Of Babies and Bathwater

No, I’m not preggers.  Stop typing right now.  Stop it.  Sit on your hands if you have to. ;-*

But it would not be overstating the case to say that my life’s path has taken a 90-degree turn from its projected path.  My job loss comes at an awkward time, about a year ahead of schedule, and it has combined with some other percolations to throw everything in my life into chaos.  I’m just trying to separate the baby from the bathwater.

Here’s the deal.

We were planning on starting family stuff next year, maybe start trying after the New Year.  I figured I’d work through that Symposium, but once the baby came, I’d do the mommy thing.  So if you figure that I’d only planned for my career through about October 2010 (and I do mean “planned” in the loosest, most status-quo sense of the word),  hunting for a new job in August 2009 seems kinda pointless.  I mean, sure it would be a paycheck — and let’s not knock the importance of that — but what’s the point of trying to find something in my field, something with a learning curve, when I’m just going to be jumping ship in less than a year anyway?  Seems like a waste of the employer’s time, if nothing else, and if I’m just after the paycheck, there are other, part-time, temporary things I could do.  Hell, I could devote some time to finding our upstairs under all that crap we haven’t unpacked since the move.  That’s a full-time job right there.

The HR lady said that this shouldn’t bother me, and I shouldn’t mention my future plans to the employer.  But I can’t help thinking that there are so many unemployed folks out there who would love to grab onto a job and keep it forever, not to mention that if it’s a government or university position I’m looking at, that position may not even continue be there if they don’t keep it filled.

So I’m really, seriously, having to consider — do I really want to get another “real” job?  Which is awkward in itself, since the first thing that every single person has said, upon hearing of my layoff, is “Well, what sort of thing are you looking for?”  There’s no allowance for the possibility that I wouldn’t be diving head-first into the Help Wanteds — it’s just a given, and I keep feeling that attitude in myself, as I reflexively search jobs and look at listings and google convention planner societies / meeting planner certifications / government planner requirements.    But all the while, in the back of my head, a small, slightly pathetic voice says, “But what if I don’t want to go back out there??”

Now, in the meantime, I’ve been having somewhat of an on-going epiphany.  Not quite sure where it started, or even when.  At some point along my journey toward wanna-be domestic goddesshood, I got better about recycling.  Then I felt bad about throwing away food, so I started a compost pile.  I badgered Mikey into taking our own bags to the grocery store.  And somehere along the way, I started picking up books with titles like The Art of Simple Food, and More with Less, and French Women Don’t Get Fat, and most recently, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  That last one, at least, has a very specific origin.

It came to me via the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.  Scroll down to “My Story: How the Market Was Born” to see the OP — there’s no direct link, unfortunately.  But her story and mine were pretty similar.  I’d tried the Raleigh Farmers’ Market thing, but it’s so far away (and who wants to drive into Raleigh if they don’t have to?) and frankly, it was a little intimidating the last few times I went.  So I was all kinds of excited (as I’m sure you’ll remember) when we got our own market, and when I read that Omnivore’s Dilemma was the catalyst that helped create WWFM, I decided to see what this book was all about.

Welp, it pretty much finished the job that Fast Food Nation started back in college.  It’s not as graphic as FFN, which focused largely on how utterly disgusting feedlots and slaughterhouses are in our modern, high-production world, but it raises those questions, plus many more about how we feed ourselves, and more still about the truth of food in America.

[Omit long, gushing review about how awesome and eye-opening this book is.  Suffice to say, if you thought you had a balanced diet because the front of the box said so, you might be surprised to learn how much of  your daily intake comes from two sources: corn and soy.  It’s not just in the doritos and the edamame — it’s in everything from the animal feed that produced your chicken breast, to near-ubiquitous use in processed foods, and often at the expense of other ingredients.  And if that doesn’t seem very “omnivoreish” to you, well, you might want to read this book. ]

So I read Omnivore on our Scotland trip.  It’s organized into 4 sections, as the subtitle (“A Natural History of Four Meals”) suggests, and one of those focuses on sustainable, free-range farming.  The “Happy Cow” philosophy of farming, as I mentally refer to it.  It was striking to read about this relatively novel (yet ancient) way of farming that is just now being re-introduced in America in defiance of the post-WW2 industrialization boom, while whizzing by field after verdant field of sheep, cattle, and other livestock.  These animals had obviously never seen the inside of a feedlot, and they looked about as peaceful out there as you could imagine.  I’ve never had much of an ethical dilemma with being a carnivore, but the thought of animals not having to be miserable their entire lives, before ending up on my plate, was a pretty appealing one.  I mean, I knew feedlots were crowded and dirty, but I didn’t know HOW bad they were.  And not just beef — there are horror stories, routine and (shockingly) unremarked in their respective industries, for hog and chicken and dairy factories as well.

But I think the biggest revelation for me was the bombshell that “organic” doesn’t always equal “better.”  There are the carbon costs — is it better for the world to buy a pint of organic blueberries imported from New Zealand than the pint of conventional grown in Chatham County and purchased direct from the grower?  It was bad enough in the produce section, when Pollan investigated how large-scale organic growers try to compete (only semi-successfully) with their conventional counterparts, but in the meat/dairy/egg department, “organic” took on a whole new shadow.  In a nutshell, big operations that employ the same close-quarters arrangements for their livestock, but who are not allowed to use antibiotics to counter the illnesses resulting from that crowding, operate on the edge of a knife.  Pollan was not allowed to touch any of the animals when he visited these farms; he was given a hazmat suit so that he wouldn’t introduce germs into their precarious environment.  Did anything ever sound so unnatural, or unsustainable, as a calf that couldn’t be petted?

I’m now reading Michael Pollan’s other book, In Defense of Food, and eagerly awaiting the DVD release of his movie.   It covers some of the same ground, but where Omnivore focused on the food itself in its journey to our plate, Defense is more about our relationship with food, and the ways we understand it (or don’t).  Food, Inc (the movie) seems to deal with why you can get a full-blown cheeseburger for $1, but not a head of broccoli, a topic that is at the core of our national dietary dilemma.

On the one hand, all this information has been a little depressing.  But it also seems like a challenge — how can I take more control of what’s going into my body and how I’m impacting the world around me?  It’s certainly given a whole other dimension to my shopping, and in the process, has led me down the least-expected of paths.  Now, in addition to evaluating price, quality, and quantity, I also find myself looking for point of origin and corn/soy/chemical content — just to see what ELSE I’m getting besides what’s listed on the pretty label.  In the cereal bar aisle last week, this led to some annoyance.  Once I factored in calorie content, fiber, “good stuff,” price, quantity and serving size, degree of chemical augmentation, and length of an ingredient list (measured in inches, for a product that claims to be nothing but oats, fruit, and nuts with a “chocolatey drizzle”), it became really hard to find anything I wanted to eat that wasn’t $4 a box!

Which is how I, who have never been the hippie-granola type, came to make my own granola bars this weekend.  It was easy, and they were good.  Mikey even suggested they replace the breakfast cookies we’ve historically gotten from Harris Teeter.  Which is high praise, seeing as how they have been his breakfast of choice since we discovered them.

This  “green” path seems like an extension of the awareness fostered by WW.  There, we learned first and foremost to prioritize our treats, retaining those we truly enjoy while learning to bypass the ones that were just mildly rewarding, or not good bargains for their nutritional value.  One of the pillars of WW is the consumption of whole foods, which itself serves to protect from some of the worst processed pitfalls, and this latest idea is just a shift away from the cheatersauce that can create sugar-free, fat-free, 10-calorie “chocolate” syrup and tell us it’s food.

However, there’s only so far down this path one can go before becoming that person that nobody wants to go out to eat with.  Adherence to principle is all very well, but catechizing the waiter on the origin of one’s steak borders on the overzealous, and it certainly doesn’t make for very good dinner conversation.  Plus, there are some things that I will readily admit are not food (Crystal Light, for example), but which I’m not willing to toss.  I’m looking at this more as another case of prioritization than a complete lifestyle overhaul — eating more healthy stuff means that the proportion of not-food in my diet will have less impact overall, just like every can I recycle is one less in a landfill, even if Morrisville has started putting restrictions on what they will and won’t take. >.<

So here I am, trying to re-sort my culinary life, put some order back in my five-year plan*, and decide whether to actually finish updating my resume.  And it’s only Monday.

*It had never occurred to me to attach the words “five-year plan” to my life — as far as I knew, that was something Stalin did in Russia — but swear to God, that’s one of the first questions that they asked me in the interview for the Morrisville Community Center job.  ;-P

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