Character outs early. I was a stubborn, obnoxious baby, bent on having my own way. My mother, a sensible woman, made the decision early on that, in the interest of peace, she should give me as much autonomy as it was possible to give to a child who couldn’t walk yet. And so it was, one morning when I was eight or nine months old, when I said my first word. (I was a precocious talker, but made up for it by being behind the curve in every other area of development.)
My mother was trying to dress me, and I was having none of it. I squirmed and fought and carried on. My mother, accustomed to this, soldiered on. Finally, my patience was at an end. “Self!” I proclaimed, and snatched the clothes away from her. I got my pants on my head, but, goddammit, I was going to dress myself.
I was bent on being in control of my life, from the ripe old age of zero.
Given my track record, you’d think I’d get wholeheartedly behind the concept of self-sufficiency – hey, it’s got ‘self’ right in the name! – but I find myself surprisingly ambivalent about it.
I like the pioneer spirit it implies, the do-it-yourself willingness to work hard at something wholesome and constructive. But self-sufficiency also implies keeping your fellow man at arm’s length. In a way, it’s a vote of non-participation. At its most extreme, it has an off-the-grid, move-to-Idaho kind of militancy.
I don’t aspire to self-sufficiency. On a logistical level, it requires more work than I’m willing to do, but I’m not on board with it ideologically, either. Interdependence is, I think, part of what makes us civilized. Today, you’re growing your own turnips. Tomorrow, you’re the Unabomber.
I’ve had “self-sufficiency” in my subtitle since this blog’s inception a year ago, but only because I haven’t come up with a better way to describe what I’m doing. And other people are doing it, too – I’ve read books and blogs by people who hunt and fish, gather and grow, and very few of them do it with the aim of walling themselves off from the world’s food supply. Instead, “self-sufficiency” has become shorthand for trying to use the resources at our disposal – personal, financial, ecological, and agricultural resources – to feed ourselves and our families wholesome, interesting, good-tasting food. It is an effort to supplement, rather than to suffice.
Somehow, though, “Bumbling toward supplementation” sounds like a half-assed attempt to fulfill very low expectations. (Yeah, I hear you saying, “If the shoe fits …”)
I know some of the people who read Starving are undertaking some of the same projects I am. Do any of you balk at “self-sufficiency?” Have you found a better way to describe what it is we’re doing?
I’ve started thinking of it as “first-hand food.” First-hand food is simply that which you procure yourself, whether by raising it at home or harvesting it from the world around you. It can be as simple as a window-box herb garden or as complex as a full-blown farm. It can require minimal time and effort or it can be a full-time job. First-hand food is fresh, whole food whose provenance you know.
But it’s not just about eating. It’s about being outdoors, getting exercise, showing children where food comes from, learning about plants and animals. For me, that last one’s big. At 46, I’m past my physical and cognitive peak, and it feels very good to be getting better at a few things.
And I did get better at a few things in 2009. Fishing and shellfishing, gardening and foraging. Kevin and I ventured into lobstering, mushroom growing, and chicken raising. I delved into fermentation and preservation. I learned about motors and tools, trucks and trailers. It was a rich, interesting year, and I’ll be continuing the food-a-day challenge into 2010.
I hope that you, my readers, will stick with me. I’m grateful for the time you’ve spent, the attention you’ve paid, and, particularly, the comments you’ve left. Starving is way more interesting when we’re doing it together. I feel as though I know some of you, and I’d like to get to know more of you in the coming year.
Meantime, I’m trying to come up with a first-hand food subtitle that conveys the appropriate mix of enthusiasm and ineptitude. I’d ask for suggestions, but there’s only so far I can go with this whole interdependence thing. Self!