It has felt like ages since I posted last. My adrenal fatigue is worse again and we are having heart-stopping trouble with our computer. My whole thought life is on the computer. Which makes me wildly uncomfortable, by the way. It is dopey to rely upon things that are not reliable, right? I mean that is the whole point of the direction of our lives and the posts on this blog. Sigh. Well, I will deal with that one another day…
Meanwhile I have been jotting down little notes about posts I want to write on our various blogs. This shorthand list is three pages long. Makes me tired just looking at it. However, I thought I would take the time now to convey a conversation we had as a family on Thanksgiving that will affect the future direction of our homestead and homestead kitchen.
Just before Thanksgiving, we had to drive to Roanoke. While there, we stopped in at an Indian grocery to pick up a few things we were out of. We eat Indian food here at least three or four times a week and have done so for a long time. In the back of my mind has lurked the thought that someday we may not easily be able to get Indian supplies as, in reality, India is a long way away. But, like the problem of being dependent upon capricious computers, I kept putting conscious thought and problem solving about this off for another day.
Rice has been expensive for a while now, as you may know. We have discovered during this time that basmati rice may actually be as good a deal as jasmine rice because it cooks up to a much larger volume than jasmine rice does. I guess I would have to do a detailed analysis between price and volume but just from cooking every day in the kitchen, we have found basmati to be a better deal than we thought and not just a rice for special occasions. But still - it so expensive. It darn near takes your breath away to pick up a bag of it with an intention of heading towards the cash register. So, I put that off and headed over towards the bags of mung dal.
What I saw shocked me. The price was so high on this ancient, simple food of poor and/or spiritually oriented people that I couldn’t dream of buying it. Rice and dal. Cheap, cheap food. Now so expensive that it is out of my reach. And rice and dal are - or have been up until now - staples in my kitchen. With my mind reeling, we left the store. We had not a bit of mung dal in the house but we left nevertheless.
I had to work on turning my reeling mind into a mind that simply meditated on the problem and came up with a solution or an approach, at least. I did this and it resulted in a family discussion which I will relate but first there is another strand.
In homesteading literature, you constantly run into debates about whether it is better to raise cows or goats. We solved this debate for ourselves years ago by doing the rather unusual thing of raising both on very limited land. We love the cows and don’t ever want to live without one ever, ever, ever gain. The goats are fun and easy to manage and child sized and, well… I really love feta cheese. Plus I need all the minerals I can get and goat milk is higher in minerals than cow milk. Anyway, we have raised both and enjoyed both.
The thing is that my family is very animal oriented. I am very happy to have these animals as companions and do not want to go through life without their energy and intelligence any more. We count on them. However, I am also a very plant oriented person. I crave greens and used to dream about herbs when I was an apprentice to an herbalist so many years ago. We have done little bits of gardening here and there but nothing really major. Everything has gone into maintaining the cows and goats and the many other projects around here like wood-fired earth ovens and outdoor bamboo showers and whatnot.
But with this economic crisis adding a certain flavor and with our maturing a bit as homesteaders, we are starting to take on a different view and this is really what our Thanksgiving Day conversation was about.
I talked with the family about my sticker shock with regards to Indian food supplies. I also talked about the significant reading I have done about families that choose to eat locally only. We then all talked about the morality (or not) of shipping food thousands and thousands of miles just so that others can choose to eat what does not grow in their region. The people I have read who have eaten locally for a year, say, all tend to have far more resources at their disposal than we do. Floyd County would be a great place to undertake such a project, I think, but we just can’t afford it. I proposed that we consider making every effort to eat what at least can be available in the United States. So while mung dal would not be available, mung beans would be (I Googled it. They are grown in unexpected places like OK.). What did everyone think of this idea?
Then I raised the issue of keeping goats when we already have cows and a lifetime commitment to having cows. We need to diversify - we need more than milk and cheese in order to survive and thrive. We need to garden, I suggested. We need to garden A LOT. We need veggies and herbs and so many things. The goats are occupying the space where we would otherwise immediately start expanding our gardens. What shall we do? I asked this with some trepidation because no one here ever wants to give up any animal. But drawing upon my social work training, I had talked with my husband and several family members ahead of time and already discussed their feelings and ideas to a certain extent.
So we as a family decided two things on this Thanksgiving Day:
1. We will gradually learn to limit our food choices to those foodstuffs that can be grown in the United States. We are doing this as a preparedness measure in the face of wildly uncertain times and we are doing this as a morality measure as the resources that go into shipping foods such vast distances should really be spent more effectively locally.
My husband encouraged me to apply Indian cooking spices and cooking practices to more of the foods we will continue to eat and sort of invent a hybrid cuisine that will work for us. I already do this some and I appreciated his practical and supportive suggestion. Now I only have to set about carrying it out. (And get over my heartbreak about eating less Indian food. I am not a foodie. I just have a heart thing with India and an abiding respect for the ancient science of Ayurveda.)
2. We will sell the goats, our surefooted little companions of several years, and put our energies into getting much more serious about veg and herb gardening. As a matter of fact, a young man with a rather large farm to develop is coming tomorrow to meet our modest herd. It will be difficult to see them go. I have resisted selling them several times over the years but now it is time, as evidenced by the fact that everyone is surprisingly on board. Eager even.
I have to immediately start thinking about seeds for spring. I have read lately on a number of agrarian blogs that quality heirloom seeds will be more scarce this spring and to order early. So after the goats go to their new home, we will apply ourselves to this next phase of our homestead development.
Shortly after all of this bracing family discussion and decision-making, I read the following in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver:
He told us that in India it’s sometimes considered a purification ritual to go home and spend a year eating everything from one place - ideally, even to grow it yourself. I like this name for what we had done: a purification ritual, to cultivate health and gratitude. pps. 338-339
Yes, this is exactly what it feels like to us. For us this way of life is about more than adjusting ahead of time to straitened conditions. It is about more than spending time together as a family. It is about more than learning to live frugally so that there are more resources available for others. It is about purification. It is about living naturally. It is about easing out of sense gratification and conventional ways of thinking and finding ourselves. And finding inspiration. And peace. And time to look inward.
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,