I eat what’s available to me, and whether it’s a succulent morsel of meat or a vibrant mouthful of broccoli, I consume it with gusto and freakin’ gratitude.
We were poor growing up, teetering back and forth between a mélange of Colombian comfort food or the low-cost foods Dad bought in his harried state of being a first-gen immigrant, a double-master’s grad student with three kids, a newbie teacher with three kids, and a single dad with three kids.
Being Midwesterners at the time, our 1970s rental electric range cranked out breaded “veal” cutlets, Gorton’s freezer-burnt fish sticks, Ramen, or generic mac-n-cheese.
On good days, usually over a weekend, Dad would prepare a feast for all; my favorite of which was black beans and rice. The recipe arose from what was on hand at the time, and never the same twice. Dad’s high spirits always made it delicious though—ay, sabor!
Our home would fill with music and aromas that to this day continue to stoke the feel-goods: Nana Mouskouri’s French or Greek pop songs, followed by Jacque Yvart’s gritty, soulful folk backed by a gospel choir, and of course, the soaring love songs of Julio Iglesias.
Cumin reigned supreme in our home, most often rising through the earthy scent of the black beans, sweet sautéed onions, garlic simmering in almost-smoking olive oil, and the bright, tempting aroma of steaming rice, a lifelong staple for us.
To this day, when I walk into someone new’s home, the food co-op smells of bulk spices– particularly cumin– cue me to the kindred spirits I’ve just met.
We weren’t just the family with a weird dad– acute Spanish accent, Dr. Scholl sandals (“All the men in Europe wear these!”) and a murse (so embarrassing!) we were also the family that never mowed our yard, to the ire of neighbors and code enforcers. After a notice or two, the European Contingency would descend– my father’s treasured circle of friends. Women in the kitchen, drinking wine and cooking. Men to the yard, in cut-off shorts and their unaltered, 1980s hairy bodies, manning the two or three lawn mowers it took to tame our Latin ways. Once the lawn was re-revealed, out came the steel balls for pétanque, the men finally imbibing as well. The raucous roar of French friendship filled the yard. Food was a celebration for us.
And then, suddenly, as I was beginning to seek my own life at 19, there was Stanley. Stanley Joseph. He was an intellectual renegade, a back-to-the-land farmer I had stumbled across in magazine story. He was handsome. I was intrigued. I special ordered his book, “Maine Farm: A Year of Country Life.” Protégé to Helen and Scott Nearing, the legendary rebels behind “Living The Good Life,” Stanley apprenticed to them, seeking his own simpler life after leaving the army in the late 60s. He was also besties with the godfather of 4-season organic farming, author Elliot Coleman, and his wife, “The Garden Primer” author, Barbara Damrosch.
Stanley was the first mentor to bring a wobble to my architecture ambitions– I came to see it as a mere career. Meeting Stanley, I began to contemplate my future in terms of lifestyle, a quality of being– through eating. What was more important in life than sustenance?!
For god’s sake. Being a farmer meant harnessing the power of sunlight to grow shit that converted that light to sugars, vitamins, nutrients– food for humans. It was like growing money: abundance! I, Genevieve, could live off of my own luscious, gorgeous, pure food!
Stanley and I entered a year-long pen pal-ship. As the notes and cards stacked up, as I began to know this heroic farmer, artist, thinker and writer, “morality,” empowerment (and yes, superiority!) began to factor into what I eat and why. We made arrangements for me to apprentice with him. I traveled to Maine to visit with him. The Blizzard of ’93 kept me there an additional 3-4 days.
As the snow piled up the windows, we ate homemade sauerkraut and drank community-pressed hard cider. We baked bread from wheat he had ground. We stripped to our humble naked ass selves with all the neighbors for communal saunas and then clothed again, potlucked with these farmers of Cape Rtosier. Dinner conversations centered on what everyone had made from the winter stores: vintagee Mason jars of pickled beets or cukes, root veggies from their root cellars, homemade pies with steaming orchard fruits. These earthy people spoke of books they were writing, new organic methods they were testing– food, food! All was of food.
I was sold. I was to be a farmer, too.
Enchanted. Dizzy with hippy dreams through my 20s. I was high on that good life, I felt connection to our Earth, to her seasons and cycles; foraging, growing, selling and trading; honoring. Honoring that which Earth and sweat provided in the context of Time and Community.
A professor loaned me his Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America.” I was stunned to learn of the state of farming and animal husbandry in the United States. Industrial ag exposed, I read up on indigenous farmers in Mexico and Peru. I reached out locally, to CSA farmers– Dennis and Bailey Stenson at Happy Heart Farm in Fort Collins; Steve and Barbara at Beneficial Farm, 20 miles outside of Santa Fe. At 8000 feet, off the grid! We bathed in rain! NO phones or internet! Both biodynamic farms grew in concert with the cosmos, a picture so much more vast than capitalism, globalism, and corporate America. We lived by the moon and the stars, constellation magic, the mysteries of the universe against which humans struggle, so.
And then…Oh, Lordy, there was Scott: an embodied connection between food and pleasure, sensuality. He was Adonis, a gifted climber and sexy as hell. As a young kid, he part-timed in the steaming, sizzling kitchens of Charleston, South Carolina. Damn near grew up in restaurants. We laughingly labeled his cooking “panty dropper.” And mm, the way he held the wooden spoon to my mouth– savor. That southern accent, describing how he cooked it… his heavy-lidded, lichen green eyes watching the pleasure he induced roll through me…encouraging me to discern and the implied promises of ‘later.’
And oh, those golden hour summer evenings. The climbing clan, gathered ’round. The pack of familiar dogs milling, the post-bouldering high and Fat Tire, 90 Schilling, rehashing moments…and oh, my! The heady, smoky scent of meat and veggies on the grill.
Through an addiction to a physical body, this ripped, golden climber– so handsome I was powerless– I came to recognize what a bodily, horny pleasure food could be.
My studies and practice of horticulture, of botany, design, and writing– drove me mad. Felt constrictive. I began to question climbing, too, perched on high, more amazed at Nature’s order spread below. How was I making a difference, clinging to cracks in a rock?
I was falling in love with fly fishing; connecting with Earth through wildlife, versus the ‘wild’ life. Purpose called to me. Scott’s father, Dr. Powers (for real) loaned me Jim Harrison’s “The Road Home.” I would read it every year, sometimes twice a year, for the next decade. I was bewitched by Harrison’s phenological leanings, new to me, a way to be in the seasons: the first meadow lark and redwing to trill across pastures meant wild asparagus but a month away. The Mother’s Day caddis hatch on Salida’s Arkansas. Fourth of July salmon fly hatch, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. And the green drakes, low squadrons of ’em, juuust above the surface of the water, ‘coptering up the Fork at the very last of light.
The advent of social media changed the way I ate forever. The horrors of force-fed foie gras production, salmon farms, CAFOS, the sentient souls of pigs, driven to madness, immobilized in steel cages; poor creatures, as intelligent as dogs, as dolphins. “Super Size Me” and “Food, Inc.” shocked me so. I felt ashamed of all the ribeyes, flat irons, tenderloins I had feasted upon for years, never knowing of the inhumanity tucked into each styrofoam tray, tightly wrapped in cello. In just months, I went from eating meat 2-3 times a day, 7 days a week, to perhaps twice a month, three times, max. I’d rather hunt, I thought, or know my rancher.
In my 30s, I struggled professionally, so impatient for my greatness. Hunting was an escape from ego, merging into me as animal, my true Nature. It was to become a visceral antidote to the preciousness of my field—landscape architecture and design: words, theory, bloviation so full of itself, its bloody “starchitects,” “It” designers. What bullshit.
Give me real: soil, carbon, nitrogen. Give me red wrigglers and the shit of healthy farm animals. The nutritious possibilities of not only what I myself grew, but that which we had all but forgotten, dismissed: dandelion, weedy amaranth, and lubricating mallow leaves. The first tender wild lettuce, before it grows prickly and bitter. Succulent, lemony purslane and the season’s first free-range asparagus–right there, growing under the barbed wire fence, can’t you see it? And always pick from the high side– you don’t want automobile run off.
All the glory of the landscape has called to me, life long, filled my days with excitement, anticipation, and power: the random puffball in the yard, and the burn morels from last year’s fire on _______Mountain. Knowing the years to look for serviceberries (if they even came in, goddamn frost). Where to find the old homestead apples planted when the farmers still grew potatoes here. And don’t forget the currants, those taut, glistening, striped, and speckled balls of rupturing tumescence! And oh, god, the thimbleberries along Anthracite, small and seemingly insignificant, yet oh, how they melt and bathe the tongue in a meritage: Syrah, Merlot, Cab Sav…Lordy, and the wild plums in the windbreak. One year, a lover gathered buckets and distilled them. Those unique opportunities of seasonality, flavor and stimulants! Food is soooo damn sexy!
What turns me on? Give me access to land, public and private; habitat and cover. Afternoons of autumn breezes, perusing through tawny waves of shifting grass and Time. Time to observe, draw, and study deer, watch elk– rabbits, turkey, squirrels, grouse, and pheasant! The beasts that live with us, around us. Let us both live our free and feral, fair and wild lives… and the winner? Well, from time to time, the winner eats the other, as many animals do… for I choose to be animal these days. That’s the world I live in.
And then, oh, to share. The best part! I grew up poor, yes, and so discovered food to be my wealth.
Food is my measurement of abundance. You cannot tempt me with shiny baubles nor the perfect-fit jeans, ego-balm car, trophy home (or husband). Food is affluence in my books. If I have beet greens to harvest this week from this crumbling greenhouse, built on a whim a decade ago, I’m content. If I have game from my bullet or yours, your hunt or mine-—I have the protein to grow my daughter’s and my muscles, our tendons and tissue to move about and live the good life.
When I find myself getting to the last of my last– well then that’s the signal for a dinner party. Spread my remaining “wealth” around. If all I have is a single steak, I bring that slab of red to room temperature. I I rub in the herbs, spices, seeds, and bark of its terroir. Sear it on flames, slice it thinly across the bias, and spread it over a more readily available salad. This way, we may all partake of its succulence– its bright, silky juiciness. And then? Oh, to hear friends and fam moan and groan with pleasure? Yes! Sharing. Nurturing.
What do I eat these days?
Yes. I am “poor.” For now. But I am; that’s my reality. So I eat the greens I grow in that soon-to-be-rebuilt greenhouse. I eat the veggies we grow in our summer veggie patch– which grows my heart, wholeheartedly; equally important! I get a kick out of passively cultivating and harvesting our weeds. I eat game gifted to me. We eat what Juniper calls “happy” meat once or twice a month: wild caught salmon, mostly. Two to three times a year, we indulge in that vegetarian meat, bacon (the Astroglide to any meal). Our hens give us eggs, continuously. Farmer friends share more produce.
A girlfriend that witnessed the implosion of my family through domestic violence still delivers bags of sundries to this day. Other friends are aware too, and deliver ¼ wheels of Manchego or ginormous bags of organic frozen berries. They pass along Tupperwares of soup and comfort foods. I pass along eggs or greens. I cook a LOT of community meals. We take care of each other.
Our weekly shopping caters to the growing brain and body of a nine year old. The list reads like the Top Ten Nutrient-Dense Foods:
- Whole grains/seeds, bulk
- Bag of apples
- Bag of carrots
- Zucchini or snap peas, whichever is in season
- Popcorn (gotta have your indulgences)
- Anejo tequila…
All organic, of course, because gahhhhh-damn, if you’re gonna get me to part ways with hard-earned income to simply poison ourselves!
When I’m fucked– in between writing projects or the student loan has run dry—I’m talking $12 for the next two weeks–I turn to our comfort foods: Daddy’s Colombian black beans and rice for me, at $2-$3/pound; an organic pasta veggie soup for Juniper, prepared with a broth from the same bulk spices that flavor the beans. Those ingredients, I have mastered in my lifetime. And then the fragrances, or the reggae I jam, are a celebration of what I CAN do for Juniper and me, despite my bank balance and the mother fucker that put us there.
So deceptively simple, but whooo. A lifetime far from it. The food on our table and growing our bodies are a testament to who we are and what we believe, core level. Our food choices honor our sentient brethren. We are grateful for the water that quenches and cleanses the Earth and us. For the climate, seasons, systems and landscapes we humans have so royally fucked. What we choose to eat, HOW we choose to eat, reflect how we relate to capitalism, consumerism, liberty. The food I consume arises in the self-worth I’ve discovered, through flora and fauna, through the life situations teaching me who I am and how to be.
That is what I eat, and why.