serious protein issue, however.

I had 15 chicks peeping in a brooder, but only their adopted mama, an elderly banty silkie by the name of Gwennie, was mature enough to lay eggs. To my amazement, apparently unaware that she was not, in fact, a production breed and was also old, Gwennie laid reliably enough for me to have an egg about every other day. I also had fava beans, and goat milk from a sweet Dwarf Nigerian belonging to the family of one of my Summer Youth Interns. I had to get creative.

This is Gwennie with adopted quail chicks. She's everyone's mom.

This is Gwennie with adopted quail chicks. She’s everyone’s mom.

A bunch of interns came from families that kept animals. I started charging a dozen eggs for late essays. And also assigning more essays. My friend Tim, a fisherman, graciously agreed to give me the heads and backs of fish he had caught. From this amazing protein source, usually thrown away, I made rich stock that I simmered kale and carrots in. The flood of fat and protein to my brain after a week with barely any is something I will always remember.

This time around, we will have chicken eggs, quail eggs, my goat Mandy is pregnant so we will have milk from her, plus a cow share and milk from the goat’s of friends, duck eggs for Sarah from Ukiah, and a wealth of local resources for protein, plus all the many varieties of vegetables we produce here. It’ll be luxurious.

I also found that my taste changed a lot, especially how I perceived sweetness. It was really shocking how quickly that happened, within about three weeks of giving up sugar and living without processed food, I started tasting sugar so profoundly in vegetables. My kale, which was not at its sweetest in the warm fall, tasted like candy. Tree collards are unbelievably sugary. I also got a lot more sensitive to subtle tastes and scents.

Note about weight:

I think we’ll probably spend a lot of time this year talking about how we feel and how our bodies react to the food we’re eating, because well, food is our bodies. Its pretty hard to separate those things. I want to make clear on my part, though, that I don’t see this as a diet plan. I did lose weight the first time around, but because I didn’t know what I was doing and my body wasn’t always getting what it needed. Different people have different metabolisms, and fat does not automatically equal unhealthiness, nor thinness health. A friend of mine told me he thought I would probably gain weight on this diet- at which point I’m pretty sure I stuck my butt out and made a comment about the “fat of the land” but that’s kinda beside the point.

Bodies. They are okay. No part of this is about a desire to change the shape of my body, and the shape of yours will never be my business.

Yes, it changed social interactions.

Food is community, always has been. It takes people to grow it, people to cook it, and people to eat it. Suddenly being involved in a rather extreme diet choice did change how I interacted with people. I have amazing friends, and there were some awesome dinner parties, and in most of their fridges at any given time there’s something I could eat. But the ability to spontaneously decide to get food with someone was gone, and the awkwardness of attending social gatherings and feeling like I was being a prima donna or unnecessarily fussy kept me a bit isolated. Of course, my close friends caught on quickly and didn’t let me be a curmudgeon. My friend simon even made sure there were amazing treats that were scrupulously local so I wasn’t left out of a tea party- even local tea.

This social element is I think the biggest change that will come with this year, and with doing this with a partner. The Farm to Table dinner series Sarah has been organizing with a team of local people are in themselves an awe-inspiring testament to the local food scene here, and I predict some really awesome times ahead. Even the simple act of logging what we’ve been eating in the days up to the start has had a huge effect on how I feel about this project- solidarity is powerful.

Having sacrificed my body figuring out how to do this, and having way more resources, a wonderful community, and a great deal more basic common sense, I feel like we’re really well prepared. I think we’ll need to make more time for cooking, planning, and storing food, but I also think that we will be nourished by that process if we stay up on it enough that we don’t get swamped. And I also think that when we inevitably do at times, we will have hands to help us.

As the rain pounds down outside, I’ve been in the greenhouse seeding flats. We’ll be well taken care of, and so will anyone else who comes by.

Love,

Gowan

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