But What Am I Supposed to EAT?

The recent exposé of the inhumane treatment of cattle in a California slaughterhouse and the subsequent request by the FDA for the company to recall it’s beef, much of which is sold to school lunch programs, has caused quite a stir. It’s no surprise; the video is gruesome and heartbreaking. Vegans and animal rights activists, as well as those who eat meat but are anti-CAFO (contained animal feeding operations), are up in arms – again, no surprise.

As a result, there is one helluva a debate going on. Vegans are using the scandal as an opportunity to do a lot of self-righteous finger-pointing, as are the anti-CAFO folks, while vegetarians and meat-eaters who are stuck with shopping at the local grocery store out of necessity are put in the awkward position of having to defend themselves.

Falling resoundingly in the last category, I have a question for the vegans and “locavores” (people who think everyone should eat only locally grown, seasonal produce, meat, eggs and cheese – a group I wasn’t even aware existed until very recently): Just what the dickens am I supposed to eat? Because, no matter what I eat, I’m going to piss someone off. I’m already on the bad side of the raw food nutjobs by doing the unthinkable and cooking my food.

I like to think I’m a good parent, and I’ve already acquired an extensive list of what we can’t eat and how much we can’t eat of what we do eat. We rarely eat out and never eat fast food. Preservatives and trans fats are all but verboten in my home, and when I can bring myself to allow my long-suffering family something that is full of refined sugar and flour, it’s something that I’ve made from scratch – not from a box. Quite frankly, I don’t want to give up meat. As a human being I reside, quite happily, at the top of the food chain, and I really and truly do believe that people are omnivorous. We have evolved to eat meat. My youngest son is convinced of this – getting him to eat anything that isn’t meat, milk, cheese or a chocolate chip cookie takes an act of congress.

That being said, I also understand that there are things I can feed my family in place of meat. This is assuming, of course, that they’d actually eat it. I don’t care how cheap something like textured vegetable protein or soy milk is, it’s going to get pretty damn expensive in a big hurry if no one will consume it. And then there’s the anti-soy people who would probably gladly eviscerate me for even thinking about feeding a growing child – and a growing, male child, at that – soy products.

As for the “support the small, humane farmer” faction, I have this to say. In light of the recent scare-mongering involving the presence of hormones and antibiotics in my poultry, meat and dairy products, I decided I’d try to buy as much local, organically-raised food as I could. It only took one look at boneless, skinless chicken breasts at $16 a pound to put an end to that. I’m sorry, but when eggs from inhumanely treated chickens cost $2 a dozen I’m already in enough shock at the grocery store. I’m not going to consider $10 for a pound of ground round, even if it does come from a cow who is fortunate enough to have spent its life eating what it’s supposed to be eating – grass. I have a finite amount of money, people, and some of it needs to be used for things other than food, believe it or not. It won’t do us a bit of good to eat wild, pacific salmon (assuming it doesn’t have unacceptable levels of mercury in it) if we’re living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere.

Then there’s those of you who feel we should eat only locally grown, seasonal produce. Where do you people live? It must be somewhere warmer than where I am, because every bit of vegetation in a 200 mile radius of me is buried under half a foot of snow; it has been for about 3 months and will continue to be for at least another four weeks. The only thing locally available here are the squirrels that have broken into the bird feeder and the rabbits who are intent on ruining what is left of our landscaping. Of course, I could solve two problems quite neatly by killing and eating the squirrels and rabbits, which are both local and free-range, but that takes me back to square one and I’ve pissed off the vegans and animal rights activists again.

Hillbillies, Housewives and Homeschooling

It occurred to me that anyone reading my last post would think I’d gone out of mind (too late!). But it was neither insanity nor a masochistic fit that had me baking like a madwoman on Sunday morning.

It was the memory of a $300 grocery bill.

When my oldest kids were little, I was able to feed a family of four breakfast, lunch and dinner on a budget of about $50 a week. But since my income has increased proportionally with their ages, I’ve found myself eschewing things like generic canned green beans and fruit cocktail for items such as fresh asparagus and mangoes. And it all came to a head about a month ago while I watched in mounting amazement, then horror, as the total on the register just got higher and higher.

After being chided (gently) by my husband who pointed out that I didn’t cook half the things I bought and that we were in danger of being brained by falling cans and jars every time we opened the pantry while strange, green, fuzzy things thrived in the back of the refrigerator, I reluctantly decided it was time to make a change. The memory of endless bologna sandwiches and bowls of ramen soup is still with me, along with the realization that while such a diet may be perfectly fine with my 13-year-old, the rest of us might like a little more variety. It was time to do a little research on the subject. To the interwebz!

What I found surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. There is an entire subculture out there of people who are dedicated to living well as cheaply as possible. The lengths some of them are willing to go to is astounding (more about that in a moment), but if there’s one universally held belief it’s that anything you can buy can probably be made much more inexpensively, and the food we eat is as good a place to start as any. So that’s where I started.

As with any subculture, there are sub-subcultures and people dedicated to living frugally are no different. There are coupon swapping consortiums and women who make all their own clothes – there are even people who make their own pet food (something I don’t get – I wish I could eat as cheaply as the dog and care as little about it). But the most fascinating group, at least to me, is a group of women who are intensely religious housewives. They homeschool their children, cover their heads when they leave the house and don’t wear pants. Well, they wear underpants – and in the case of at least one woman, homemade bloomers – but they don’t wear jeans or slacks. They’re sort of like the Amish, only with electricity and without the notoriety.

The one website I’ve found that seems to sum up this group of women is The Hillbilly Housewife. The site is a veritable goldmine of tips on how to save money, even if some of them do seem a little extreme (there is a section on how to make your own sanitary napkins…I don’t think so). The site is run by Suzanne. It used to be run by Maggie, but Maggie turned it over to Suzanne, saying it was taking up too much of her time. However, no sooner had Maggie turned over the site to Suzanne that she began an entirely new site, Frugal Abundance, in addition to her Christian homeschooling site Old Fashioned Education (her sample letter on how to let the local public school board know that you’re going to homeschool your children is interesting, to say the least).

I don’t entirely believe Maggie. Why give up one website you don’t have time for to run two more? I think her reasons are a not quite what they seem. You see, on her new site – the frugal site, not the homeschooling site – Maggie states that she and her family have decided they need to eat more healthily and have adopted a mostly vegetarian diet that includes moderate amounts of eggs, dairy and fish. I believe the powers that be revoke your hillbilly membership when you begin bandying words like “ovo-lacto vegetarian” and “pescatarian” around, and stop offering tips on how to julienne hot dogs so you can put them in a stir fry.

Day of rest, my Aunt Fannie’s fanny

No, I don’t have an Aunt Fannie – but it sounded cool.

Whoever coined the expression “Sunday is the day of rest” was either a man or just plain crazy.

I slept in until 8:30 a.m. (oh noes! as my oldest would say), then got up and started breakfast, a nice skillet scramble with potatoes, onion, green and red bell pepper, bulk sausage and scrambled eggs. While that cooked, I boiled up the two pounds of Great Northern beans I’d soaked overnight, started a loaf of bread in the bread machine and mixed up the dough for a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

By the time the beans were done, the bread was rising, the cookies were mixed and breakfast was ready. We heated up a few corn tortillas in the microwave and got out the peach salsa and ate. Well, we, the adults, ate – I made Nick scrambled eggs and oatmeal, rotten picky little thing he is (he tried to sneak in a glass of Mountain Dew with this repast – mean old Mom made him drink milk instead).

I let everyone else clean up while I got out three cookie sheets and dropped 3 dozen chocolate chip cookies and put them in the oven to bake. Then I turned around and whipped together some oatmeal cookie dough – by the time the chocolate chip cookies (which spread too much – time to find a new recipe) were done, I was ready to bake 3 dozen oatmeal cookies.

While the oatmeal cookies baked, I dumped the cooked, drained beans in my cast iron dutch oven with some boiling water, salt, mustard, brown sugar, ketchup and a couple of squirts of Worcestershire sauce. Once the oatmeal cookies were done, the oven temp went down to 325 degrees and in went the beans. All of the cookies were cooled on wire racks and stuffed into my two cookie jars. By this time the bread was done, so out of the machine it came to cool on one of the wire racks.

I then realized it was 1 p.m. and I hadn’t even had a shower. And I was tired and my feet hurt.

The Most Important Member of the Family

I thought the best way to start off my new blog would be with something about the most important member of the family.

The dog.

Well, just ask him – better yet, ask one of the kids. (My husband maintains the dog is not the most important member of the family, he’s merely the boss.)

Scooter Looking CuteMy husband and I, long before we ever became husband and wife, decided we didn’t want any pets. Period. We had more than enough kids, what the heck did we need with something that wouldn’t be able to exploit us in our old age? Then, in the late spring of 2003, one of them brought Scooter home and it was all over but the crying.

Now, keep in mind that it was not my idea to name the dog Scooter. Personally, I think Scooter is a dumb name for anything, even a dog, and voted to name him “Killer” but was overridden by the 5 other most important members of the family: the children. (When it comes to order of importance, I’m afraid I fall in dead last. Unless I’m cooking.)

Scooter is a beagle/dachshund mix, but if he could talk he’d tell you he’s not a dog – he’s a four-legged person. He’s certainly more entitled than any human being I know; he has his own dishes, his own food, his own toys, and his own bed, which is more than I can say for myself. He’s also afflicted (or privileged, depending on your point of view) with a case of terminal cuteness. This has probably saved him from being assassinated by the neighbors, for he has absolutely no idea of property rights – he’ll poop on anyone’s lawn. And since fences aren’t exactly numerous here, he has access to anyone’s lawn.

Admittedly, this hasn’t been much of a problem lately, for everyone’s lawn has been buried under the snow, and Scooter – not being the brightest (even if he is the most lovable) critter in the world – can’t find them.