Thursday, August 6, 2009

What We Did Learn From This

It is important to me that Loki understands where his food comes from so instead of taking him to the factory where they manufacture goldfish crackers, today I took him to the Children's Garden in High Park. This is an amazing space of beautiful, raised beds filled with vegetables, herbs, and other edible wildlife all planted and maintained by children (like the Garden of Eden sans the opportunity to engage in mortal sinning).

Today's theme was "flowers" (so simple, and yet, so complex). One of the lovely, crunchy program leaders snapped a head off an orange-coloured blossom and passed the pedals around for all of us to taste. "Spicy" she said. "Waxy" I thought. And then I also thought, "shit, I hope Loki doesn't start munching on ragweed as a result of this educational experience." And then I thought of the awesomely gruesome story Herb told us over dinner last night of two teenagers who died after smoking poison sumac in the woods during a camping trip and then about the time Jenny Zeiger and I smoked a maple leaf wrapped in computer paper on my back porch because we couldn't pilfer any real cigarettes off my dad. And then I thought "is Loki really getting anything from all this?"

I herded him from one end of the garden to the other, pointing out bumble bees (of which he has somehow developed a phobia), ladybugs, snails, a "sensitive" plant (it weeps real tears. Not really). We watered stuff, we stuck seeds in the soil, we arranged cut flowers into little bouquets (Flowers, meh. Scissors, wooow). Then Loki said "EAT. HUNGRY." and we left to get some lunch.

After we finished diligently picking all the vegetables off our vegetarian pizza, we swung back by the garden. And, to my horror and joy, Loki went straight to the chives and began munching away on them, just like the hippy instructor had showed us. Was it just luck that he didn't grab a handful of crabgrass or did he actually retain that 15 seconds worth of information for more than an hour with a big exciting vegetable pizza lunch in between? And what will he do with this new knowledge of chives? Where will it take him? Here's my hope: some day, when he's 26 and hasn't called home for a month, he'll eat a baked potato from Swiss Chalet and the smell of the chive-infused sour cream will fill him with an overwhelming love for his mother. Is that the best I can hope for, or am I shooting too low?

Back in the spring, we imposed upon my sister-in-law's parents who live on a pig farm up in Wingham. Loki loves books about farm animals and I thought, well, here's a chance to get real close and personal with some actual barnyard pals and - by the way - that's where bacon comes from, yum. I'd say the two main differences between farm animals in books and real-life farm animals are (1) scale and (2) smell. Also, cows don't actually say "mooo." They bellow something loud and guttural that could make you crap yourself if you're 2 (or 30), especially if you're only about a foot away from the "mooing" end. (Still better than a foot away from the pooing end, which we were as well). I loved it. Loki was terrified. We didn't get anywhere near broaching the subject of bacon.

Still, I have deep philosophical underpinnings for these excursions, derived, naturally, from a pop-foodie book by Michael Ruhlman. In Soul of a Chef he charts the paths of world renowned chefs, one of whom is Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. As it turns out, in his early days as a chef, Thomas had a yen to cook some rabbit. He was living out in the Catskills so he just contacted his local rabbit purveyor who gave him a slap-dash lesson in skinning a hare and then left him with burlap sack full of cute wittle bunny wabbits. His first attempt was gruesome. The rabbit screamed, broke its leg in the process. It was a gory mess. He then went on to slaughter the others with a bit more ease, so the story goes. But what he learned from this god-awful experience is that, as a chef, he has the moral obligation to honour the lives he takes. Waste nothing. Cook everything to perfection.

Okay, so I get that the logic is a little screwed up. As long as the dish is super tasty, it's worth the rabbit's life? Was it served with a nice Chianti and some fava beans? So maybe we're in psychopath territory. But, that aside, I take away something kindof beautiful from this story. After all, we are born takers. We consume life (bacon or brussels sprouts) to maintain life and that's the normal course of things. However, it is exactly that blind and arrogant consumption that has gotten us into the mess we currently find ourselves in (I won't elaborate on it, cause blahblahblah, you know what I mean). I'm not suggesting that we should sit shiva for every carrot we eat, but I think we do have a moral obligation of some kind to at least take some interest, gain some understanding of what carrot-life is all about.

Our kids need to understand this even more than we do because, the way things are going, it'll really all come to a head in their lifetime. While we're shaking our canes in the old folks home, they'll be out there fanning themselves silly in the midst of unavoidable climate change. So Loki needs to get this stuff and damn it, if that means arranging edible flowers and eating fresh chives in the middle of an urban park on a Thursday morning, than that's just what we're gonna do.

Tonight's Dinner:

- Mustard & Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon (fresh, wild from BC; better or worse than farmed, organic from Ireland?)

- Baby Broccoli

- Leftover bean salad (amazingly better the 2nd day)

- 9 Grain bread


  1. I would have LOVED for you to watch Loki participate in the "Eating Bugs" program that I taught at the beginning of July. I passed around such delicacies as "cheddar cheese flavored maggots" and "sour cream and onion flavored crickets". I also made people eat innocent things like Fig Newtons while I made them listen to my story of fig wasps intertwined with figs, and what's that crunchy feeling inside the fig part of the cookie?
    I made Jeremiah and the kids participate fully in this program. Cassie ate everything, no hesitation. Jillian ate any bugs covered in chocolate but she only ate the lollipops until the bug parts started to stick out- then she handed it back. Jere and I ate the bugs too to set a good example.

    We're fully into eating edible plants from the yard- we're now into insects, and next up: chicken eggs!

  2. The sad thing is, even if Loks was scared, Mom and Dad had an absolute blast showing off their farming knowledge. I think the neighbour kids did too.

    I have a feeling Ainsley's going to be spending a fair bit of time at the barn with her daddy and grandpa.

    Actually, some day I should post the very first picture of me on my flickr account - Dad's holding me in the barn yard, yellow hardhat and silly, proud grin. It makes me tear up every time I see it. It was his 26th birthday - I was 5 days old.