Wow, great questions coming in from readers near and far. Thank you for reading and for all your interest. This post will just answer questions — I have today’s stuff to write for the JFSC but don’t want to leave you hanging on unfinished business. And, by the way, thanks, Katy Wolk-Stanley, for blogging about me on your NonConsumer Advocate blog. You rock the house! So —
1) Will I write about more sustainable, green, urban homesteading, frugal topics, etc, henceforth? Yes. Funny, this blog started out as a how-to for writers; if you look back in the archive, you’ll see that at least for the first year or so (2004), I ended each post with “Advice to Aspiring Writers” — I was editing the newspaper and promoting my novel at the time, plus teaching night classes in writing of all sorts. But I’ve definitely evolved (devolved?) into the farm-girl-in-the-city, with my garden, chickens, clothesline and jam-pot. You like this stuff? Stick around. If you are a wanna-be writer, you might also pick up some funny tips because I’m still doing that as well. (Ask me about the whoredom of promoting your own books, or finding your passion in what you write, or the desire to throw yourself in front of a train when someone tells you, “You should write a book about my life!” Oh, really? Thanks for the tip…aaaaaagh!)
2. How to clean your oven? Baking soda paste. Add a little water to baking soda, dab it onto the crusty parts of your oven, let it sit overnight. You might also put in a pan of water and warm the oven up a bit, turn it off, then leave the door closed overnight. The paste should work its magic. Don’t think dish soap is strong enough. But baking soda is like a magical ingredient from Narnia or the Lady Galadriel. It does everything. (But it tastes nasty when you get a lump of it in a cookie, so use a sifter, sister!) Word!
3. Why am I not a vegetarian? Long answer, so refresh your beverage and slip off your shoes. Short answer is that I generally am 90% vegetarian, but not for the usual reasons. I’m also a farm girl. I don’t have false ideas about the dear little Bambi creatures who frolic on a farm until Mr. Mean Old Farmer machine guns them and wraps them in plastic and Styrofoam for the grocery store shelf for voracious carnivores. I also know about the slaughterhouse and the factory-type farm, well before Michael Pollan and Food Inc. made them popularly unpopular. Nope. I raised sheep, rabbits, we had cattle and horses, chickens and ducks (no pigs, though). My brother worked at the feed lot/slaughterhouse (I used to wash his bloody clothes). I watched our lambs at slaughter. I’ve watched chickens and rabbits go to their end, too (note — they do make noise). I’ve eaten all those bits and pieces, too. Platter of lamb tongues for dinner? It’s what’s for dinner. Also, we lived in the “Egg Basket of the World,” surrounded by chicken farms and egg trucks. I passed the “egg factory” every day where they candled the eggs, sorted and shipped. Our property was a former chicken ranch (see postcard) with room for 45,000 hens, though we repurposed the land and barns for other animals, and never had more than a dozen chickens ourselves.
So I’m not one of those who is squeamish and unrealistic about animals and meat. I know how it’s done from both sides.
In my house right now, we have 5 people at home, but we are a co-family with 5 kids, and for a while there we had about 3 to 5 extra couch-surfing feral teens, plus a foster daughter. Dinner for 10 was not unusual — in fact, it was the NORMAL state of affairs. And we are so not rich. If we served meat, it was as a flavor enhancer — part of soup or stew or a pasta sauce. I vividly recall one time when we were going to have hot dogs for dinner and I went down to the organic butcher for sustainable hot dogs. It cost me $26 for hot dogs – about $1 each, actually, to feed the crew. Compare that to $1 for a 10-pack of Oscar Meyer on sale and you’ll see why taking the high road with meat when on a tight budget and feeding a crowd may not be feasible. I will blog more on this in the next few days…
If you look back at our menus for the month, we have eaten cheaper meat — chicken leg quarters, hot dogs, bratwurst and salami (all on sale). But these are on the menu once or twice a week, not daily. That is downright unAmerican for the rest of the nation. I am depriving my children and husband of their need for dripping red meat, many people would argue. So do note that we have not eaten a lot of meat, comparatively. (More on this in the final analysis.). Please also note that the JFSC is an experiment for us, and not the way we normally eat. It is an approximation of how we would try to make it on food stamps. I also have some blog up my sleeve about food ethics and where they go when the money is gone. If you can wait a day or two for that, I’ll be thanking you.
How do we really eat, in our “real life” off the JFSC? Not much meat. Very little, in fact. Maybe once a week, but it is sustainable. That means freaking expensive. We choose local ranchers, sometimes buy a part of a lamb or other to share, and I literally ask the butcher, “Do you know what hill this animal came from? Did this animal live a good life?” That makes a dinner of lamb chops into a $50 expenditure just for the chops. Because we choose to eat what I call “happy meat,” we don’t eat it very often. It isn’t factory farmed. I buy our eggs (for now, till my lazy-ass slowpoke hens get a move on) from the farmers’ market, from a farmer who lets his chickens out and allows them to eat bugs and rocks and grass, not antibiotic-laced, genetically modified Monsanto corn. Our fish is locally caught (one tiny example: unless you can see that lobster pot being pulled from the water, you shouldn’t be eating lobster. It has been caught, frozen, and shipped from thousands of miles away — too many food miles to make this worth eating, nutritionally or for the health of the planet). Our fish is on the safe list (visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a free downloadable list of what fish is good, safe and sustainable to eat, while there are yet fish left in the ocean to eat). We use only local dairies for butter, milk, ice cream and yogurt. And we grow and preserve as much as possible. What we do buy, in our “real lives,” is as sustainable as possible. And that sometimes includes meat — happy meat. Two of our 5 children are vegans, though, and I am more often a vegetarian than not.
A final note about the sustainable/vegetarian food we eat. We know it is expensive to eat this way. Thus, we have made considerable lifestyle changes to make sure we can do this. We don’t own a house; we rent. We have two older cars and no car payments. Mr. Husband takes public transportation. My adult daughters pay rent at home. We do not use credit cards at all, ever, and are vigorously paying down whatever debt remains from divorces and past lives. We trade, barter, buy used, fix things, and live simply but richly. I make a lot of stuff. If we want something, we save for it. Our kids go to public schools, walk, take the bus or BART, and ride bikes, skateboards or pogo sticks. None of my adult daughters has a license, or drives. I drive just 2 days a week, and am whittling that down to 1 day if possible. I work at home. No gym membership, country club, subscriptions, bottled water, shopping as hobby, etc. We use the library, shop Goodwill, read a lot, play sports or walk, ride bikes, practice various arts, etc. I could go on — but this is how it is. It’s all about choices, right?
4. What about your garden and chickens? The hens are not laying yet (click the link to see my little chicks when we got them in February). I expect they will in the next month or so. Our garden is just starting to produce and I just picked 5 zucchini yesterday! There are 3-4 tomatoes ready to pick, etc. But we won’t eat these til Thursday when the challenge is over. I kind of feel like it is cheating to add in this extra food. I didn’t express it well in my previous blog entry, I guess, but we have the privilege of a space for a garden. We really do very well on our typical food budget because of home-grown vegetables and fruit — but that gives me an unfair advantage in the JFSC, so I didn’t use much of our preserves — I did use one jar of fruit salad, and my mom’s jam, but other than that, I stayed away from the other veggies. It is just good timing to end the JFSC now. I’ll be glad to start eating my own stuff and save more in weekly shopping — but it is a different budget than the food stamps. Hope that makes sense. Because, really, we’re not on food stamps, even though we’re on a budget. They’re two different things. Could be mutually beneficial in some ways, but still, trying to make a distinction, and walk a mile in the more typical FS recipient’s shoes.
OK, clear as mud. Thanks for reading — you have added extra shine to my day.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.