I have been back in town for just under a month. Somewhat coincidently, it’s also been a month since I’ve posted anything. This primarily has to do with the total lack of anything positive to say about being back in town, and not even I can sustain an interest in my angsty griping.

I was mildly prepared for something of the culture shock that would happen when I came home, but the harsh economic realities of having no income for 4 months, emotionally bewildering social interactions and frigid temperatures really knocked me on my ass. Despite a baller roommate, who helps alleviate the sadness about having to give up my beloved St. Paul apartment, this has been a tough reintroduction to responsible adulthood.

It’s gotten to the point where nothing bums me out more than the question “How was your trip?”. The answer is “Great! Let’s stop talking about it immediately so I can continue to enjoy the happy memories, and stop comparing my life today to my life a month ago.”

Why get so offended at such a friendly, companionable question? Well, I’ll tell you. Over the years, I have had cultivate a Dr. Jackyll/Mr. Hyde style internal division for my life. Dr. Traveller and Ms. Accountable Adult, if you will. These two sides of my personality are almost irreconcilable, and are practically unrecognizeable to each other.

Accountable Adult’s job is to be just that: accountable. And she does so with just about everyone. Friends, family, bosses. She does the things that Dr. Traveller can’t be bothered with, like earning an income and getting glasses. These are things that someone needs to get done, in order to function on a very basic level. In contrast to this, Dr. Traveller is kind of a selfish jerkwad, but is 1,000% more interesting. AA not only has a job, but gets there on time, and will pick up shifts to help out. She’ll make reasonable plans with her friends, balances checkbooks, makes to do lists and sleeps terribly. Ugh, it’s literally the worst.

Dr. T, on the other hand, does supremely cool stuff like not talk to anyone she knows, sleeps soundly and gets misspelled foot tattoos.

Since everything AA does is so someone else, her alter ego can enjoy the fruits of her labor, she is always just tinsy bit cranky at everything. That might be the insomnia talking.  It adds to the misery when all everyone wants to do is talk about the other Corinna, the more interesting version. (Truthfully, can you blame them?) Not only does traveling Corinna get to have all the fun, and relaxed personality qualities, but she can’t even be the one to tell people about it?!

And just like in the story, someday I hope to con some lawyer friend into settling my affairs, while disappearing into my more fickle and anti-social personality type that sleeps well.

I am starting my tedious journey home today, along Interstate 80. The straight highway driving that should have been a cake walk was made more difficult by high winds and blowing snow. I decided to spend the night in Laramie, WY.

Since I didn’t even have cows to keep me company on this drive, I had to talk to myself. With some prompts from NPR and This American Life, I got to thinking about Adventure. The episode ends with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman.

Adventure is all very well in its place, but there is something to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain. (Stardust)

The main consensus in most adventure stories is that the protagonist undergoes some sort of trial, and is usually uncomfortable. With my almost ravenous consumption of adventure stories in fiction, coupled with my well known desire to be the long-suffering heroine of my own story,it’s not usual to find me narrating some mundane task like laundry into a grandiose plot point, even before I left home. But when it comes time to actually get down to it, I’m not living in an adventure story. I spent a few uncomfortable nights on a soaking wet mattress, and have had to deal with some chilly walks to pit toilets, but all in all, I’ve been pretty comfy cozy, what with continuous access to a propane stove, grocery stores and a place to sleep. [I will say though that I did use the snow that would melt in the morning sun dripping onto my face as an alarm clock.  That could be considered as part of an adventure.]

My relative comfort and the total lack of a macguffin makes for some rather uncompelling narration. My adventure story is not so much Stardust as it is Thor 2, in that the plot is more than a little forced.

Not to be deterred in my delusion of grandeur, I have found a way that my trip can be considered an adventure. All I have to do is learn something, like Frodo, Link, Harriet the Spy and so many other of my fictional predecessors.

Learning lessons is hard for me, as I have a complete refusal to participate the culture expectation that I will come to some sort of  resplendent epiphany in my post-collegiate travels.  But it’s the small revelations that are often the most surprising and the most interesting. Before we get started, I would just like to remind everyone that I have killed and eaten my own dinner. Not that is a lesson exactly, but it does add a certain adventure style badassery.

So what lessons have I learned?  Well, I’ve gained confidence in my irrational and inscrutable refusal to eat soy. Even going to far as to ask wait staff if they wouldn’t mind asking the cooks to not put it in veggie pad thai and I found my spirit animal, the intelligent yet capricious goat.

I learned how much a shower is worth to me. More than the emotional value of being able to be warm and clean, there is a concrete dollar value associated with access to a shower. And it’s a lot.

You can be very functional with mittens. Not only can I type with mittens on, I can undo padlocks, tie my shoes, and even cook. You just have to want it bad enough. Oh, and seriously, don’t leave your shoes outside. They’ll either get slugs in them or snow. And that is the pits.

Hiking is really just walking. Except sometimes you end up above the clouds.

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I mean, when you’ve walked up a mountain, it’s pretty easy to pretend to yourself you’re on an adventure, even if your mom’s Audi is only a mile away. Best just to enjoy the feeling of feeling like you’re going somewhere.

Oh, and if anyone else is looking to pretend to themselves that they are on an adventure, bison make a good stand in for mythical beasts.

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So, I am awful with technology. I would not be hard to find testimonials of the extremely unlikely and peculiar problems my machines develop. I’ve had IT professionals assure me that it’s not *exactly* my fault, but I appear to be the only common denominator.

Why am I telling you this? Well, to explain what I am doing and to experiment with new methodologies.

I haven’t had a camera with me on this trip, and have been relying solely on my iPhone. Which is cool, but I almost never hook up my phone to my computer to transfer anything.

It’s just one of those things that is a result of seemingly harmless decisions and happenings that if I explained my process out loud, it would seem utterly asinine, and leave me open to ridicule. We all have these things. You’re not better than me.

But essentially, I just email myself everything, from links to articles and photos. I use draft emails to brainstorm posts. People who know how to use computers get upset when I tell them that I do this. I am not sure why. I know how to use my email client and everything is on my phone, with a convenient web based back up.

I am confessing all this to you, because I am trying a new thing. Posting to WordPress via email. Considering I use the wordpress app on my phone, why would this be a thing that is useful? Well, for one, guest posts (you know who you are!)

Secondly, photos! I took this photo outside of the Utah State House. Bees are a much better choice than lions. Way to go Utah.

So there you have it. Still emailing photos to myself, but just eliminating a few steps. FTW.

 

[UPDATE: I can also update by making a phone call.  I will try this when I am not being watched by the Utah State Patrol for loitering outside the capital. Moving it along.]

So, I bet some of you are wondering what Theresa has been up to. I know, I know, that loveable little scamp just worms her way into your heart and then quickly leaves the state. It’s one of the things I love about her, but it might be a downer to others.

So what has she been up to you wonder? Well, aside from freezing in the Mars like temperatures in the midwest, she spends most of her time arguing with me about soy. Please note, I have no idea what she actually does with her time, but I assume she just sits quietly and thinks about jokes to tell me, while enjoying some TV on an {unnamed video streaming site}. Which is what I assume everyone does when I am not around.

Since all my readers catalogue everything I have ever written, I am going to assume everyone remembers that I don’t eat soy. Up until recently, it is something that I try to be discrete about, because I hate having conversations about my eating habits with others. Which sort of makes me a jerk face because I am pretty nosey about what other people will and will not eat.

My hesitation to discuss my anti-soy stance is that intellectually I know it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I refuse to eat to soy as a symbolic stand against Monsanto, my personal metonym for Big Ag. Well, fair is fair, and since I spent a whole post putting the vegans on blast, let’s turn the tables on me.

My problems with roundup ready seeds and their implications for human and pollinator health aside, the rockafeller-style market control Monsanto has on soy bean production is truly impressive. 90% of soybean seeds in America are a Monsanto patent. With this monopoly, the company is not shy about suing farmers for replanting their seeds as patent violation, a position which the Supreme Court has upheld. In fairness to Monsanto, they are not the only seed company that does this. Purdue, Cargill, etc etc all employ these methods as well. There’s Flaw 1 in my anti-soy campaign. If I have a big enough problem to avoid Monsanto GMO soy for health reasons as well as protests over shady business practices, why not Cargill wheat? (Real talk answer: I like bread more than tofu.)

Hey speaking of protesting, how effective is withholding my dollars from Monsanto, actually? Flaw 2, not a whole lot. A company that rakes in nearly 15 billion dollars a year could honestly care less about my business, which would amount to less than a drop in the bucket. I am not above admitting my own financial insignificance. But even that assumes that I could avoid eating soy, entirely. That is pretty unlikely considering its presence in processed foods and use in the supply chain for dairy production. I might be able to avoid buying soy, but how many of my lattes are made with milk that comes from soy fed cows? Well probably a lot. So while my dollars may not go directly to Monsanto, the chance that I can stop spending money on food that doesn’t have Monsanto anywhere in the supply chain is pretty small.

There you have it, two extremely major flaws. And yes, I know everything comes in shades of grey, and that something doesn’t have to be all or nothing in order to be effective. For example, you don’t have to give up meat entirely to be have an impact. And really it’s impossible not to participate in the food system. So it’s normally at this point that Adult-Me takes over, and rationalizes and says things like “It’s fine to eat that tofu, because your cousin made Pad Thai with it, and just be polite. It’s not really a big deal, and you can still have principles and junk. It’s not like drug smuggling or giving attention to Rush Limbaugh.”

I would be able to get over myself and continue on with my quiet, secret protest, with only an internal conflict to keep me going. Except for Theresa’s constantly taunting me with her tofu consumption.

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She’s smart enough to know that I am just being a well-intentioned dumb dumb on a meaningless anti-soy crusade, which not only undermines my own intellegence and credibilty, but countermands my entire life philosophy of reminding everyone that things are so much more complicated than that. And I assume that amuses her to know end.

The more she wants to eat tofu and talks to me about it, the more I dig my heals in about NOT eating it. This is clearly a holdover from my days as a teenager. I can’t really explain why I do this, or what emotional hang ups that keep me stubbornly clinging to my believes. I mean, look, I know deep down in my heart of hearts that what I am doing is ultimately futile, with huge logical flaws. But the more other people point it out to me, the more I cling to my fantasies that my actions actually have some meaning. I want it to be true that I have some control over the world, and my fate, OK!

…..

…..I think I might have just understood religion.

 

It’s kind of a funny thing being a lady in mostly male dominated fields. From beekeeping, to rock music and project development, the majority of my professional career has been spent with older dudes telling me what to do.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I ask these older dudes what I should do, but sometimes they come down with a pretty bad case of  Now-See-Here-Little-Lady-itis. It’s an unfortunate part of reality as a young woman spending time with older dudes.

But, in keeping with this week’s theme of “damn the man”,  the winds they are a changing. It would seem that ladies are stepping up to the plate and are leading in the transformation of the sustainable agriculture program. About 1/3 of people who identify their primary profession as farm are now women. Huzzah! Now, if we could only get the average salary about $25,000, we’d be rolling.

I’m sure there are volumes written on the relationship between women and food. In fact, I have read some commentaries that attribute the current food system to women entering the workforce. As women began entering the work place in droves around World War 2. With women out of the home, but still expected to be the primary cook, the demand for convenience and prepackaged foods skyrocketed. What lazy working moms, eh?

But either way, women and farming should have a lot to do with each other. I can’t really speak for other women and their desire to farm, but I know for me it has a lot to do with having a measure of independence and freedom, as well as control over my health.

There is value to getting women in every industry, but when women achieve a certain level of subsistence through farming, it can help alleviate much of the social, political and economic pressures that cripple women and children throughout the globe.

So let’s hop to ladies, damn the man, and grow some peppers. I hear they’re good for cramps, too.

Happy New Year, everyone! 

I am drawing to the end of my time in Salt Lake City, and I am getting into a full research and writing mode. This is a depressing way to ring in the New Year. I’ve had to take several breaks to walk in a circle around the KOA. (Which in its own way is also depressing as the weather inversion that keeps particulate pollution hovering over the city is particularly bad today. So bad in fact, I cannot see the mountains over the haze.)

The advice that is handed down again and again by health experts, environmentalists, and food scientists is “less meat, more plants”. It’s good advice, and is seemingly simple to follow. So why do people have such a hard time with it? 

There is of course the danger in turning into a godless sissy if you eat less than 2 pounds of meat a week. If you’re going to eat that way you might as well just move to France, and become a communist. But there are other, more legitimate reasons why the “more plants” portion of advice can be such a tricky needle to thread. 

One problem is that where can you go to find fruits and veggies, let alone those that are not coated in pesticides? The USDA estimates that roughly 23.5 million people live in areas that have no groceries stores with fresh produce, and are instead only serviced by fast food or convenience stores. As you can imagine this problem disproportionately affects low income areas, including the inner cities, and believe it or not, rural areas. 

It was at this point I had to walk around for a minute. Our food system has gotten so bad that even people who live on farmland can’t get access to good food. Massive farm subsidies that favor large companies that grow corn, soy and wheat mean that small farmers are financially obligated to grow these plants the way Cargill or Monsanto or Purdue demand. 

Between reading about the food deserts, animal welfare violations, environmental impacts, and international food aid policies that cripple local economic development, I am ready to start the god damn revolution. Let the streets run green with the fruits of our labor! 

But then of course, I continue reading about farm subsidies, corporate marketing, the USDA, and of course, the politicians and lobbyists, and my rebellious spirit gets a little dejected. I start to wonder if my internet connection is good enough to visit an unnamed video streaming service for the next 1,000 years. {C’mon Netflix or Hulu, I know one of you wants this sponsorship}

 I am all for revolution guys, truly, I am. It’s great to be passionate enough to want to do something to thwart a rigged system, but revolting without accomplishing anything is really just yelling at a system that already ignores you. And I really am only into wasting time with video streaming. How do you damn the man when the man is such a behemoth? 

My solution was to eat some organic spinach and wonder if a coffee based diet counts as plant based. But thankfully there are people who are better at achieving things than me. People like Ron Finley of the L.A. Green Grounds. Through his community gardening, Finley has found a solution to the food problem that is devastating his community, helping people gain affordable access to healthy foods. He’s even better at motivating both the revolutionaries and the pragmatiststhan me. In his own words, “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.” Sign me up. 

As you can imagine, I think a lot about diet, and what motivates people to choose to eat a certain way. I for example, prefer to primarily alternate between eating whatever food best services as a vehicle for cheese and mushrooms (lettuce or eggs) and gorging on grapes. I find my motivations for feeding myself vary depending on what I am doing, like how much I am exercising, what fruit is in season, if there is salt water taffy around, etc etc. But to be honest, I don’t really have the self-discipline to eat according to a philosophy, especially while on the road, where pragmatics take over a lot of the time.

At first I had the problem of how to keep things cold for more than a day, which made dairy a bit precarious. Now, with Salt Lake holding steady at 25 degrees, I have the opposite problem of not being able to keep my greens from freezing.

I also have the problem of every time I cook, needing to have the same conversation with which ever KOA neighbor just arrived. [Actually, I am heading somewhere colder, not warmer. And yes, I can stay warm in there. Yes, the trailer is awesome. Want to take a look? I am all alone. I guess you could say it’s crazy/brave/goofy/different.] It’s not that I particularly mind chatting with people at the KOA. I kind of enjoy it, but it is seriously the same conversation every time.

Anyway, the point is on this trip I have spent way more time planning and thinking about how I am going to eat that at any previous time in my life. Which gets me on to how other people think about how they eat. I wonder about other people a lot. Frankly, you all are weird, and I don’t get you. Not in a judgey way. Keep on keeping on, weirdos.

But a thing that is quite curious to me is people who stick to a food -ism, and why someone might pick their particular -ism. It’s hard enough for me to figure out what to do eat from a purely practical perspective, so my ear prick up when I learn about those of us who have a strict food dogma.

The obvious one is vegetarianism. I’ve dabbled with this particular -ism myself. It was primarily motivated by environmental concerns. It started as a conscious effort to reduce my meat consumption. Giving up meat is the food group that was easiest for me, and was a personal “carbon offset”. I use a frightening number of disposable cups, so I am trying to make it up to the planet by not eating meat or having an air conditioner. I went to full blown vegetarianism simply to see if I could. I could not. If I considered my food choices to be made in vaccuum, I probably could have done it. But I eat socially, and honestly, I just can’t rally enough to have the “I don’t eat meat” convo every time I want to share a meal with someone.

[Btw, I have since learned there is an -ism for shiftless veggies such as myself. “Flexitarian” it’s called. If I’m not willing to have the meat convo with people, I am certainly not willing to explain the term flexitarian to anyone.]

Then there are the vegetarians who will eat fish (pescatarians), those that won’t eat eggs or dairy (ovo-lacto veg), and the level 5 vegetarians, the vegans. And of course there are the myriad of fad movements. The paleo-diet, the raw diet, South Beach, Atkins, and so on and so forth.

I have very little investment in what anyone else decides to eat. In fact, the only thing I particularly care about is that you tell me before I cook for you. I eat and like to eat almost everything, so it’s no never mind to me if I need to make a gluten free vegan whatever. But like I said, I am constantly wondering about the why of it all.

Now, I just want to warn you. I’m going to talk about bees now. It’s so out of the ordinary for me that I thought you guys should have some time to brace yourselves.

My particular beekeeping path makes me especially interested in what people think about honey. Honey is a pretty universal dietary staple. In fact, the only people I have come across who are iffy on it are people who have never had raw honey, and only ever tasted the tinny pasteurized stuff from China, (everyone, don’t eat that.) or vegans.

Some, but not all, vegans avoid honey for the same reason they avoid meat and dairy. It is an animal byproduct that is being taken in a way that they deem to be cruel and exploitive. 

I will be first, and probably the loudest, critic of the modern beekeeping industry.* But from my point of view, honey is not where bees are being exploited. Honey is a small fraction of the income that the beekeeping industry receives. Most commercial beekeepers make their living from pollination services in the various food crops nationwide that rely on insect pollination. And it’s that system of trucking bees from coast to coast for the majority of their lives, and exposing them to vast fields of pesticides and fungicides in landscapes that they will starve in without our intervention is the cruel and exploitive part. We have created an agricultural landscape where bees simply cannot survive unless we take care of them, and we’re not taking care of them very well.

I recently purchased a vegan alternative to honey, called Bee Free Honee. Kudos to a fellow Minnesota entrepreneur, and her product is certainly tasty. And there are a lot of advantages to having a natural sweetener that is not honey. (For people with allergies, and infants who can’t eat honey), but it’s made exclusively from apples. It is not bee free.

And this where food dogma becomes quite the sticky wicket. Just like every other time rigid rubber of idealism hits the real life road, exceptions and “what about….?” questions come up. It is in an admirable sentiment to want to avoid foods and other products that exploit animals, and I am grateful that there are people who give a lot of concern to bees. But unless we are paying someone to hand pollinate our nation’s apple orchards, there were bees used.

So, then what is the answer? To stop eating food pollinated by bees, and rely solely on crops pollinated by wind? To give you something of an idea of what that would look like, here is an abbreviated list of crops pollinated by honey bees.

Okra, Kiwi, cashews, apples, berries, beets, mustard, broccoli, rapeseed (Canola oil), peppers, chestnuts, coconut, coffee, citrus, almonds, avocados, cotton, pears, celery. The list goes on.

You’ll notice even cotton is on that list. This now becomes about more than food. Vegans avoid leather, wool, silk and pearls because they are animal products. Without bees, there is no cotton. Are we left with just synthetic fibers now?

I am not trying to be an ass to vegans. I would rather talk to a vegan who accuses me of cruelty (as much as it stings) about the bees than someone who dismisses bees as “just bugs”. Because at least the vegans care, and that’s a much easier place to start from. But, bees are not the same as cows or pigs or chickens. We could do without all of those. The simple truth is: we can’t do without our pollinators. We absolutely need them, doing what they do.

So is taking advantage of the bee’s natural behavior an exploitation? I can tell you, they will be out there on all of our food crops anyway, because that’s how they feed themselves. If we plan an agriculture landscape that creates a healthy habitat for the bees is that enough? Should we still avoid taking honey in that situation? Should we only allow feral bees? Or do we go in whole hog and scrap systematic agriculture entirely? There is a balance to be struck somewhere in all of this. And that is because we need the bees, so we have to find a way to do it.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right. Deciding what to eat. Like I said, I have no judgements on what anyone eats, because I don’t want anyone judging what I eat. Listening to me trying to justify why I won’t eat is soy is hilarious because I really can’t, and comes down to me being stubborn and defiant.

I can practically feel the eyes of my old catechism teacher rolling as I type this, but dogmas are unreasonable. Not that I am trying to make an appeal to the Holy See of Veganism to revise their stance on honey or even animal cruelty, or accusing vegans of not taking careful reflection on their lifestyle choices. But the “what about the bees?” question is an important one for anyone who wants to avoid animal products. Those tiny pollinators have their sticky little legs in everything.

So, in conclusion, I have no conclusion. I still am curious as to what makes people decide on their food habits, why some people decide to describe themselves with an -ism, and what that means for the whole damn system. This whole long post comes to a dissatisfying conclusion. And the only real thing I have to say about food choices is the same thing I have to say when someone asks about just about everything I spend any time thinking about.  Whether it’s this, what I am doing with my life, or if I’d like some Soyrizo, it’s to sigh and respond: “It’s complicated.”

*Please note, I said industry, and not commercial beekeepers. These guys are primarily doing the best they can with a dysfunctional food system and an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile. commercial beekeepers have more motivation to want healthy bees than anyone, and only solutions that will work are the ones that keep them in mind.