I ride a bus for part of my trip into work each morning. Today, as I was eavesdropping on the neighboring conversation (come on, we all do it), I was struck by the topic: local, farm-raised eggs. Of course my ears tuned right in, because despite my dress pants and heels, they were speaking my language.
Except, they weren't. What I heard wasn't the typical remark about the color of the yolks, or how fast the whites form peaks, or how delicious eggs are when the chickens free range. Instead, what I heard was this: "Farm eggs creep me out. The guy down the road from my mother? He just puts them in a box right in the barn and my mother brings them home. There's probably salmonella all over them. No thanks! You can't pay me to eat her breakfast."
I bit my tongue pretty hard (nobody likes the woman who stands up on the bus in defense of naturally-raised eggs, spewing facts about the greater likelihood of egg-borne disease from commercially raised hens. It's a bit of a downer, especially before the Dunkin' corn syrup is fully ingested). But then I gave this some more thought. This kind of sentiment is all over the place, and I don't think it's just coming from a place of not knowing the facts. I think it's actually coming from a place of being taught something else.
We are now in a culture that actively teaches us that we cannot fend for ourselves. It's not just about salmonella misconceptions. It's about the very idea that if the egg isn't washed, stamped with an approval seal, and packaged in a store, it is somehow less wholesome. And this is happening not just with our food, but with every part of our lives. If a certified outside expert was not involved, it can't possibly have been done right. We no longer trust ourselves to take care of ourselves.
In the past few years, I've had countless conversations with people who are amazed (and a little skeptical) that I can fruit. veggies and meat at home, beyond the "quaint" practice of making jam (how is jam's "adorable hobby" status okay, but my homestead-rugged jar of corn is suspect?), knit my children's hats (again, it's quaint), can build a duck coop on my own (I'm "brave" for using a circular saw), and so on. So many of these things are what I was raised doing, so it doesn't cross my mind to wonder that other people can't - or don't - do them, too. I just figure, if they wanted to learn, they'd do it, right? What is now crossing my mind is that so many people do want to make their own homesteads, and the problem is not that they can't. It's that they truly believe they are not supposed to.
Eggs are a gateway for people to reach into the world of "see, you can provide your own food!" but they are not bringing people far enough. Tons of people raise chickens now. They have become the new quaint. Would those same people eat a duck egg? How about a guinea hen's? I will freely admit that the first time I brought one of our guinea eggs into the house I was hesitant to try it. There's a block that we have that makes us afraid of the unknown. It's instinctive! But couple that with the rigorous training we have received from Do It For You, Inc, and we are paralyzed. There have been lots of things that have given me pause, and made me feel just as Bus Man did about his mother's eggs. I remember that first time I was faced with the end-stage of quaint chickens and thought, "you know, the supermarket is just fine after all." I was not upset by the idea of killing my chickens (or participating); it had been the idea all along. Rather, I had to overcome the doubt that years of education that preparing my own food just wasn't the safe thing to do. How could I eat something that I had just killed and plucked? Isn't that... I don't know... against food code or something?
I don't think I'll ever chop the head off a chicken with as much authority as my friend Randi can, but going through that first slaughter sure changed my perspective. So did raising my first pigs, losing ducks to disease or predators, and all the little things that I now encounter each day not with an attitude of "I don't think I'm supposed to be able to handle that," but instead, "I guess that's the next thing I'm going to learn." How can we help people embrace the empowerment of learning what our ancestors took for granted? This thinking pervades more than just our food, too. It reaches into every part of our lives. Making soaps is a cute hobby, rather than an age-old skill that can net a result far healthier than anything on the shelf at the market. Filtering our drinking water naturally is inferior to installing a thousand-dollar filtration system. Heating our homes by designing compost and animal systems that are symbiotic is ridiculous when the oil heat is "cleaner."
How did our ancestors even survive? How primitive they were! Making all their own tools, homes, food, clothing... wait, are we hearing ourselves?
I'd love to challenge everyone to take a step into being more self-sufficient. Fix something you think you need an expert for. Grow something you think only a factory can provide. Grab an egg from under your chicken and don't dip it into fancy store-bought egg wash before you crack it open. It's empowering!
And if you have made that shift from "I don't think I am supposed to know this" to "Hell yes, I can do this," share your story in the comments! :)
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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