My thoughts on the food supply. Literally. I’m sitting on a raw cowhide trying to figure out how to explain the thoughts whizzing within me, or maybe that’s just the sound of the power-tool in my hand.
I don’t know how I got here as Executive Director of 25 in Change, but the reasoning made sense all the way: Get connected to the food system; take some ownership; have some skin in the game. As I annoyingly slide down the cowhide due to the incline I thought would be a good idea to help wash off the fat, I’m starting to think that a slip and slide on wet bovine tissue must not have been the skin and game the old phrase is referencing.
Just two weeks ago, this hide was covering a Longhorn steer happily grazing in the pasture down in Larkspur. Along with three others, they shared 120 acres to roam among pine trees, scrub oak, and even shared the land with whitetail deer and elk. Few steers have a life this good. But rent for this bucolic wonderland finally came due, and we wrangled them with cowboy-Heeyaah!-hoots, and escorted them to their final days.
So, technically, I’m not sitting on the food supply, but its actual wrapper. ’Tis the season of gift wrapping, and I plan on giving this wrapping as a Christmas cow hide rug. In my effort to be more connected to my food supply, I thought it would be wise to make an attempt at taxidermy. I watched videos online and spoke with professional taxidermists. I even went so far as looking into doing it the way the Cree tribe did it 200 years ago, but boiling brains and building a teepee to smoke the hides just seemed a bit too much. Too gross. Instead, I planned a modern approach to it that would be quick and easy through the use of organic chemicals and technology. Little did I know.
Not once in my planning did I see myself cutting through my gloves and slicing my fingers three times and bleeding on the hide, getting acid-burn from citric acid as the 100lb hide splashes in the 30 gallon solution (yes, the stuff in oranges, but mixed to a pH of 2), and finally giving up on my razor sharp knives and choosing a power tool (despite the knives’ clear ability to slice right through my flesh). All in all, these are not things worthy of complaint.
This is my complaint:
With the wire-brush attached to the power-tool in my hand, from a distance it might look like I’m wood-working as sawdust sprays around me. But there is no wood under me, and that’s not but, it sawdust in the air. Rather, pickled cow flesh is spitting into the air and falling like embers coming off a welder— and I’m covered in it from head to toe. I’m wearing rubber waders and a raincoat with nitrile gloves; I’ve cast off the safety goggles and surgical mask because I couldn’t breathe with them and the goggles kept fogging up. Every once in a while a piece of flesh hits me in the mouth, eye, or up into my nose. My beard has blocked most of it from reaching my cheeks, so I’m only left to guess how much I look like Santa Claus with his white beard. While you the reader may find this gross, in the moment, the point of being grossed out by this has long passed: This is far too messy to do inside with lights, so all I’m concerned with is getting this done before the sun sets and I lose my light. I may be on top of the cowhide, but I am definitely in over my head—it doesn’t help that cow parts are spraying overhead.
How did I get here? I have professional cooking experience so why do I have parts of a cow in my hair like I’m in a Quentin Tarantino movie?
Matthew Crawford in his book “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work” talks about the essential need to work with our hands in order to reclaim some of our humanity. The outsourcing of manual work, and our disconnect from our labor (that old Marxist/Bernie Sanders theme), has left us feeling like automated drones incapable of feeling a sense of ownership of our work and the feeling that accompanies it through being involved through the whole process from beginning to end. But as much as I would like to wax philosophical about reclaiming my grip on humanity, all I’m really trying to do in the moment is get a foothold to stop me from sliding down the cowhide into a stack of sharp knives with a power tool in my hand. Here I’m trying to reconnect with my humanity and my food in a sustainable way, and every step I take I feel more disconnected from myself and my food. Why did I talk myself into this? Why couldn’t I just let this cowhide go to be someone’s else problem? It could be someone else’s leather and I could be in front of the fire with a pulled pork sandwich made from one of my heritage hogs while reading “Pig Tales: An Omnivores Quest for Sustainable Meat”. But no, I’m on this cowhide, covered in who knows what because I wanted to pay homage to this cow by preserving it.
In trying to connect with THIS food, I’m covered in it, and feel numb to the reality—maybe it’s just the snow underneath the hide and the cold conditions of winter at 7,200 ft. They say hides are best when harvested in the winter because they have the most fur and are at their thickest, well “they” must have indoor processing facilities because I have numb fingers, a cold tukus, a runny nose, and a solid state of confusion about remembering why I put this hide on the incline in the first place. Why couldn’t I just buy a hide online for $300 from Brazil. Oh, that’s right: The cattle industry of Brazil is the main cause of deforestation of the Amazonian rain forrest.
Again, not wishing to be too philosophical, but as a philosophy graduate, I cannot help but think of Zeno’s Paradox (and the modern version: Thomson’s Lamp): no matter how much closer you get to accomplishing the task before you, it’s always just outside of reach. The psychological component of this is felt acutely in the food supply. Locavores in their quest for eating as local as possible fail to understand that it will not satisfy their desire for the local relationships they seek. As Louise Fresco points out in her book “Hamburgers in Paradise: The Stories Behind the Food We Eat” , ultimately, in our modern society nothing is just local anymore. The natural food so many seek is more myth and paradise than organic, whole foods. While, 25 Farms delivers the most local produce possible in the Denver area, and 25 in Change transforms local communities by getting them to start healthier eating habits, we as a community should not strive for eating the most local food (just because it’s local) but rather see the whole connections of our food. Seeing that our relationships are fostered by it, that it promotes happiness in our lives, that it benefits our loved-ones, strengthens our environment, and heals our communities. Local food can do it–if it’s done right–but so can food from the other side of the world. This holiday season, I encourage you to get your hands dirty with some food. Try a complex recipe that looks overwhelming. Dive head first into hosting that holiday party and go overboard! Schedule a time to volunteer at a food pantry in the non-holiday season when volunteers are hard to find. Give someone the joy of unexpected delicious delights (perhaps even Turkish). Celebrate the joy of warm food, homes, and the ability to shower and rinse off even the messiest foods, no matter how much has been sprayed in your beard.