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.