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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chew on This


“I think I’m getting dumber,” I told the father of my child one evening while we prepared dinner. The baby was in his chair, kicking to make it bounce, while I chopped vegetables and my significant other caramelized onions on the stove. (I keep him around strictly because of these onions. Don’t let him convince you differently.)


“How so?” he said.


I wiped onion tears off my face with a sleeve.

“I couldn’t spell the word ‘ignorant’ today. My spell checker couldn’t even figure out what I was trying to say.”

“It’s mommy brain.” He’s trying to be supportive. I try not to glare at him. “Go easy on yourself.”

Definitely not my greatest strength.

“It’s a tossup between mommy brain and Alzheimer’s,” I muttered. And went back to my carrots. “But I swear the most intellectual conversation I’ve had this week involves the state of our son’s diaper and whether or not I’m going to get his piggies.”

(Side note: since our son was born last September, I’ve connected all of my significant other’s ADHD rants about science, physics, mathematics, animal behavior, religion and politics back to the state of our son’s diaper and/or other baby bodily functions.)

“It’ll get better,” my partner promised with a perfunctory kiss on my forehead. “Now where’s the beef?”

I’ve always read a lot, and I was writing, but it felt like something was missing. I used to consider myself a scholar, a seeker of knowledge, with a renaissance-like curiosity. But a handful of menial labor, mindless jobs post-college left me rather mind-numbed, chronically stupid and drained. Over the last year I watched more television than I ever had in my life (after all, how many times do you really need to watch reruns of Buffy or the Golden Girls?).  Add a rough pregnancy with multiples, a harrowing three-month stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with our surviving twin, and moving and consolidating into one house from three, and I felt downright ignorant and high on paint fumes, drywall dust, and way too well-versed in the bonus features from season one of Game of Thrones. In college, I was one of those students who sat in the front row, turned in my assignments on time, met with the professor to discuss bad grades, who asked for extra credit even when I didn’t need it. I loved the first day of class, the rush of promised knowledge. One of my top strengths is curiosity and a love of learning. Books and music and art get my juices going almost as much as watching cattle graze at dusk or watching a calf slip from the cow steaming onto the ground and the cow turning to lick it, the momma noise she makes getting the hair on my neck to stand up. I didn’t want to go back to school, not with a newborn. But I did need something besides Baby Einstein and discussions about how we preferred Pooh diapers to Mickey Mouse. Somewhere along the line I’d lost focus, gotten squidgy in the mind. In short, somewhere among the 2 A.M. feedings I’d misplaced my passion.

It was over another meal that my partner casually pointed out over the pasta that my big passion is education and learning, specifically teaching people about growing healthy food and promoting the growing of healthy, “happy” meat animals. With that kicking around in my head, quite by accident I wandered onto a website called openculture.com, that offers a crazy amount of free material, from books and audiobooks to language lessons, films, artwork to free college courses from universities such as Yale, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Penn State, UCLA, Oxford, Harvard, and many others.

In a moment, that rush of opening that year’s course catalog came rushing back.

Only this time, I wouldn’t have nightmares about forgetting I was in school and missed midterms.

So maybe all of this is old news to everyone. I’m generally the last to join any technological advancement. I still have a Blackberry and just realized how many free podcasts and web courses are available for an iPod. The ability to listen to the Tolkien Professor analyze The Hobbit while I fold laundry has revolutionized my world. But, by far, “Edible Education 103” with Michael Pollen has been the most energizing phenomenon since Rose Nyland’s uncle Norbert and his prize pig Francesca came in second in the annual St. Olaf county fair.

(Like I said, too many reruns.)

The author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, and a contributor to the 2008 film Food, Inc., Michael Pollen’s work inspired me to jump even deeper into grass fed beef production when everyone around me claimed grain was the only way to feed cattle right. Having the opportunity to hear what’s going on in the intellectual environment of a place like Berkeley and the call for healthy food and new ways of approaching agriculture is huge, especially for people like farmers who can get a kind of “barn blindness,” thinking “we’ve always done things this way, this is the way they are, this is the way they always will be,” and not always think about the larger world outside our farm or how we connect to it in a very real way. And with the internet and so many resources available, there’s no excuse not to make ourselves aware of what’s going on beyond our fence lines.

Everyone warned me that becoming a parent changed life. It does. I’m writing this with my son in my lap while he drools on me and chews on his blue stuffed cow. But I can still have opinions, still be informed, still be passionate. I was home-schooled so I know how to self-educate. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of lectures and news uploaded on my iPod to listen to while folding laundry or cleaning the house. I might not be supercharged to go join an Occupy movement, in favor of changing diapers and making dinner. One thing I miss about college is the energy and the promise and desire for change. Life hasn’t been lived yet and there’s no real responsibility. I don’t believe that energy has to dissipate when we grow up and get grown up jobs. What should happen is finding other ways to change the world. For instance, consumer choice. What you choose to buy is what will continue to be produced. Lobbyists won’t change the food system, moms will. We’re the ones who make McDonald’s possible. If we don’t buy it, they won’t sell it. I’m not saying there’s no room in the world for a Big Mac. But there needs to be moderation and we need to demand low pesticide and antibiotic free food.

We also need to pay for it.

Give up the ultimate TV package and use that money to buy in to a CSA or buy a freezer and purchase grass fed beef in bulk directly from a local farmer. Reduce the mileage on the food you purchase. There are reasonable ways to eat well, and I’d like to talk more about those in the coming months. There’s too much stigma that eating healthy is bland and expensive and that’s not really true. The real cost is to our health and the environment by the food choices and agricultural practices we’ve implemented over the last fifty or so years.

Parenthood does change life. I never thought I’d tell anyone, “It’s not my fault your butt is sore, I didn’t poop twelve times today.” While it’s been a huge change, it’s caused less of a disruption and made me more focused, more honed on the person that I want to be and what I’m passionate about. So I say forget about college passion; when you become a parent is the perfect time to start trying to change the world.

One meal at a time.

2 comments:

Rowenna said...

Brilliant post, Axie. For one--rest assured, your brain is only turning to squidge because your child is sucking your intelligence out, bit by bit, to build his own brain. It's science, I tell you. Or at least, what I tell myself. Because I think the same thing may be happening to me...

But yes. Excellent post, and I look forward to more.

(One of my "prove you're not a robot" words is "bowels." Heh.)

Ax said...

Ok that makes me feel a little better. Since the kid has the head of a seven month old on the body of a four month old, there might be some validity to the science. :) Thanks for reading!

Bowels. ;)