Archive for October 22nd, 2004

Update and food storage tour

Sharon October 22nd, 2004

I know, I know, it has been a long time since I posted. Things have been much as usual, except that I had three days of food poisoning (ugh). Eric thankfully saved me by taking care of the kids, the house, the skunked dog (ugh), the disabled grandparents and his job with a grace that is completely normal to him and unbelievably admirable to me. I don’t want to sound like the post-feminist wife here, but *no one* can run our life alone – *NO ONE* – it is simply too complex. And he did – beautifully. I love him so much.

This is proof positive that academic life unfits women for domestic work – literally. I got food poisoning at a talk I attended on Macbeth, one of my rare forays back into the world of scholarship from the world of motherhood/farming/writing/etc… I spend an evening thinking of high minded things and neglecting my other work, and then spend three miserable days heaving, neglecting my life as vague commercial jingles and ugly images of childhood screw ups floated through my nauseated and exhausted brain.

In other news, Eli is horseback riding!!! Isn’t that the coolest thing (if I ever learn to post pics, I will – he is so cute). A program for autistic children to ride has accepted him in late, and he was so excited. He’s very good with animals (he and Rufus, our collie, have a special bond, and even the chickens like him), and he was so relaxed, comfortable and happy up there on a horse – no fear or anxiety at all. Even the helmet didn’t bother him.

Anyway, here’s part one of an ongoing (ie, when I get around to it) tour of my home food storage.


I don’t know if this will be useful to anyone, but I recently had occasion to start writing up a description of the ways we’re preparing for Peak Oil, and I thought I’d post it. I’d love to hear comments/suggestions/critiques, and I thought this might be useful to those who are just starting to acquire materials or store items. I’m including the ways that we’ve found to pay for these thing/make them cheaper, since for us, at least, money is the biggest obstacle to preparation.

I’d like to emphasize that there are two layers to our preps, and both of them are equally important. First, there are stored items designed to ease a difficult transitional period, but that are unsustainable in the longer term. Then, there are the preps that are designed to allow us to replace lost items, to be fundamentally sustainable. We make choices between the two regularly, and some of the choices weve made might not work for someone else.

I also think it is worth noting that not everything we do has a dire inevitability around it – most of my preps work great even if nothing bad ever happens. My food storage cuts down the number of trips to the store, my yarn and fabric stash drops gift and clothing costs, the grain grinder means we eat healthier, etc… The thing is that none of this should be perceived as a miserable necessity, but as a useful plan with positive immediate consequences. And lord knows, don’t go into debt for it.

Finally, ours is a particular family in a particular situation. We are 7 people, 3 small children, 2 elders, 2 healthy adults. We have a large amount of land (27 acres) and a large house (4000 square foot farmhouse) and a number of outbuildings. The size of our house, for example, shapes our preps in several ways – we certainly have the luxury of storage space, but we also are not trying to heat the whole house, so warm blankets and winter clothes figure more than in a much smaller space. Because we have children and elders, some of our preps are specific to them.

Ok, caveats done. I’ll start with food/toiletries, since that’s one of the most urgent things.

Our food storage covers several rooms in our house. First, is the kitchen. We have an old, ratty kitchen, and we havent done much to make it decorative – but we’ve enhanced its usefulness by putting in a wood cookstove, and filling the (fairly large) room with cheap metal shop shelving – the kind you buy for $20 at home depot. We have four of them. We also have made additional counter space by building into the walls (we are bad carpenters, so this is not an aesthetic enhancement, although my step-mom did a nice job with some counters), and we have some cabinets as well. We store beans, some grains, whole spices, etc… in the canning jars and storage containers that are not suitable for actual canning. The grains we use a lot of – brown and white rice, whole wheat, rolled oats, are stored in those decorative metal popcorn tins. One will hold 25 lbs, and they cost less than 50 cents. The kitchen is where we keep all the food ready for immanent use. There is somewhere between two weeks and a month worth of food there at any given time, along with the same amount of food for dog and cats. In addition, we store some of our food preservation equipment there – the pressure and water bath canners, the food mill, dehydrator, etc…

We also have our grain grinder there – there’s no piece of equipment I’d recommend buying more. Whole wheat stores forever, is cheap and bread is infinitely various. I actually have several – I picked up a couple of cheap corona mills (the cheapest model, mostly made for grinding corn) one of which I use for rice dehulling, another for grinding nut butters and coarse cornmeal. But the one we use every day is Lehman’s Best, and is terrific. I’ve never seen one at a yard sale, although occasionally a good deal shows up on ebay. But they are worth paying full ($150-200) price for, or asking for it for a gift (very kind MIL gave it to me for my 30th birthday, although I don’t think she quite appreciated how glad I was to have it – she thinks we’re nuts.) We grind wheat for our bread, and for the bread of our 20 customer families by hand. It is great exercise, and the bread tastes so good. We also malt barley and grind that, which adds a sweetness and lightness. If you haven’t read Sally Fallons Nourishing Traditions definitely do so – sprouted grain breads, lactofermentation, etc… are a big part of our diet.

We try very hard to eat from our storage – in part because I believe it is a healthy way to eat, in part because we like it, in part because it is cheaper, and also because it will make the transition less painful. Thats not to say that we don’t eat citrus and spices, etc… but we do try to mostly eat locally and a sustainable diet. So the food in our storage is only slightly different than the food in our kitchen for dinner. We eat a lot of beans, a little home-raised meat (mostly chicken, although we trade eggs for milk and beef as well), sweeten mostly with honey, make grains primary in our diet, and eat a lot of meals in the asian style. So we have on our shelves lots of grains, lots of beans, lots of sauces and spices, very little meat and fish, and lots of vegetables. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, all I can say is that no one every turns down an invitation to dinner at my house.

The next part of our food storage is the downstairs guest room closet. Grandma is none to pleased with this, since she thinks guests should have more than 6 inches of room to hang their clothes, but she deals. That closet is devoted to storing two categories of things – diapering materials and canning materials. My extra canners (I have two pressure and two water bath – all acquired at yard sales for less than $5), canning jars (I have about 600 – and I never pay more than $3 per box), along with lots of lids, parafin (yeah, I know it isnt recommended), rings, and pickling salt. Canning isn’t necessarily the least energy intensive or most sustainable method, but it is an essential element of our food storage now and through the transitional period, when having complete foods with all their water intact may be essential if we ever have a real emergency. The investment in canning materials has been small, compared to the return – I’m not sure I’d recommend it if you had to buy everything new, but if you check out yard sales, canners and canning jars are generally in good supply. This means that most of the canned soups, broths, pickles, jams. vegetables, beans, etc… come from our garden, without pesticides, and are processed fresh.

Also in that closet are diapers. My oldest son is autistic, and at 4 1/2 not entirely potty trained. My middle son, at 2 1/2 is also not fully trained, and my youngest is only 10 months old. We cloth diaper, but we make a point of storing several hundred plastic diapers for each child, in case we are unable to wash, or have water restrictions. Since our well is electrically powered, although we have non-electric backups, we’ll probably begrudge every drop of water we have to haul – so they’ll be well worth the landfill costs.

Under the guest room bed (thankfully Grandma hasn’t noticed yet) is space for 14 5 gallon buckets of beans and grains. We have the same under our bed. All told (in various locations), we have at present 500lbs of wheat, 500 lbs whole rice, 200lbs white rice, 50lbs brown rice, 500 lbs beans of various sort (we grew about 1/2 of them), 100lbs lentils, 200 lbs soybeans, 150 lbs barley, 600 lbs oatmeal, and various smaller amounts of grains and beans. We buy them cheaply in bulk from a food coop, and move them into containers in the kitchen as needed. All are stored with easy removal lids and oxygen removers. Fortunately our house has strong floors. The nice thing is that it keeps mess out from under the beds – theres no room.

Going upstairs, we’ve converted one of the closets in our bedroom to food storage. In there are most of the canned goods, tinned and home-canned meats and soups, the pasta, extra beans and rice, sauces and seasonings (I buy spices in bulk from, 150 lbs of sugar (should be more), 100 lbs of salt (ibid) (all bought in bulk), as well as things we just happen to like. We store vegetarian oyster sauce, sambal olek, korean pepper paste, hot bean paste, etc… for asian cooking. We store Tang and Vit. C koolaid for vitamin C for the kids, pickles (for appetite enhancement), shortening (disgusting, but lasts forever), Canned and dehydrated tomatoes (from our garden), hot sauce (by the gallon), and lots more, which I’ll pick up next time.

Skepticism..what I'm thinking about.

Sharon October 22nd, 2004

In the modern age, skepticism begins with doubt as to the existence of God. It is hard to underestimate the difficulty, then, of wrapping one’s contemporary imagination around a skepticism that retains complete and implicit belief in the divine, but doubts the reality of the person standing next to oneself. And yet, in its most literal sense, that is the character of Renaissance skepticism – a world peopled by God but not by other humans.

My doctoral dissertation is about the intersection between Renaissance demographics and skepticism. Oddly, skepticism in the 17th century didn’t mean anything like what it means today – depending on whose version you follow (Katherine Maus or Stanley Cavell – I think they aren’t incompatible), what people doubted then was not what they doubt now. When we think of skepticism in a modern sense, we think about doubt about the existence of God, or of other transcendent things, or about science vs. religion. But both versions of Renaissance skepticism accept the existence of God as foregone, and neither see a contradiction between science and faith (there wasn’t one at the time). Instead, skeptics doubt either the existence of other people (ie, Cartesian skepticism, which says that you can prove that you exist and God exists, but not that everyone around you isn’t a figment) or what you can know about other people (ie, what they are thinking).

I’ve been writing about this for several years, but it only recently has occurred to me that the Biblical story of Sarah (the forgotten part of the binding of Isaac) is as much the pre-narrative of this model of skepticism as the Oedipus story is for well, the

Oedipal complex.

If Renaissance skepticism as we have discussed it can be said to have an originating myth, we might find it in the Biblical story of Sarah, for whom the otherness of G-d and the question of the (m)aternity of her children are inextricably linked. Doubt, counting, reproduction, skepticism, all are linked across time and narrative. Stanley Cavell is right to tie skepticism to the questions raised by the paternity of children, but I would suggest that he refers only to a species of skepticism, that ultimately the act of reproduction itself is perennially tied to the question of whether the others one creates are truly real, and, perhaps, whether the act of generation, which mimics God’s, is perhaps a kind of proof that we are real.

Sarah (then Sarai) is, described as barren when she is first named, and thus her infertility is tied to her identity. Sarah herself insists that G-d is at fault for her sterility, that YHWH has closed her womb. Her certainty on this point is startling Unconvinced, as she ages, that God will keep his promise to give Abraham descendents as “numerous as the stars,” Sarah imagines as means of providing a child to both of them, by requiring her handmaiden to sleep with her husband, and thus get Sarah and Abraham a child. It defies imagination, given her machinations at reproduction, that Sarah could participate in the act of faith later demanded of Abraham – to which her husband is strangely quiescient.

I’ve always wanted to write a version of the Binding of Isaac in which God asks Sarah to sacrifice Isaac – how much fun would it be to write her reply? Abraham’s gesture of complete faith could have been matched by another gesture of complete faith, for Sarah never, ever doubts the existence of God. Oh, she doubts his power – doubts that even God could open her womb in her 90s, and perhaps that God can tell whether she’s lying, but she knows God is real. And she thinks God is wrong – and has the courage to say so.

Sarah doubts, as Satan in Paradise Lost does, the degree of God’s power. She doubts that God is right. And she is not a wholly positive figure (her treatment of Hagar is hideous). But she is also the mother of a kind of doubt that achieves both faith and courage – one that says, “I believe that God is real, but I do not fully trust God to be always Godly?”

And can you blame her? Not only does this act of Yahweh’s evoke the old Pagan Gods they attempt to differentiate themselves from, but it is done in the face of proof that this God is rather new to the divinity business, and makes errors, is subject to human persuasion (a tactic Abraham refuses to use here) and chooses unwisely. What mother, what person, what skeptic could not fail to doubt. Sadly, all the role of Sarah in this that we have is her death – the Talmud says she dies when Abraham takes her son to the mountain.

In a personal sense, I wonder, did God grow up? I speak as a person who believes in God out of a kind of visceral sense of immanence. I have always felt that there was God, since earliest childhood, known it as fact much as I know I have a tongue hair, or any other part of myself I cannot always feel. You would think that this certainty would be useful, but I haven’t found it especially so. Instead, it raises more questions. Is God subject to human persuasion? Does God show interest? Are God’s agendas always the right ones? Should I be a subject, or trust my own wits and will and argue? Do I emulate Abraham or Sarah when tragedy strikes, when costs are tallied?

I don’t think it is any accident that I stumbled into the study of skepticism, do you?