Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Of the Fallen

[click to enlarge]
abattoir |ˈabəˌtwär|
a slaughterhouse.
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from French, from abattre ‘to fell.’

Just over one week ago I stood on a kill floor for the first time. In many ways I've been building up to that moment for a few years now [at least], learning about food systems and production and how the food we eat gets from the farm to the table. In elementary school we were assigned a research paper, and my initial "animal rights" topic quickly changed to a more focused study of slaughterhouses. What I learned turned me off meat for months, as I recall.

But let's face it. I'm like many other red-blooded Americans who love bacon and steak and fried chicken and Thanksgiving turkey. My studies [and interests in life] led me to food, and I changed the way I bought milk, where I shopped, what I shopped for. My internship in Italy got me so close to the food chain as helping raise animals, and seeing their carcasses return in halves, still warm.

But this whole part about death... that part scared me as it does so many people. It's easier to turn away and pretend that pork chops simply come from the grocery store in neat little bloodless, and plastic-wrapped, packages. I've seen film footage, both raw and in documentary form about it, but I wondered how I would feel actually being there for the moment of death. Could I ever, EVER, eat it again?

Friday, November 05, 2010

An Explanation

I suppose at some point I should explain the name change and general overhaul on here.

For the longest time, since this blog's inception, its title was "Waiting for Inspiration to Strike." In a lot of ways that really is what I was doing— throughout my college career I struggled to narrow my interests as directed by various academic advisors. I considered plenty of majors: journalism, political science, agricultural economics, history, sociology... As an incoming freshman I signed up for classes that sounded interesting in hopes of finding that one subject that really sparked my interest. That one career field I could really picture myself in. It had to be out there, right?

Well, as it turns out, I may have been looking for a field all along. I grew up obsessed and consumed by all things horse, as many little girls do. Longing to have been born in the days of the cowboys, I'm still remembered by some of my elementary school peers as "that horse girl." I dreamed about horses for years, and had one to call my own for a time. But the social demands of high school caught up with me, and I made the decision to give it up. My horse retired to a local therapeutic riding center, I sold my tack and hung my helmet up, and considered it in many ways the end of a chapter in my life [decisions made in high school seemed so final!].

One of MSU's requirements for graduation is an Integrative Studies in Biology course, and I think that is likely the origin of "the rest of it." The course I chose, "Insects, Globalization and Sustainability" was taught by a fiery, sarcastic and inspiring professor [hey Dr. Besaw!]. Even though I'd grown up in a fairly "green"-friendly family, his class laid a solid foundation for thinking about the problems of sustainability and the environment in an academic way. From there, I think food was a natural step. Everyone eats. But how do we eat?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Countdown to... something

12: piglets born today
10.5: volts running through electric fence
8: bee stings sustained after stepping in a ground nest
6: bruises on right leg
3: eggs gathered this morning
2: roosters who have chased me recently

How strange to be so far from home and yet feel, once again, that life is somehow as it should be. I've been wading back into the rhythm of waking at dawn and working for 10 or so hours until dusk begins to detract from your productivity and time is better spent at the house, enjoying a meal and a hot shower and the prospect of a down quilt. There is something so incredibly satisfying about the time and effort and sweat and blood spent and spilled outside, working with animals. Pigs. Such frustrating creatures with their stubborn destructiveness, those long eyelashes, their sweet and alarming grunts and huffs and snorts...

It was one thing to go to Italy to chase pigs around a farm. People understand Italy, with its wine and arts and food and vistas. Pigs, livestock, farming... all of it was an afterthought to them as it was to me two years ago when I applied for the internship at Spannocchia. I wanted to work with animals because I like animals, but even that was a flippant generality as I had no idea about these animals, what it takes to care for them and how that job might take over one's life. I used to wake up in the middle of the night from dreams of broken electric fences, that telltale snapping that meant hours of time fixing once again what those damned pigs had broken and then putting those pigs back where they were supposed to be all along.

But what I discovered when I left was that I really missed it. The only time in four months abroad that I felt homesick happened 2 days after I left the farm. I woke up in Cinque Terre to the sound of hens clucking across the narrow street from my bedroom window, and I was overcome with a sense of loss. How odd.

Fast forward to now. I'm in West Virginia on a pig farm. People don't really "get it" and I understand why. It's pigs and West Virginia and, basically, "most people go to college so that they don't have to do manual labor."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


We Westerners can safely take for granted the body issues we've been doled out. By the media at large, by ourselves, by our inherited [but ever-changing] standards of beauty. Over the period of a long weekend, I just had two very different image-related experiences that, combined, have made themselves impossible to get out of the forefront of my mind.

Experience #1) Spending time lakeside with one of my best girlfriends. It's summer in Michigan so we all bare as much skin as possible, hoping to kickstart our Vitamin D stores and renew our faded tans. She and I wanted to take a picture looking out over the lake from her deck... and the resulting picture was immediately picked apart by both of us. Women are hard on themselves anyway, but it seems that in combination we multiply all of the things we've been trained to hate about ourselves and throw in a couple imaginary ones for good measure. It's as if we need to go around and around the table until every possible flaw has been accounted for.

Experience #2) Spending time lakeside with a large group of friends, some of whom I already knew, some of whom I had just met. More running around in bathing suits and the like. One of the guys on the trip made a comment to me, something about "all 98 pounds of you." At first comes the oh yeah right, look at all this beer I've been drinking and I haven't gone for a run in 5 days thoughts. Then the [hopefully] inevitable, wow, stop it, you look and more importantly feel great and healthy. Don't knock yourself.

Maybe I should have prefaced this all by saying that I'm very happy with myself and I think I have a pretty healthy body image. I'm active and I eat well, but I also love splitting a large pizza with a friend or indulging in late-night ice cream sundaes and the like. I consumed 3 pounds of Cheez-Its in January [thanks for the excellent Christmas gift, Dad!] I think it's completely possible to have it both ways and I've found a good balance in my life. I also read up on some delightful plastic surgery blogs and frown upon the excessively thin, pinched-looking women I see working out in my gym. They just can't be having that much fun, at the gym or in life.

That said, I see wiggling when I look in the mirror sometimes, and I know exactly where weight goes when I gain it. We're always our most unforgiving and merciless critic.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Historic Day

So I haven't had much to say here in a while. I've been working more or less full time and generally life is pretty static these days. I did run off to Guatemala for about 2 weeks, and I'm taking an urban gardening course, so things are happening but... for the most part any posting I would do seems more to be notes to myself rather than anything worth digesting by other people.

The more I realize that's the case, the more I get the urge to leave— not really to leave but to go, to restart that conversation with myself and you out there in the world. It's been too long since I've written, but lately even that has been changing and I can sense myself coming back to it. Hello, old friend.

Anyway, the health care bill passed last night [barely, an embarrassment to both parties in my opinion]. There's an article on CNN, How GOP Can Rebound From Its 'Waterloo', written by David Frum. It starts out on a pretty ridiculous foot, as he says this should be the No. 1 early priority:

One of the worst things about the Democrats' plan is the method of financing: an increase in income taxes. The top rate of tax was already scheduled to jump to 39.6 percent at the end of this year. Now a surtax of 5.4 percent will be stacked atop that higher rate. At first, the surtax bites only very high incomes: $500,000 for individuals. But that tax will surely be applied to larger and larger portions of the American population over time.

Oh yes, SURELY that will happen, no doubt at night while you're sleeping. EVERYBODY PANIC.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Poems by My Grandfather

I drafted this over a year ago and for some reason never posted it. I'd actually forgotten about it completely till now when I stumbled across it. I would have been four years old in 1991....

My aunt and grandmother have been cleaning house from top to bottom recently, and came across these poems written by my grandfather, a man of few words and big smiles.

Sept. '91

Kate came into
my bedroom to
wake me from a nap.

"Get up - You're a
sleepyhead couch potato"
she said
with a wonderful
smile in her eyes.


I looked at Jill today
and for some reason thought
"She's Rosie's daughter"
and it pleased me

and I played golf
with nice people
and enjoyed it

and no matter
what happens
in this world

What I enjoyed
on this day
in time and space

Can never be erased.