The Building-Free Diet

So here’s something I came up with, more or less on the spur of the moment a few days ago. I’m going to go this whole semester without buying any food from buildings.

The obvious question is: Why? Well, toward the end of break I read three rather good books: The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan, and—in the crunched hours before bedtime on the eve of my departure for Iowa—No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. They got me thinking, as I hadn’t before, about how food is so tightly tied with the environment.

For one thing, it’s the only daily interaction many of us have every day with organisms that aren’t humans—not counting all the invisible ones that live in our bodies and on our skin. The food we get came from the ground, or from a living animal. And I really like the fact of that connection. But buildings obscure the whole chain that leads back to the sun’s energy. When you ask most people where their food came from, they’re apt to respond, “From the store.” If I cut out the store, the connections will start being more visible for me. And that’ll make me feel more like a part of the environment. Which is great for me, sure, since I’m all environmental and such. It’s important in a far broader sense too, though: I believe that people feeling like they’re not part of the environment is one of the big things that makes possible so much of the absolute, horrifying destruction of the environment that we see around us. Consciously or unconsciously, people seem to have the idea that humans are categorically different from all the other life on the planet, presumably by dint solely of our ability to say words and build cities and burn things for fuel. But humans are animals just like any other; on the whole, we’re more destructive than any other species, sure, but we still have to get our food from the sun and soil (whether or not concentrated first in the body of another animal), and we still breathe the air. If people went about their lives with this awareness, I think it’d lead to more humility and, if someone did go about destroying nature, there would be considerably more outrage, presumably enough to get the destruction to stop.

And another reason I’m not buying food from buildings is that I’m pretty sure it’s just not necessary. I’ve covered dumpster diving in a previous post, and lately I’ve found that New York is by no means the exception in the fertility of its trash. (Though it does have a leg up on most places in the trash’s accessibility—it’s all in bags right out on the sidewalk.) So just gleaning dumpster trash alone is a way to cut a meaningful amount off my food spending bill. Then there are the other sources of food that I’m planning on using. When spring starts rolling around, I’ll be using lots of wild plants, which are all free. I’ve already earned a large amount of deer meat by helping a friend carve up a deer that a professor gave him (apparently because the professor had a surplus). This is the same friend I butchered a rabbit with last year. The deer is a bit more substantial. Another free source of food is the language tables in the dining hall, which will grant me access to the dining hall at the price of conversation in a foreign tongue. I ought to practice my Spanish (Russian, Japanese) anyhow. A few sources cost money, which is a bummer I suppose, but until we get into a barter economy I’m okay with shelling out a few sheqels to these causes. One is the local foods buying co-op here, which is made up of students who band together and buy foods in large quantities from local farmers to make it economical, then dole it out to whoever was in. There’s a grain farm nearby that will keep me set for wheat and some other stuff, and there are vegetables that I’ll get. A few butter pats snuck out of the dining hall and I’ve already got everything I need for venison pasties. There will also, possibly, be the farmers’ market at some point in the future, though when I tried just now to find the date when it opens, I found an answer of May 20, three days before I graduate and far too late to do me any good. There’s also the Korean woman who works in the laundromat and sells homemade kimchi. Though she works in a building, this is really buying from a person, not a building. She’s not like the cashier at the grocery store. She makes the stuff and jars it herself. I haven’t met her yet, though, only heard about her—and I still haven’t tried kimchi, though there may be a lot of it in my future.

A few of these food sources, like the language tables, are peculiar to being in college, but most of it is stuff that everyone could adopt, and if they did, before long we’d be a nation where everyone could see the other end of their food chain and small farmers started taking over the land being despoiled and sent to sea by the agricultural megacorporations (Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Syngenta, and so on).

So how’s it going so far? Well, I haven’t bought any food yet this year. Mostly this has worked for me because I’ve been on the weekday-lunches meal plan, and it’s easy to steal enough stuff from the dining hall to make dinner. But today was the last day to cancel my meal plan, so I did, and now I won’t have that easy option to fall (fail) back to. Fortunately, I’ve found that dumpster diving here is rather good. A couple nights ago I went to take a survey of the town’s dumpsters. It was a bit of a slow night, but I found a taco salad behind a pizza place, and then I hit a mother lode outside the grocery store. Tubs of chunked cantaloupe, heads of green and red leaf lettuce, bags of salad mix, broccoli, apples, oranges, peppers, tomatoes. Too much for just me! I got back to the house and put most of it on the communal fridge shelf. This is the cool part: the people here at EcoHouse are completely on board with dumpster diving! Without my coaxing, they’ve voluntarily eaten of the stuff that I got, and told me that it’s awesome that I got it, and that it’s completely unspoiled and they agree with me that it’s absurd to waste it. In fact, we’ve even decided that once I’ve got a better handle on what’s productive here (and once the weather warms up enough that people saner than me can go outside at night), we should have a big dumpster-diving night where I show everyone what it’s like and give them the tricks of the trade. It makes me feel good that one of the weird things I like to do is getting such a warm embrace.

I was going to write a longer post that would cover what I think about being back and the shocking new amount of debt this college has caused the family and my latest findings on the possibility of going to Korea. But it’s late and I need to pick up a friend from Iowa City tomorrow, so instead I’m going to go to bed and leave those for my next entry, which, I hope, should be a little more timely than this one. Since I was originally planning to be only a third done by this point, I don’t have a good ending for this blog post, just this lame one.

File under: dumpster-diving, civilization


Anonymous

History

Well I like all of this. Eating fresh is always good. However, you need to define store for me. Does a store have to be in a building? Is a farmers market a store ( it is certainly a storehouse of food)? What is a store house? What do old 73 year olds do when they can neither get into or out of a dumpster— starve to death or go to a store? This is fun !!!!!!! G.Pa.

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Anonymous

History

Farmer's markets are all the suburban rage now. I think you may find that lots of the "local" produce is not so local and comes from the same suppliers that grocery chains buy from. If you buy corn from a farmers market around here, the first of the season is from Florida, later it is Tennessee. Anything from a jar is usually made in a factory in New Jersey or some other factory(ish) city.

I think you may find that you, and many other young and idealistic adults will find your persoanl lives emmbodying the qualities of narrative allegory. Your search for or perhaps finding yourself in a place contrition and atonement.

You may be "working something out" in the material world only to find that a truth you find will come from from anywhere but the material world.

"If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair"
C.S. Lewis

Dave

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Anonymous

History

Do you eat ginger cookies if they are sent to you from your grandma who got the ingredients from Kroger? Don't know where else to get the stuff for them. Anyway, one of these days I'll get a batch made, unless you are doing without those far-from-the-food -source manufactured by Grandma's hands things.

And more power to you for the helping with the deer, and using food that would have gone to waste. You are going to be on the leading edge of the lifestyle that people will have to accept sooner or later, when the resources run dry. I am proud of you.

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Chuck

History

I can certainly eat ginger cookies from Grandma. I can always eat ginger cookies from Grandma.

As for what you can do if you lack the agility to climb into a dumpster. There are still the other sources of food I mentioned. Farmers' markets are accessible to anyone, and the nice thing about them is you can make sure they're on the level by just asking. "So do you grow this food?" "Where does it come from?" If they don't have satisfactory answers to these questions, you can just go to a different stall, and they know it. Wild foods grow everywhere, and learning to identify them is going to be a fun project for me that will last me many years, I'm sure. If you want a book about them, I very highly recommend both of Samuel Thayer's books, The Forager's Harvest and Nature's Garden. For meat, if you don't have a source of deer available to you, there's certainly at least someplace that sells local beef and chicken, and in Ohio, there's probably even a farm that you can go to and buy the chicken right from the farmer. The three books I mentioned at the beginning of this post are all great for learning about this stuff and what are the problems with the status quo.

Dave, re: narrative allegory, contrition, atonement: Huh?

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Anonymous

History

Buy a chicken from a farmer? As in live? Brings back a memory from my childhood. My father, 100% city, for some reason decided to buy and slaughter a live chicken. I can remember he chopped the thing's head off in the back yard, and that headless chicken flopped around for minutes. I thought it was sickening. Then they burned off the feathers, and the smell in our basement lasted it seemed like forever. That was the last time my dad tried to act like a hunter/gatherer. From then on, grocery stores got all our chicken business. And that was in the 40s.

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Chuck

History

No, no, I mean freshly slaughtered and cleaned. There's a farm near the college where you can buy chickens like that, I believe. You can also go there and help out on the slaughter day to get a feel for it, and maybe a free chicken, but I don't remember. There's a similar farm in The Omnivore's Dilemma. The author has a pretty interesting account of what it was like to ge help out. My roommate from last year has gone to a slaughter day at the farm around here.

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Anonymous

History

That's like Grandpa's mother. She'd break a chicken's neck and get it ready for cooking without batting an eye. I think she gave some to neighbors, too, but I think she killed them first. It would be great if you could have that back-to-basics experience with butchering stuff. I don't want to go with you, though. It's hard enough for me to kill fish. Ha. Grandma

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Oxtrox

History

Earth to Nathanael… come in Nathanael…

Maybe you should reel it in a tad ya goofball.

I think Dave ate a dictionary, slammed a dozen margaritas and maybe a car bomb or two and then puked out his post.

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Anonymous

History

I have helped kill, and clean thousands of chickens (Roosters). Yes I mean thousands. We used to sell them for $1.00 each , ready for the frying pan or the freezer. Chop their heads off, then immerse them in boiling water for a few seconds (then strip the feathers off). After that you have to burn the pin feathers off. You use brown paper (never newspaper because the ink will get on the chicken and render the chicken worthless), light the paper and roll the chicken around the fire until the pin feathers are removed. Open the chicken ( belly) and remove the entrails saving the gizzard (yum) and liver (yuck). Finally a topic in which I have real expertise. Grandpa

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Anonymous

History

I did not realize Grandpa was so talented. He never did that after I knew him or I would have been afraid I'd have to learn to do that, too. But it's nice to have a skill that is truly basic. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

Your repentance or disdain for the mechanized or "modern" world, or your move towards a spartan, austere, minimalist lifestyly has implications in the natural world.

Someone might suggest that what lies beneath could be a struggle on the spiritual level. You might be yearning for something, and writing some allegory into your life, I think we all do subconsciously to some extent.

In other words, I don't think you are struggling solely just the destruction of the planet, ecology and such. Guilt leading to contrition, or atonement, or a drastic change in lifestyle were just some examples. I would think that you of all people would be open to the possibilty of outward actions having implications on more than one level.

Sorry, reading lots of C.S. Lewis which really opens the mind.

Dave

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Anonymous

History

Cookies baked, boxed, and Grandpa's going to take them to the post office. Be on the lookout for them. We survived a night without power here. Ice is on everything, and now it's snowing again. Bet you Iowans had some stinky weather, too.

David is making some sense. Aren't we all yearning for our spiritual selves? But I tried to read C.S. Lewis and it's too difficult for me. However, I'll soon start on that course I bought from that Grinnell professor. Hope I learn something from it. Right now I'm in the middle of a great linguistics course. Grandma

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