At the Homestead, we divide the year into themes to organize our educational programming and retreats. October's theme was Provide. I try and match the themes to the seasons, but this one was uncannily appropriate. The Provide theme was designed to deal with basic skills -"Providing for your basic needs." I wanted to address food, shelter, health, and reconnecting with the natural world, but I did not picture myself eating a raccoon.
We began the month with our Author Chat with Tony Nestor who operates Ancient Pathways, a primitive technology and ancient survival skills school. The premise of teaching these skills is that we have become so far removed from having to meet our basic needs, that most of us don't know how. This disconnect allows us to support inhumane and unhealthy food systems. It enables us to support policies that harm our world and waste our natural resources. When we are disconnected from where our basic needs come from, we don't have to think about the ramifications of our lifestyles. If you missed it, you can listen to an interview with him here.
And just as I was getting pumped up about how reconnected my family had become with our food system, I had a heartbreaking run in with how very thoughtful and feeling our pigs actually are. I had become pretty good at compartmentalizing our animals as food until I saw their distress at being separated. If you missed that blog entry, I had moments this month when I wanted to throw in the towel.
Thankfully, one of my literary and health advocate heroes came to give a presentation and talk the next week. Sandor Katz is a fermented foods revivalist. The New York Times calls him "one of the unlikely rockstars of the American food scene." His work was the place my family's health revolution began. I remember reading his book after the kids went to bed five years ago as things began to click. It was one Aha! moment after another as I began to understand how to rebuild our health in a very primitive way. So I did feel like a rockstar was in the kitchen at the Homestead this month, and I got to share that feeling with forty other folks who participated.
The Provide theme culminated with our Primitive Skills Weekend Experience. Twenty adults and excited kids learned bush medicine, trapping, hunting safety, wild medicine, foraging, shelter building, and many more skills. After I the pig fiasco, I got very nervous when one of our teachers told me he had trapped a raccoon by the chicken coop and wanted to know if it was okay to show people how to process it. I watched that poor creature in the trap curl its beautiful tail around its body, and reluctantly agreed.
I wondered if the raccoon had any thoughts for the chickens it ate, as Patrick showed how to line up a gun barrel through the cage slats. "Taking your time so you get a clean shot is important. You don't want him to suffer." We said a quick blessing for that raccoon's life and then he was gone. The teachers demonstrated how to hang him in the tree for processing.
I was so proud of the kids. For kids who grow up with hunting this is process is second nature. These kids had never seen an animal killed and processed. They asked questions and passed around the organs as they came out of the animal's body. They didn't laugh or make gross jokes. At the end, all of them said, "I think I could do it."
We have a rule at our house that I impose at the Homestead summer camps, "The only reason you kill another living thing is for food or protection." I use this rule to keep kids from needlessly killing toads, lizards, and spiders. They remind each other, "Don't hurt it! She'll make you eat it!"
The rule applies to adults too. Our incredible chef for our weekend events outdid herself. She marinated that raccoon in buttermilk and cooked it with peppers and onions. Surprisingly, it really was good.
Provide was a rough month. Reconnecting with our basic needs is hard, physically and emotionally. But I believe it is one of the most important things we can teach our kids. It is the road to an honest relationship with our food system, our natural world, and our the policies that support our lifestyle. Our civilized society eats animals every day who are killed in much less humane ways than that raccoon. When you look inside the bowels of an animal you have taken life from, you cannot pretend it away.