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Archive for December, 2008

I am more than a fish

I am more than a fish

But not more than a man

But not more than a man

So, for ingredients, we have:

-Wasabi-seasoned rice as a base

-Murloc body: Savoy cabbage, fried rice, blue dyed tofu, red green and yellow peper strips, and agame strips.  Wasabi pea with a little seaweed for the eye, and voila,Murloc!  I really want him to have some teeth, so I’m going to have to figure out a way to get those in there.

-Murloc hut: (to the left) Thai-flavored turkey meatballs for the wood, the roof is savoy cabbage (steamed), yellow pepper strips, and agame strips.  You can use the cabbage leaves as wraps for the vegetables, tofu, and meat.

-Accessories:  Tofu and seaweed treasure chest, painted with some hoisin sauce for flavor! The sun is made of a egg, as are the flowers, along with some broccoli and more agame for the sand.  Thanks to annathered (http://annathered.wordpress.com/) for some inspiration and for directions on how to create the egg sheet flowers!

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I recently read this book as part of a course requirement and decided I’d like to share my review of the book with the interwebs.  Other reviews of this book have been overly kind and, in my opinion, have failed to offer any kind of critique.  So here it is.  Don’t hate me, Joel Salatin.  You’re doing very interesting things that deserve attention and discussion, but your staunch libertarianism turns me off as a reader.

Perhaps my disappointment lies more in my assumptions about Joel Salatin’s perspective on local food markets , rather than the harsh reality of who Joel Salatin revealed himself to be in Everything I Want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. Expecting noble stories of perseverance in a challenging food environment, I was greeted with a rant-laced manifesto that bore sour fruit. Salatin fails readers by downplaying his ability to introduce changes to the laws, policies, and regulations that bind his operation and neglecting to present common sense solutions to the reader.

While wading through the incensed rhetoric of Salatin’s grievances against the government, it became clear to me that relating to his staunch libertarian views that advocate the complete absence of government influence on his, or any, farm would be difficult. Salatin attacks government policy and “bureaucrats” because he disagrees with the concept of government and makes no true attempt to abide by any law or policy, until the “bureaucrats” threaten to shut him down. It is then, and only then, that Salatin complains about big agribusiness laws encumbering the potential of his farm, and uses the excuse to skirt the law with defiant pride. Readers lose focus in the midst of Salatin’s bitter tirades detailing countless acts of insubordination and confrontation with authorities. Because of this, readers are left to infer the underlying theme of the book; most regulations are aimed at big agribusinesses and should not apply to a small-scale, local farm, and therein lies the need for separate, applicable regulations that allow the local farmer to remain compliant with the law in ways that make sense for their operations and not those of large agribusiness.

Salatin offered the reader little insight into why the various maligned policies exist, and what those policies serve to protect. A stronger argument could have been made with the support of facts and information. It is rather obvious that the musings in the book were not researched in any way and simply offered one man’s unbalanced perspective rather than a positions supported by facts. As a title, Everything I Want to do is Illegal accurately describes Salatin’s lifestyle; everything he wants to do is illegal, for arguably sound reasons! The average reader would not know why what he does is illegal, since he does not provide any thoughtful narrative regarding his legal issues. This is more of Salatin’s issue, because he refuses to entertain the fact that he may be wrong. The bureaucrat saying, “it is the rule, therefore it is so” is not an acceptable answer for Salatin, and it is not an acceptable answer to me. There are reasons why the rules exist, foregoing any arguments of validity, and those should be explored and reported to the reader. Some may argue that properly educating the reader about farm and food policy is not the author’s goal, but neglecting to provide a strong argument, intentionally or not, does not allow the reader to gain the context necessary to identify with his perspective. Salatin wishes to live in a modern world without having to submit to, or formally challenge, modern laws and regulations.

That being said, Salatin is arguably one of the most noted libertarian-minded farm pundits and successfully drafts an emerging perspective on the local food system. Salatin is confident in his perspective and is quite clear about who he is as an entrepreneur. He is a capable author, with a firm opinion and determination to match. Salatin’s finest moment came from his experiences with the war against raw milk. He was insightful, providing historical examples of the issues surrounding the consumption of raw milk, and why the government regulates milk production. However, Salatin both gained and lost credibility in the same chapter when he implies that “rolling in the dirt” will make a person more able to consume the contaminants that could be present in raw milk products. Baselessly implying that “gardening” and “skinning animals for supper” are immune system boosters is superfluous and a potential public health concern. Salatin also states, “Virtually all of the processed foods currently sold at supermarkets could be supplanted with community-based entrepreneurial fare. Does your heart ache for this? Mine does. The defining nature of processed foodstuffs does not allow for it to be “supplanted” by the local market. Yes, a local farmer could conceivably create lasagna flavored Hamburger Helper, but it would not be the same. The resulting meal would be a delicious, local, and fresh lasagna that loosely resembled the packaged version from which it was based. The local “entrepreneurial fare” could not provide shelf-stability and certainly could not compete in terms of cost. Salatin has developed strong opinions based upon information that is factually inaccurate. Fact and opinion are endlessly intertwined within the narrative of the book and some readers may be inclined to believe all opinions as fact because Salatin’s tenacity makes his arguments dangerously believable.

Readers must be willing to invoke a politically neutral mindset when engaging with Salatin’s text. If an inquisitive mind is able to consider Salatin’s political views as a means to appreciate his perspective, then there are plenty of real issues concerning the local food system to be found in Salatin’s stories. Unfortunately, the systemic issues are for the reader’s consideration only, as Salatin only speaks of issues that he faces on his unique farm, under the laws in his county in the state of Virginia.

It is this observation that leads the reader to question Salatin’s true motives. Is Salatin a crusader for farmer’s rights? Does he even claim to be as much? Put simply, Salatin’s negative attitude towards government involvement in his food system may be self-serving. It is a vain attempt to cover what I believe to be his true motivation: the desire to run his farm as cheaply and profitably as possible. Salatin’s perspective becomes marred when he mentions that he cannot charge schools for tours of his farm because of current health and safety codes in Virginia. The issue, from Salatin’s perspective, is that he is being denied the right to profit from allowing a group to tour his land. To the reader, the issue becomes more about why Salatin feels the need to demand a cover charge from a group of second-graders who came to pet farm animals and play in a corn field.

Salatin introduced himself as a “third generation Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic” and his narrative was true to himself and his beliefs, even if he was unable to build a compelling argument as to why readers should believe that his beliefs are valid. However, beliefs are the precious belongings of one person and validity does not have a place in a belief system, with the exception of your beliefs directly affecting the health and safety of those who consume your products.

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Store Wars

I had completely forgotten about this wonderful little video. It was done by Free Range Studios for the Organic Trade Association. Here is the official website, where you can meet the characters and get a little behind the scenes action.

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I left the agonizing discomfort of my parent’s home about 7 years ago when I left for (real) college.  I moved myself 3 hours away, packing everything I owned (which was essentially everything, since I bought and paid for a large majority of my own things) into the back, front, and middle of my 1987 steel gray Lincoln Towncar.  Of course, I had forgotten a few things, and asked my mom to hold on to them for me until I had to go back at Thanksgiving.  I say “had to” because the college I attended did not allow students to stay in their dorm rooms over holiday breaks.  So, I had the choice of homelessness, or going back to live with them over holiday breaks.  I could have lied and said that I was allowed to stay in the dorms and moved in with the international students in the temporary housing dorm that is set up for them, but I wasn’t smart enough back then to lie that effectively.  Besides, I’m an only child, and going to see my parents, no matter how secondhand smokey and cat piss filled it was, is my duty as a kid.  Right?

That’s what I thought, until I moved into my first apartment.  My roommate’s family came down to help her move.  Mine did not.  In fact, each additonal apartment I moved into had the help of the other person’s family, but mine was no where to be seen.   You’d think, as a parent, you’d want to help your child pick out their first house, and help them move in, or even at least visit from time to time.  But that is not the case of my parents.  A house is forever, they can see it whenever.  But is a graduation forever? I’m one of two people IN MY ENTIRE EXTENDED FAMILY, BOTH sides, that has graduated from college (don’t get me started on high school graduation rates).  Nope, no interest in coming to that.  Or my graduation for my master’s degree.  In fact, I didn’t even attend my bachleor’s degree ceremony because I was so sad, and a bit embarassed, that no one was there to watch me get something I had worked so hard on.  I worked for an on campus catering company at that time, so I chose to work at the after graduation reception for one of the schools I was graduating from.

My parents don’t have any money.  They heat their home (trailer) with propane tanks from gas grills because they cannot afford to get an entire propane tank filled at one time.  They use this gas to heat their home, water, and run some of their appliances.  They went without “real” food for a couple of weeks this summer because my dad didn’t have any work coming in, gas prices were too high to even get gas and go to a food bank,  all the indicators of hitting rock bottom.

They still had cigarettes, though.  So things were dire, but apparently not too bad.  A cigarette is just as nutritionally sound as a Big Mac, right?

Let me bring the focus back to the point at hand.  Seven years, no visit.  Our car has a bad heart (read: engine could explode at any moment) and isn’t really fit to drive the 3 hour trip to my hometown for a holiday visit.  I’ve actually returned to my hometown twice in the past year, but I have not gone to their home.  As a matter of principal.  If you can afford cigarettes, you can afford to rent a car (my dad is a firm believer that any car, new or old, will break down on you, so you should always buy old, therefore, they never have a working car) and drive your asses down here.

Well, I can’t really go with a crappy car.  I could rent a car and go up there, but… wait!  Solution!  How about I give THEM the money to rent the car, and they come down here!  That way my mom can visit her sister who lives a few towns over, and my dad could visit his dad, who lives a county south of here!  And, hell, they could visit their only daughter too.

Their answer to my proposition?  Let’s start with my mom.  Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

“I can’t leave the cats. They can’t go a day without food. If I left extra food out, the ‘coons would eat it and then I’d be out the money for feeding them.  The water would freeze and they’d have nothing to drink.”

“The propane tank might blow up, and if we aren’t here to stop it, it’ll burn the whole house down. We’ll be out the money there too ’cause we won’t be here to feel the heat. That costs money, Nat.”

“Your dad will refuse to go. There’s no way he’ll drive all that way just for one day”

And the ULTIMATE gem:

“Well, I guess I could give up going over to Evonne’s and exchanging gifts on Christmas Day. They’ll be disappointed.”

Note: Evonne is my 46 year old cousin, who has 3 children, ages 17-20, who all have children of their own.

I’ll let you collect yourself and close your ogling jaw.

My dad’s responses:

“No promises, but I’ll think about it”

“Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but your mom is real particular about those cats. She won’t leave them for a day”

“It’s such a long drive. 3 hours down there, then visiting all day, and then 3 hours back.”

“What’s wrong with your car?”

NOTE: I  told them I have the money saved up, no cost to them, for two whole days of rental car fees and gasoline.

I told my dad that I wouldn’t be coming up over the winter break I have from school/work  because I had a lot of things to do and I couldn’t leave for even a day, and that I had to work.  All of which are true, and I will be helping to take care of some special needs pets over the holiday break that require medications and can’t be left alone for more than 12 hours.

So, they aren’t coming. Even though it’s paid for, which was their old go-to for reasons why we can’t come and visit. Even when I extended the invitation to the spring, when it would be warmer and they won’t need to worry about cataclysmic propane explosions or massive cat death due to food-stealing ‘coons.

How should I feel right now?  Any suggestions?  It’s a mix of “same ol dissapointment, different reasons” and grief, sadness, anger, and overall numbness.

Comments welcomed and encourage.

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