Diary of a Transplant: Survival Aesthetic

  |  November 15, 2012

One of the reasons we wanted to move to the country was so that we could produce more of our own food.

This was a dreamy, nostalgic desire. It had more to do with boutique food quarterlies than doomsday scenarios.

It was a desire for, say, a tomato sandwich, made with heirloom tomatoes you grew, on bread you baked, with mayonnaise you made using eggs your hens laid. It was for the satisfaction of canning fruit you picked, from canes you planted, using compost you turned. For using up seasonal abundance: making meringues and lemon curd from the overload of eggs every spring, or squash soups and breads and roasts in the fall.

This aesthetic had nothing to do with climate change or survivalism. We weren’t thinking, as we paged through farm listings on real estate sites: “And we’ll get a generator and keep extra tanks of gasoline in the barn!” Or: “We’ll keep the killing knife sharp, for when the infrastructure breaks down!”

We were way more “Little House on the Prairie” than Survivalist.com.

We have loved this aesthetic every bit as much as we thought we would. It feels extravagant and amazing to bite into these homegrown meals: Just-dug sweet potatoes fried in goose fat rendered from a goose we helped slaughter. Poached eggs over just-picked arugula with the last of the fresh cayenne peppers chopped on top. Venison from our neighbor, served with oyster mushrooms we foraged and parsley we grew.

“You kids want pancakes? Go see if you can find any eggs.”

Heading down to the garden and the hen house to shop for imminent meals is still one of the greatest luxuries I can imagine.

And yet there is an increasingly practical aspect to our program. The lack of good grocery stores and the higher cost of living in the country had already nudged our homegrown efforts much further along than we ever would have imagined. Folks, there’s no arugula upstate. The arugula-addicted, such as ourselves, must grow it, which is why we have a hoop house, so we can hope to have salad in January (and maybe tomatoes in June? We’re going to try.) And a farm-raised roaster costs around $26. There are no $10 Murray’s chickens up here. It’s Perdue, or raise your own.

So we were already pushing, hard, to produce more of our own every year.

And then suddenly, along came Hurricane Sandy.

Our practical vibe just got amped up way past our need for nightly salad. Everyone keeps saying the storm was a game-changer. For us, it means that being prepared and self-sufficient feels more essential than ever.

Maybe we are just alleviating our anxiety over the impending winter and the storms that are sure to come our way, but we want to take it further. Sandy showed just how vulnerable we all are, how easily our consumer options and civilized lives can be undone.

We are already planning our 2013 garden, clearing brush to make more growing space, poring through seed catalogs, experimenting with four-season gardening. This year we had a tower of squash and pumpkin, about 40 pounds of frozen tomatoes, and several quart jars of pickles. Next year we’ll have more. And we’ll do turkeys again, and barter with friends for pork and beef, the way we are about to do this year. Maybe we’ll raise broiler chickens.  I have friends whose freezers are full of food they raised, grew, found, and made. They could get to springtime without setting foot in the Price Chopper. Their freezers inspire my envy and my ambition.

I’m continually stunned to read and hear about the ongoing effects of Hurricane Sandy. And I’m thinking we all – urban and country – should go a little more Survivalist.com.

Read On, Reader...