Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I know I've been neglecting my blog responsibilities lately (and there's a good reason...) so bear with me as I catch up. Right now, I need to take a moment to give some belated thanks for old friends, new farmers and my family.

After almost a decade of Thanksgiving dinners in Maryland with my Dad and his wife, I elected to travel to Minnesota to visit old friends and family on my favorite holiday. Words fail me in describing the gifts of love, forgiveness and hope that I received on this trip. It was probably the most important road trip of my life.

But what I really want to tell you about is the turkey.

Let me begin with the fact that you can actually get a Thanksgiving turkey for free from a chain grocery store as a kind of brand loyalty marketing strategy. I understand the symbolic importance of turkeys and sheesh, they are expensive, as they are danged long-lived... It's harder to shorten the lifespan of a turkey (as opposed to a chicken which can be raised in a virtual nano-second these days) to extract as much profit as possible from it's short(ish) miserable life, but Tyson, Purdue and the like do their best to force farmers into selling themselves and their livestock for the lowest possible price. The fact that these birds are given away free by grocery stores who pocket all the profits from the sale of Cheetos and the like is a slap in the face of (no, actually, it's a dehumanizing act of thievery against the) honest hard work and sincere efforts to make a living by the working poor. Having said that, I appreciate the fact that a family who otherwise would not be able to afford a T-day turkey can get one free by buying all their groceries for several months from one store in exchange for a free one. Yup. Got it. But still. I don't want one of those.

I will not particpate in trading farming livelihoods for profit mongering.

The fact that I have the luxury to do so is a troubling and problematic reality. It the height of injustice that the very essence of life--food--pits the consuming poor against the producing poor and leaves healthy food to those who can afford it. I don't want to participate in this system either. But still, my family needs a turkey, or it's not Thanksgiving. My vegetarian nieces would disagree, and I'll give them that too. Next year, it's T-day at my house where carnivores, omnivores and herbivores will get their fill, and where local farmers are the biggest beneficiaries of our happy tummies.

But we really didn't do so bad this year on the local farmer score.

So, my first call home about my trip was to my dear friend Kristi, who farms with her husband in western Minnesota, and for whom reconnecting on this trip meant everything to me. Did she have turkeys? Did she know anyone who did? Turns out she didn't but her good friend Jessi had some. Was Fed-Exing my deposit going to be fast enough to get the last Bourbon Red in the flock? These birds had led pampered lives with free-run (notice, not free range--free RUN) of the farm all summer and were huge, healthy and semi-feral. Without going into two much detail, there was a smidge of a logistical and geographical problem associated with retrieving the bird on Saturday when it was available (and when I was in approximately po-dunk nowhere between GA and MN in my car) and Thursday when the bird was supposed to be on the table in all its roasted glory.

All logistical puzzles aside, retrieving the bird and it arriving on the table, involved being delivered into the arms of loved ones and loved landscapes again and again, which ranged from being smothered in embraces by five year olds to driving in silence through stretches of prairie visited only by the sunsets. Real life and real love showed up and danced to the song of life and death, and it was rich.

On the way to get the bird out of Jessi's freezer Kristi took me to the grave of her infant daughter--Nora--her daughet Anika's twin sister. We hugged while Anika played by the grave, and I felt a tremendous, devastating loss that can only be cliched in comparison to the grief of Kristi's family. It ain't right. No. It ain't right. But what are you going to do? When we got to Jessi's the spade-foot hogs were out and helping themselves to grain from the silo. Jessi shrugged when we pointed it out and said They're happier that way. I wrote her a check for more money than I ever thought possible for poultry and sat on the couch with Jessi and Kristi's kids while they told me about life.

I ask you...has this ever happened and will this ever happen to you on your way to get your free turkey from Giant?

When I left for Duluth the next day, after Kristi and I said a heartfelt goodbye, I got in the car with my heart in my throat...and a niggling feeling I had forgotten something important. Um, yeah, the turkey was still in Kristi's freezer. Later, with the turkey safely in a cooler, a half of a pig for my BFF Becky in Duluth and a leftover meatloaf sandwich (from Brad and Kristi's pigs and cows) in my pocket, I was ready for more adventures in love and eating.

In Duluth Becky and Brad treated me to grilled pork chops the best mashed potatoes ever, more hugs and kisses from young ones and long talks into the night that stretched into the morning when we walked through the woods and talked about how farming really is the answer to life. Becky sent me "home" to my brother's house with a bag full of red potatoes from her garden and I cooked up a kick-ass brine for that bird while she and Brad put the kids to bed. Rosemary from my mom's garden, garlic from Becky's garden and love wrapped up in it all.

Reuniting with mom, step-father, brother, sister-in-law (Tracy-didi, in hindi is so much sweeter, I must say) and grown-up lovely nieces, Taylor and Alexis and step brother Travis (the comedian) made all the driving worth it. We feasted on a golden delicious bird and more of the best mashed potatoes ever, sweet potatoe souffle, brussel sprouts, pie, etc etc.. It was superlative and especially so since it was enjoyed in miles of love that we came to after traveling through acres and acres of pain.

There is more. I wish I could share it all here, but let me just say that sincere efforts to do the right thing will always be rewarded with richness, healing and love.

You can't get that at Giant.