Saturday, April 3, 2010


The Molly Moochers V2.

(These notes and the commentaries that follow are a Facebook project based on Barbara Kingsolver's book "ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE A Year of Food Life." Each week a project member writes a response based on one chapter of the book. Together we read and talk our way through a year in the life of Kingsolver and her family. This response was authored by Michael Fleischhauer and is prompted by Chapter Five, "The Molly Moochers.")

I could start this thread with an argument about a substitute for tobacco. Marijuana helped ease my son’s loss of appetite, his nausea, his glaucoma for years, as he fought and eventually lost his battle with primary-progressive Multiple Sclerosis (I have been and always will be an advocate for its legalization). We in Alaska are fortunate to have legalized medical marijuana as well as a constitutionally-protected right to possess up to 4 ounces for personal use. Although tobacco is a large part of this chapter, I don’t believe that is meant to be its message.

Shortly after the dawn of humanity, our forebears hunted and gathered food for survival. They taught succeeding generations as they learned new and better methods. They found shelter; they banded together and their cooperative efforts allowed them more successes and they settled in places where food was more easily gathered. They built more permanent shelters, for themselves as well as for the storage of their foodstuffs. Agriculture sprung from these beginnings, as did communal living, and eventually village, towns, cities. Pastoral peoples no longer wandered as they once had, and before long it became necessary to form rudimentary armies to guard their stored harvests from outsiders who would take it from them. We’ve come a long way, baby. Or have we?

In our headlong rush towards the future, have we forgotten how to hunt, how to gather? In mid-February, when you take that package of Romaine lettuce home and rinse the dirt off, do you wonder where that dirt came from? Is it from California? Texas? Or is it from Ecuador, maybe even as far away as Australia? And how much of that dirt actually got onto your hands? From its seeds to our salad plates, how much effort did any of us exert for that produce? How many of us know how to plant vegetables, fruits; or to hunt; or to gather? How many of us had this knowledge passed to us from previous generations? I would submit that the number is small, very small.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we “civilized” Americans have forgotten how to be in touch with our foods. What is now passed down to us from our predecessors is how to save money when buying canned tomatoes, or why it makes more sense to buy in bulk from Costco than to pick thru the bell peppers at the locally-owned grocery or – heaven forbid! – go to a farmer’s market. It appears that we are headed down a path to destruction; a path that we ourselves have not only built, but that we are following willingly.

But, fear not! There is a silver lining to the cloud. I see it here in our own “tribe” as we discuss Kingsolver’s book; I see it in my home community in Southeast Alaska. There, I see the elders of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians teaching the younger generations the ancient languages and the ancient traditions of hunting and gathering the foods which for generations have sustained their cultures. In Alaska, there are separate laws for gathering foods for subsistence as opposed to harvesting for commercial or sport uses.

I live on the waterfront in Juneau, Alaska. The tide goes in and out in front of my living room window twice a day. In mid-February, about fifteen years ago, in the pitch black evening, I saw two lanterns on the beach during an extremely low tide. The temperature was in single digits and I became concerned for the well-being of the persons who were out there. I looked thru my binoculars and, to my dismay, a very young boy was holding one of the lights. He also held a five-gallon bucket. I swept my gaze slightly to the left and discovered that the other lantern was sitting on the ground and that its owner was using a garden rake to dig up cockles from the rocky beach. I watched for the better part of an hour, and eventually realized that the adult was teaching the youngster how to gather food! Last year, again in a frigid and pitch black February evening, I saw three generations digging cockles. (Dare I say “it warmed my cockles”?)

The older of my two granddaughters believes that bananas come “from the store”.

Katelyn and Grandpa Mike

She also loves to eat coconut sorbet, which also comes “from the store”. Her younger sister loves to make jack-o-lanterns, and, in her mind, the pumpkins, too, come “from the store”. Imagine their awe and excitement upon learning differently, although to see it first hand they had to travel far from Alaska.

Could this kid possibly be cuter? (Editor note)

We humans are a strong lot. We’ve been around for quite a while. We can turn this tide; step back from our wasteful ways and learn to be more sensitive of our Mother Earth. She can provide and will do so as long as we allow her to be fertile and to help us along our paths.
Help a child to plant some seeds and to nurture the life that comes forth and bears edible rewards.

Teach that child to harvest, whether it be hunting or gathering or planting, weeding and picking.

GrandMary and Sydney

Play it forward; the rewards are boundless.

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