Gorgeous violence

DSC_0019 There is a gorgeous violence to farm life.

Imagine a five-year-old witnessing with enthusiasm the full-scale butchering of three dozen geese in one day. It's enough to make PETA hunt us down with truckloads of paint.

You would think a child fascinated by such gruesomeness would become a serial killer one day.

But that's the strange beauty of farm life. This same child raises ducklings, chicks, and geese as if they were her darling babies. She sings to her new ducklings, telling her father that these are not to be butchered. They are hers.

She will spend hours in the basement with them, teaching the yellow tufts to follow her.

Though seemingly incongruent, perhaps it's these things she experiences in farm life that teach her that we must cycle through the dirty, muddy, mucky, painful, violent parts of life along with the joys, nurturing, and love. It's an introduction more profound and approachable than a violent movie or video game. It's something she can handle.

I recently read an interview with Joel Salatin at motherearthnews.com, a celebrity in the organic farming world (don't laugh, we do have celebrities) who describes himself as "a third generation-Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist lunatic." Salatin's version of farm life, where he raises, butchers, and sells pork, beef, and chicken in a manner that he calls "beyond organic" is actually therapeutic: "In a word, this is all about healing: healing our bodies, healing our economies, healing our communities, healing our families, healing the landscape, healing the earthworms. If it’s not healing, it’s not appropriate."

Salatin doesn't mince words. He believes that children can handle this kind of gorgeous violence better than adults:

"This is why we enjoy having our patrons come out and see the animals slaughtered. Actually, the 7- to 12-year old children have no problem slitting throats while their parents cower inside their Prius listening to “All Things Considered.” Who is really facing life here? The chickens don’t talk or sign petitions. We honor them in life, which is the only way we earn the right to ask them to feed us — like the mutual respect that occurs between the cape buffalo and the lion."

Maybe one day when creation is made new, the lion will make friends with the lamb and the farmer will no longer need to slaughter her animals. But wouldn't it be amazing (and perhaps ironic) if this new kingdom came just a little bit more by the healing farming practices of those who respect death just as much as they respect life.

Top five cookbooks

As with many of us, my food journey has been complicated.  My relationship with food is still mending but it has gotten healthier as I've focused less on appearances and more on good nourishment.  That has involved reading about food as practical theology, growing and preserving our own food and finally learning, relatively late in life, how to cook. My college friends gave me a hard time when they learned I could barely boil water.  My time in graduate school introduced me to sauteing meat and vegetables.  And later, my husband encouraged me in expanding my recipe repertoire.

Now, I cook most of our meals.  My husband often cooks when we have guests or on the weekends. This isn't possible for everyone and I'm only able to do so because it's my full-time job and because we live in a place where good restaurants are hard to come by.  But my cooking style is pretty simple.  Except for special occasions, I don't use complicated recipes.

Here are my favorites cookbooks:

Simply in Season.  A Mennonite affiliated collection of recipes divided into seasons.  If you grow your own food, try to eat in season or get CSA boxes with bizarre vegetables, this is the book for you.  My personal favorites are Winter Squash Bars, Green Enchiladas and Vegetarian Groundnut Stew.


More with Less.  Another book in the Mennonite series of recipes. The premise of this collection is teaching us to cook more sustainably, both for our earth and for our neighbors.  Meat is used more as a garnish than the main course and there are some helpful bulk recipes for pancakes and sauces.


How to cook everything.  This collection appeals to my lazy side.  Each recipe has an approximate time from start to finish.  And I've learned how to fix different cuts of meat, experiment with spices and dress up rice dishes.  It really does have a little of most everything.


Moosewood Cookbook.  From the kitchen of a famous restaurant of the same name in Ithaca, NY.  This collection is totally vegetarian.  Their recipe for brownies are the best I've ever tasted.


The New Best Recipe: from the editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.  This is my husband's favorite recipe book.  He's a great cook and he likes the fussy details.  I can get overwhelmed by the information accompanying each recipe but when I take the time to read it, I always learn something.  These people are food scientists and each recipe has been tested numerous times by their editors.  The results don't lie.  Their cupcakes are amazing.



What are your favorite recipe books?