I’m stuck in Ely, Nevada–giant unforeseen snowstorm rose up and blocked the highway west, where I’m heading–although ‘stuck’ is the wrong verb; I’ve always really liked Ely. I highly recommend the La Quinta here, especially if you’re traveling with dogs. And then it’s right next door fro a 24 hour market, in the same parking lot, actually, which is quite handy in a snowstorm. So while the lads at the hotel were digging out my parking space, I went over to the market to try to get some canned dog food, or ‘dog fast food’ as it’s known to my dogs, who really enjoy getting off their normal diet of Tod made stodge once in awhile.
I looked at the dog food on the shelves, and automatically checked the ingredients. Needless to say, they were a mess. No kind of meat was ever the first ingredient, unless it was the ominously named ‘Chicken By Products.’ There was this long list of gluten and corn and etc., all of which was undoubtedly of GMO origin. And then a whole bunch of words I didn’t have the faintest idea what they meant.
Ominous, like I said.
I was going to get a couple of cans, why not? I thought. The same as eating at a Burger King along the road. But something stopped me. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought about the dogs’ normal diet, of a mix of dried food and the Dog Stodge I make from our household vegetable peelings, oatmeal, and whatever is the cheapest decent looking meat on offer (our local butcher makes up packages of ground misc. meat from their cuts, beef, lamb, game in season, all for 99 cents a pound, for which I am profoundly grateful). Their normal food is a lot cheaper, even if (or because) homemade, but that wasn’t the problem. I just couldn’t bring myself to feed them this crap, even for an emergency. So I had a brain wave. I went over to the canned soup/stew aisle to have a look for some human canned stew to give them. Twice, even three times as expensive as the dog food, I noticed when I got there. But just this once…
Then I looked at the ingredients. They were, if possible, about as revolting as the list on the dog food cans. And not so very often was the first ingredient listed as meat. There were a lot of by-products, and gluten, and undoubtedly GMO corn, and there was that list of chemicals I’d never heard of. I looked at this and I revolted against how revolting it was. I looked around at all the young families stocking up against the storm, and I thought, “I literally wouldn’t feed this to a dog.”
So my only recourse was to head over to the meat aisle, and eye the ground meat, picking out a package that would feed the dogs. While I was there, I got in a conversation with the butcher. In a low voice I told him what I was doing, and he, looking around him to make sure no one was listening, said, “That’s all right to give them; it’s pretty clean stuff.”
He told me he used to own his own butcher shop in Reno, and he told me it just got too hard to keep it going, people didn’t appreciate what they had. We talked about how young people were thankfully getting back into butchering, and small lots of humanely raised meat, and knowing where the meat was coming from, and he looked around his shoulder again and muttered, “Part of the problem is you can’t sell all the parts of the animal, not legally.” I said (equally low in voice) that again thankfully there were beginning to be informal chains of distribution for that kind of thing, and more activism. He said, “And we gotta educate people about what they’re eating, how there’s great stuff if they’d only give up bad habits, and about how they can be eating better for less money.” And I agreed.
We parted with expressions of mutual esteem, and that warmed me, which was good because I saw a young mother, holding her well wrapped up baby, struggling to figure out what to buy from shelves and shelves of crap, and I just wanted to weep.
That was the first encounter.
The second actually had happened awhile ago, when I was heading into Minneapolis for a sales conference, and hurried, at the airport, to get into the people mover that takes you to the light rail into town. I just made it before the doors closed, jumping on behind a young black man, just a kid I thought at first look, and we both laughed about having just made it, and he said, “Man, I want to get out of here, I just got off my shift, been here since 5 am.” Where do you work? “Chick Fil-A, over in the terminal. 5 am to 1 pm. I used to work 1 pm to 10 pm, but I got two kids, and I never saw them. This way I’m home after they have lunch, and we can have time together.”
I wish now that I’d said what I wanted to. At the time, I choked it back, it seemed so patronizing to me. What I wanted to say was, “Your kids must be so proud of you.”
What’s that got to do with books, you’re thinking if you’re still with me this far. Maybe she should have put this in the cooking blog. But I’ll tell you what it’s got to do with books. Books are our collective memory of what has been, and what can be. Books, at their best, keep alive, at very low cost, in a very effective technology, the idea that we are a community, a web, and that what is done to the least of us is done to all of us (and who said that? oh, yeah…he said a lot of good things, I read it in a book somewhere…).