Cloned cows, science vs. technology, Modern Farmer, et al.

Modern Farmer. What a fucking joke. I get their email newsletter. It led me to an article about the biggest animal cloning factory in the world. It’s being built right now in China. The piece fills one with…that untethered feeling that defines the 21st century, if UR old like me, LOL!

My comments, and responses below. My job is to smack your face out of Richard Dawkins butthole.

Mike A said:

Animal genetics have been getting more and more homogenized for centuries, if not millennia now, and cloning is the next logical step in that process. The questions we should be asking are: “is genetic homogenization a sustainable trend?” and, “Do we want our food-production systems to be so hyper-engineered that they can only be managed by the most powerful and technologically-advanced organizations in the world?” and “What do we lose when we lose diversity?”

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      Mike, Even if the Chinese company can clone a million animals a year, that is way less than 1% of the world’s beef supply. What they are doing is hardly any different than the highly selective breeding that has been going on with dairy cows for the last 50 years. Did you know that 10% of all the Holstein dairy cows in the world (and that is a majority of all the dairy cows in the world) are descendants of one bull?
      Unless some pretty significant improvements can be made in feed efficiency and disease resistance though genetic engineering, there will be a limited market for any one genomic variety of cloned beef. Even if they succeed in marketing multiple genomic lines of cloned animals, they are going to have a limited market. We are going to have plenty of beef, clones or no clones. Producers know that they must have mixed genetics to produce good calf crops – that is a market force that will insure that the cattle industry does not rely on a narrow genetic base.
      Our food production system is already highly dependent upon a few very powerful companies: Con-Agra, JBS, Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield, and Sysco. Shut them down, and there would be almost no meat in the stores within days. Cargill and Con-Agra control a big market share in some other commodities as well.
      Our food safety rules are getting tighter all the time – Chipotle just announced that their stronger food safety procedures would be such that some of their local suppliers would no longer be able to meet their requirements. Small processing companies will increasingly be forced to shut down. Government regulation leads to fewer, larger companies.
      Cloning will not cause a loss in diversity. We have dairy bulls now who produce over a half a million offspring; that injects better genetics into the herd, but it does not reduce diversity. If we can make significant incremental genetic improvements through genetic engineering, cloning will be a way to distribute those genetics faster than can now be done through artificial insemination. The fact that cloning is being done will not endanger our food supply, any more than 50 years of artificial insemination has endangered our food supply. In fact, genetic improvement is one of the main driving forces behind the enormous improvements in production efficiency of dairy cows over the last 70 years: today, U.S. dairy farms produce over twice as much milk as they did in 1940, with less than half as many cows.
      As I have already stated, I question the economic viability of the cloning enterprise, but there is no doubt in my mind that to the extent it is successful it will be a win for producers and consumers and the environment, just as it has been for the dairy industry.

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      As I said, I’m well aware of the genetic streamlining of human-bred animals.

      I don’t think that I implied that that this particular factory is a problem, in fact I implied the opposite: that it could be problematic if this is the future of breeding.

      Diverse genetics are important. I don’t think anyone disputes that fact. You seem convinced that we can trust agricultural technology giants to ensure that genetics stay diverse in the long-term, I think you have a naive and overly-trusting attitude toward these organizations.

      We have different world views: you have boundless faith in the wisdom of man, I think that man is filled with misplaced self-confidence. There is really no way to reconcile these views; only time will tell.

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      This has nothing to do with “world view”. It has everything to do with biology. Can you please tell me why you think cloning will reduce diversity?

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        Here we go, against my better judgement….

        Worldview colors every human endeavor, even science. When a scientist, who is after all a human being, imagines a hypotheses, it is invariably influenced by her worldview—her cognitive experience of the world. There is no purely objective way to go about imagining things, only in testing their veracity.

        In any case, we aren’t even talking about Science™, we’re talking about technology—the application of knowledge which is often, although not necessarily, derived from scientific methods.

        Many people like to hitch the two together, as in “Science™ and Technology.” Some people like to hitch the two together without declaring it, and assume that no one will notice. Other people like to take advantage of this linguistic trick, and cheerlead for greater corporate centralization, under the guise of the infallible truth-seeking mechanism that is Science™. What they are really talking about is technology.

        They do this because both Science™ and technology often require enormous sums of capital to function, but the capital invested in Science™ can be leveraged to bring the relevant technology to fruition. This often results in significant returns for shareholders.

        Cloning, as I’m sure you know, is creating an organism with the exact genetic sequence of its parent organism. That is to say, there is no genetic difference between the two, or five, or ten billion (mutations may occur though). So I can’t really see how cloning is anything but the loss of diversity.

        There is, after all, a slight difference between a cow created through artificial insemination, and it’s sister created through the same parents. There is (virtually) no difference between two “sisters” created through cloning.

        But more to the point, my belief is that if we have to depend on the organizations that are able to leverage the significant resources to make genetic diversity happen, we are placing foolish faith in unaccountable stakeholders. That is a manifestation of my worldview. Your belief is that…well, I don’t want to speak for you.

        The Gros Michele was said to be a superior banana to the Cavendish in every respect. But we just go on eating Cavendish anyway, even as it succumbs to a new blight, and we still have no successor. I’d love to taste a Gros Michele someday.

        I go on. If your worldview informs you that the best of all possible worlds is one that is engineered to the nth degree, and all products and endeavors are hyper-specialized for maximum efficiency, why bother with cows? Surely we can do better, in terms of efficiency, than to screw around with a beast that was created entirely by accident of evolution. What about a textured, flavored Soylent®? Or protein from insects, algae, or yeast?

        The technology already exists. All that’s stopping us from deploying it is an irrational belief in our need for…what? Diversity?

The cost of things

It’s become apparent that I think a lot about the cost of things. I write about the cost of water, bitch about the cost of opening a restaurant, and needle people about the cost of their cookware. I know it’s unseemly to inquire about the cost of things in conversation. I know that the phrase  “Nice! What’d you pay for that knife/camera/boathouse?,” is a bit of a turnoff to my friends who a more firmly and comfortably ensconced in their middle class position, but I don’t care. You see, the cost of a thing is the key data point that determines it’s value. Every value proposition has one variable that always matters: price.

Of course, there are plenty of other variables that are much harder to measure, and some of those may be unmeasurable. We could put the price of the boathouse in the numerator’s position over the number of of vacations taken in hotels and resorts over a lifetime to derive one facet of the value proposition. Of course some data points, as Visa informed us, can’t really be given monetary values. One might say: “I taught my son to fish here in this boathouse, and some day it will be his,” with a haughty bourgie voice. I’d reply: “You can’t really relax in a place that you own, because you constantly have to look around at all the cleaning and upkeep required. And you have to either do that work, or pay for it.” In other words, you’re throwing your money at the bourgeois illusion of great wealth, at the fantasy that money doesn’t matter. To be sure, there are people for whom money does not matter, for whom the value proposition might not even be interesting as an intellectual exercise. Because for them money is not only not an object, it’s not even a data point. I don’t think that I know any of those people.

Which brings me to cookbook writers, some of whom I imagine do OK in that vastly overcrowded literary field, but I can’t imagine that many of them ever get “money isn’t even a data point” rich. Yet they somehow always buy “the best ingredients,” and insist that their readers do the same. You know: the best olive oil, the best balsamic vinegar, the very best salt, the best cut of meat and on and on. Sometimes the very best makes a difference. Sometimes it’s just the laziness of lifestyle aspirational food writing.

Case in point: Tamar Adler’s mayo. She worked at Chez Panisse. She’s written for the New Yorker and Harpers and Food and Wine. She’s a big fucking deal. But if I could just whisper something in your ear here, over here where she can’t hear us in this dark little corner of the internet. You see this part here where it says in the ingredients list: “2 cups best olive oil around, plus more on hand”? Don’t listen to that. That’s nothing but bourgie aspirations talking.

You know the olive oil she’s talking about: comes in a 500 ml bottle, costs $20 for that; is bitter (“spicy,” as the chefs describe it). 500 ml is just over two cups, making that a $20 small jar of mayo. And you know what? Really expensive olive oil—the kind they give you a precious little dish of, for to dip your two measly slices of crusty bread at fancy restaurant—makes terrible mayo. Especially when you combine it with the requisite lemon juice, you get an unpalatably bitter spread that overwhelms the flavor of just about everything you put it on. How do I know this? Because of mayonnaise mistakes I’ve made in those fancy restaurants.  Use the cheap stuff that comes from a gallon can. This stuff is generally fresh, and buttery, or vegetal, or grassy—anything but bitter. And cut that by at least half with a neutral oil, like Wesson or whatever cheap stuff you use to cook with. You only have spicy, expensive EVOO? You’re reading the wrong blog.

I haven’t read Mrs. Adler’s cookbook, but I wonder if she has you brine with fleur de sel, or pickle vegetables in authentic aceto balsamico bought by the precious milliliter directly from some Modena grandfather’s attic? I wonder if “when it’s gotta be tender,” in her rarified world, “it’s gotta be tenderloin”?

I’d like to be able to tell you, as I was originally planning, that you can make a decent mayonnaise with soybean oil, commodity eggs, white vinegar, and yellow mustard, and this will make a fine fatty sandwich spread, provided the oil is fresh. However you may as well just use Best Food’s mayo in this case. They have some “natural flavorings” that make it better than what I can do on a budget.

mayonnaise bowl set up

That’ll stay.


Gangster of Food’s adaptation of Tamar Adler’s Mayo:

2 eggs see note

3/4 teaspoon salt  salt to taste

1/8 teaspoon dijon mustard or more yellow mustard if that’s what you got.

2 cups best olive oil around, plus more if the mayonnaise is too wobbly when your done 1/2 cup cheap virgin olive oil/ 1 1/2 cups neutral oil. If you don’t have the olive oil, just use all neutral oil. Oil must be fresh! 

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon room temperature water maybe a tiny bit of water

3/4 teaspoon (a squeeze) fresh lemon juice

1 drop red wine vinegar healthy splash white wine vinegar or a smaller splash of white vinegar.

splash of hot sauce (tabasco would be best)

I’m not going to keep up this charade of plagiarizing and needling my betters. Here’s the method:

Get a decent whisk (balloon whisk, preferably. Those weird spring whisks might have a hard time here), a damp towel, and a largish mixing bowl. You might also need another, smaller ceramic bowl.

What’s important is that the mayo end up thicker than what you want, so that you can adjust the flavor at the end with more vinegar or water.

Suck whisk.

Separate the eggs (use your hands; it feels good) and put the egg yolks in a large bowl, and put the bowl on top of a damp towel to stabilize it. Put the whites aside somewhere. Add the mustard and splash of hot sauce to the yolks and mix it all together with the whisk.

Mix the oils together in a liquid measuring cup, or anything with a pour spout so that you can control the flow into the bowl. As you whisk the eggs in the bottom of the bowl, start adding the oil in a slow drizzle. If, despite the towel, the bowl wants to careen all over the counter and spill, lay the towel over another, smaller bowl and put that under the large bowl. If you add too much oil at once, stop whisking, tilt the bowl so that the oil pools to one side, and whisk the egg mass separately, slowly incorporating the oil from the pool.

As the eggs get thick and want to stand up on their own, add a squeeze of lemon juice or a tiny splash of vinegar to keep things kind of loose. The water in the liquid is what really makes the emulsion and if it gets too tight, it will break. Keep going like this: oil for a while, then liquid, then oil, then liquid, until the oil is all used up. You want to end up with a mayo that’s much thicker than what you really want so that you can adjust the final product with more acidity or water, depending on what you need, and not end up with a loosey goosey sauce.

Season to taste with salt and vinegar or water, depending on how you like it.

mayonaise tamar adler

That’s thick!

A note on the raw eggs:

Lot’s of bloggers and aspirational food writers go on and on about the quality of their free-range (pasture-raised) eggs and claim that’s why they feel safe eating raw eggs. Maybe. I personally buy pasture-raised eggs most of the time, but that’s because I really believe that the American food production machine is all fucked up, and it’s worth a little financial pain on my part to help right those wrongs. Also, they usually taste better. Fact is though, even industrially produced eggs have a very low incidence of salmonella. About one in 20,000 eggs is internally contaminated with Salmonella, and even if you lose against those awesome odds, it’s unlikely you’d get sick if you follow good hygiene in every other way.





Graywater Gangster

Columbia River Bonneville dam

Fresh Water

Reason why I’m called the “Gangster” of food, as opposed to “Hip Foodie Daddy” or “Househusband of Gastronomy” is because, unlike those guys, I’m not afraid of doing almost anything in pursuit of food procurance and preparation.

Take, for example, my garden. The house is poorly laid out for sun exposure (a blessing in this heat) and the soil is like something from a novel about the struggle of the peasantry: stony, heavy, unproductive. So I did what a Gangster of Food would do and built a 40- foot-long by 6-foot-wide by 22-inch-deep raised bed in the parking strip. I rented a six yard dump truck to get the dirt, which was a comic farce that will have to be put down in ink some other day.

Illegal raised bed

Not to Code

Shortly after I raised this behemoth of a planter box, the City of Portland drafted some new regulations on exactly these types of structures, and mine doesn’t meet the code in any conceivable way. I’m still waiting for the Maoists down at the Bureau of Transportation to swing by and tell me to knock it down. And with the influx of a more affluent and conventional bourgeoisie, I expect that visit to occur pretty soon. But beware party loyalists, you will regret the decision to inform on me to your city-planning apparatchiks, ’cause I got a load of crushed pumice rock and cacti to replace that lush, roadside oasis.

Childish? Nay, Gangster. You can’t be a gangster if you don’t retaliate.

This summer is hotter than usual, you may have noticed. Heat makes everything thirsty, especially plants. Now I’m not one of these anti-turf gangsters, who preaches the importance of an edible, native, low-water landscape. I like a section of turf to lay in and watch the kid run around and play, without worrying she’ll skin her knees like a miniature world cup competitor. Bad turf is no fun play on. FIFA knows it, I know it, and the ladies of the World Cup know it. So I have to water it, with drinking-quality water provided by the fifth most expensive municipal water system in the US.

Rock Garden

Lush Roadside Oasis

Rather than be afraid, I’ve taken it on to bail my laundry water out to the yard. I’m not sure how you feel about greywater, and I’m not sure that I care. In our lifetimes it will become nearly unthinkable, and perhaps illegal, to grow a garden with potable water from the municipal supply. Some believe that our fortunate hydrological situation is a permanent feature of the Pacific Northwest, but the current weather patterns, although quite possibly coincidental and short term, should give one pause. Even if our rainfall, snowpack, and river levels hold up over time, I’m sure everyone is aware that we’re going to have a larger population to share it with, especially when fueled by speculation that, in a warming world, this is possibly the most meteorologically optimistic place to be in the lower 48. Thanks again, Times.

Sure, we still have the 4th largest river in the United States, when measured by discharge at the mouth (gross, get some lysine on that mouth), but I wonder how many cubic feet per minute the Colorado River would add to the Pacific, if it could get there at all.

Barge on the Columbia

Fourth Largest River

In other words: California’s drought, apparently in its 13th year, is our drought. So, I’m getting ready for that inevitability, and saving a few bucks, by hauling the dirty water out and dumping it onto the lawn, and some of the perennials. I’m not that crazy about using it on the vegetables since, you know, fecal bacteria and all. Turns out I shouldn’t even worry about that.

“But how could you let your kid play on that disease-laden turf? Her next knee scrape could go septic! She could die from gangrene!” Yeah, and when she drinks her bathwater from the dank and moldering interior of a squeaking duck toy, she could infect herself with a rotavirus and die of dehydration. Life is full of risks, this is not one that I’m worried about, especially when faced with the one, single fact that matters more than this whole heaping pile of useless studies on “fecal coliform loads” and “pathogen exposure risks”: There hasn’t been one documented case of someone getting sick from greywater exposure.

That the State of Oregon is worried about these hypothetical risks is evident in their preening, hyper-vigilant regulation of the substance they have decided to call graywater (as opposed to the multitude of alternate spellings: greywater, gray water, grey water). Once again, even with my super-primitive system of buckets and time, I am not in compliance. My dream of a simple graywater system, costing maybe $300 in materials, and requiring a weekend or two of hard work, is equally noncompliant. I envisioned just cutting into the lavatory and bath drains, equipping the diversions with valves to divert to the sewer in the rainy season, and sending it all out to a system of water barrels and a couple of ¾ inch hoses to divert the water wherever I need it that day. That “tier 1” graywater system could buy me a visit from the gangsters at the DEQ. They’re like my rival gang.

Washing machine interior

To a plant, that looks appetizing.

The group Recode declared victory in 2012 when the State of Oregon released it’s regulations for external graywater reuse, but a close reading of the declaration makes it obvious that the victory is so limited and circumscribed that to the average homeowner, the situation hasn’t really changed. Recode imagines that an association of 20 or 30 homes could share the burden of a $1500 “tier 3” graywater permit, and the burden of an $800 annual renewal fee. The utopian neighborhood would share a greenhouse, a pond, and a central irrigation station, at a modest permitting cost. It sounds great! Except, that’s not the infrastructure that’s here. On my block we have 16 homes, and those are largely occupied by people who barely speak to one another. I’d be lucky to find two families interested in such a scenario.

Gangster, you’re getting aead of yourself. What are these ‘tiers’ you speak of?”

Indeed! Let’s go backwards. Tier 3 is the most complex and costly of the graywater scenarios. It involves filtering the water first through a physical filter like sand or gravel or an artificial medium to remove the larger solids. The second filtration method can consist of either a “performance-based treatment” or a “technology- based treatment” to further remove suspended solids and to remove or break down much of the dissolved organic matter. “Performance-based” means DIY and implies a biological processing—think miniature, containerized wetland—while “technology-based” means off-the-shelf—think expensive metal contraption. This sounds wonderful! I have always been fascinated by the idea of creating tiered series of aquatic planters, gently cascading from one to the next, brimming with reeds and cattails. Gorgeous! But the last step in the Tier 3 process involves chemical disinfection. Now, since you’ve made potable water from bathwater, you can feel free to use it however you like. I have a better idea: just let it flow down the drain and the city will filter and return it to the hydrological cycle. It will come back as clean rain.

Now, if you forego this chemical disinfection process, and just do the first and second stage treatments, you can disperse this water with a drip irrigation system. Alright, I’d rather just put a ¾ inch hose on the end and let the water flow where I need it, but I could work this out.

Price tag to get started on this “tier 2” graywater system: $582. That’s just for the permit and review process from the Oregon State DEQ. I still have to plumb the house to get the water from my fixtures (washing machine, lavatory sink, and bathtub) out of my house. To get the water to a place where it can flow through the system by gravity, I’m probably going to need a sump box and pump. All the diversions are going to require back flow preventers and diverter valves so that it can be sent down the drain in the wet months. According to Portland’s Bureau of Development Services fee schedule, that’s gonna be about a $300 permit. So, without having so much as picked up a hacksaw, I’m down nearly a grand. Surely there must be an easier and cheaper way.

There is! The “tier 1” permit is the most basic and involves just sending that dirty water out to the landscape. A $90 initial permitting fee, and a yearly renewal of $50, unless you want to submit an annual report? Okay, not so bad, we could just stick the washing machine drain out of a hole in the wall. But then we get to this bit that says that all “tier 1” graywater must be released at least 2″ below grade…now that is a sticking point. So, in order to use my bathwater to irrigate my lawn, I’d have to tear up the whole landscape and install subsurface plumbing. That’d take me all summer. I know that the intention isn’t that I’d do it myself. This is the New Portland, gone is the chaotic DIY spirit of the past. The dream of the ’90’s is in fact just a dream! Specialization reigns! The Bureau of Development Services and the DEQ figure that, if I wanted to save a little money, I’d call the plumber and the landscape architect myself, rather than hiring a general contractor. Let’s face it though: I may be saving water, but I’m not saving any money that way. I spend about $100 more a month during the dry season over the wet season. Assuming I can make the graywater do all of my irrigation, a generous assumption, that’s a savings of about $300 a year.

Let’s be crazy and say that the plumber is both cheap and reliable, and only charges $1000 in materials and labor to install diversion valves and drains from the bath, the lavatory sink, the dishwasher, and the washing machine to the exterior. With the permits, and interior plumbing, I’m up to $1400. Let’s say I’m an especially enterprising (and frugal) Portlander with a spark of the dream of the ’90’s left in my decaying old frame, and I figure I can set up the pump and gravity feed system on the outside of the house.

Outside, I’m going to need maybe four 55 gallon drums, some PVC and some valves, and a sump pump to get the water from subsurface to above grade, because now I’m going to need that gravity pressure to push it through these buried pipes and into the soil. If I find the drums cheap on CraigsList, and get a sump pump from the Depot, that’s another $250. Some people seem to think that your washing machine pump, in a simple system using only the laundry water, could push the water up to grade and through the lines. Have fun replacing your washing machine pump every couple of years. Even if you have enough subsurface pipe to hold 20 gallons of water (what my washing machine uses per cycle stage), and holes big enough to emit that water without getting plugged by lint, biofilm, detergent scum, or root incursions (I mean, WTF, right?), how are you going to ensure that the water disperses evenly along the length of the run, rather than just dump out at the beginning or the end? Whatever, we’re saving the environment! That’s the added value!

Now, we have to pay our landscape professional to not only design the layout of the subsurface watering system, and the landscape that will go back in above it, but to dig the trenches and lay the drip line. The line itself is only about $100 for 500 ft, But if we want to water the grass this way, and we do since we aren’t saving shit for water just irrigating those deep-rooted perennials, we might need 1000 ft or so to distribute it. Without actually making a guy come out to give me an estimate, I’m going to (very generously!) guess $1000 for that work.

To recap:

Plumbing permit
Greywater permit
Distribution materials
Drip Line
Landscaper and architect

Oh, wait, I forgot running the electric line for the pump! And the electric permit! And the fittings for the drip line! Whatever, we’re already up to nearly 10 years before we can see a return on this investment. It’d be money better spent on almost anything else.

Gangster, why don’t you just use rain barrels and harvest the rain like everyone else?”

Oh, okay. I suppose I could put maybe six 55 gallon drums outside, and harvest the rain from September through June, and use all 330 gallon up in the first two weeks of July. Then they can sit there and take up space (but make me look like a real environmentalist) until it starts to rain again. I’m pretty sure the rain barrel people haven’t thought too hard about the real utility of those things.

I sound like such a tea party moron, don’t I? Down with regulations! Down with the state! I need my FREEDOM!

No, I believe in the power of government to protect society from the individual. I do believe that individual freedom needs to be balanced against social freedom. I’m all for smart regulations that preserve a high quality of life for all. I am not for regulations that restrict an individual’s activities based upon marginal and/or hypothetical risks. Hypothetically, I’m creating an elevated risk of disease transmission when I forget my towel in the bathroom, and have to run from the tub with wet feet. Hypothetically, a dish sponge should be disposed of four hours after it’s first use. Hypothetically, the filthy, shitting cat is an absolutely untenable disease risk. I’ve been trained in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) protocols—you people don’t know who you’re fucking with.

All of which is to say that dumping wash water on the lawn is hardly more of a risk than wearing shoes inside the house. Actually, it’s less of a risk. The lawn is at least subjected to fresh air and sunlight all day, every day of the summer months. The floor just festers until it’s washed. If the State really wanted people to reuse their water, they’d give them a financial incentive to do so. What we have instead is a system that locally penalizes water use through high rates, and on a state level disincentivizes smart landscape irrigation through high permitting fees and unnecessarily complicated filtration and disbursal systems.

You’re not just willing to take my word for it though, are you? “Where’s the proof, Gangster? We demand Science, not just the unhinged raving of a guy who bails his wash water.”


Looks sinister; Tastes great!

Alright, here’s a thesis paper in which the author irrigated three types of crops: roots, leaves, and fruits, with graywater, and a control group of the same with potable water. Although the graywater was crawling with disgusting fecal micro-organisms, the crops irrigated with the graywater were still apparently safe to eat. I still wouldn’t irrigate my carrots with untreated graywater, but good to know that I probably could.

Here’s a fun group who ran a probability model (a hypothetical projection), of the risks posed by the fact that drought-stressed Australians use graywater to water their lettuce, and some of them fail to wash that dirty lettuce. They looked specifically at norovirus—the stomach flu—and found that the additional risk added up to a little less than one extra case of stomach flu per person, every 33 years. They also looked at “the amount of faeces per pair of underwear.” Now, how are we going to trust a bunch of dirty bum-sniffers like that?

Here, the study authors irrigated several plots with biologically-treated graywater, and several others with tap water, then they tested the soil to see which one had more pathogens. The result? You know the result: dirt is dirty, whatever kind of water you dump on it.

Here again, graywater irrigated plots were analyzed for pathogens and pathogen indicators and compared to plots irrigated with freshwater. “Noise”, such as bird droppings, made the freshwater irrigated control groups sometimes more fecal-contaminated than the experimental sites. In addition, the graywater sites with highly sophisticated filtration systems were as pathogenically rich as those that simply involved hooking a water hose to the washing machine.

Reading studies like this one from the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control give the reader the sense that the purpose of these exercises is merely to imagine problems for which technological solutions can be invented.

Finally, let’s face the disgusting reality that graywater in France is probably much cleaner than here in the land of the dirty-bum. I mean, if you washed your ass after using it, there would be precious little fecal matter to get onto your panties, and into your wash.

Could graywater hurt the soil though, Gansgter?

Look, I don’t have time to hold your hand through this whole thing, but let me break it down to you: not unless you put bleach or something in your greywater. I personally use all these expensive “natural” plant-based soaps and detergents, despite my deep suspicions that they really do nothing except make us feel good about ourselves. Speculation suggests that sodium, boron, and phosphates might accumulate in the soil, but that hasn’t been born out in these studies. Furthermore, we live in Western Oregon. Nothing has very long to build up in the soil before being flushed out by months of rains.

But here’s a meta-analysis for you: “most studies that have examined the impacts of wastewater effluent have shown a benefit to soil microbial communities due to the inputs of organic matter and nutrients.” No wonder my turf is starting to look green again.

green grass

Green grass, great times

Steak with croutons

Steak Panzanella saladWe celebrated the slaughter of the cow, and the maturation of the the tomato ferment with the quintessential, the quinciñera, the dodecahedron of all summer dinners: Grilled steak over panzanella and fermented bloody Marys.

This will become one of my new American classics, when I finally get around to winning, and I shouldn’t just be putting it out there for the vultures of the internet to ignore, but I haven’t talked straight to you in so long. Instead, we (you and me) have conversations like this:

You: “Gangster, how do I make delicious pickles like you?”

Me: “This West Bank Situation is pretty outrageous, huh?”

You: “Gangster, can I get some tips on the best products at the grocery store?”

Me: “Don’t you think we’ve taken this social media shaming thing a bit too far?”

You: “Gangster, for the love of god how do I buy a good cut of meat?”

Me: “It’s weird how we profess to admire creativity, but fail to economically reward people who pursue creative work, huh?”

You: “Alright, I’m done, you pretentious, pseudo-intellectual prick. You don’t even know what you’re good for.”

But I’m going to make it up to you. I’m giving you my express permission to eat tomatoes in June! We’re only doing this tomatoes in June thing because of the damn weather, we deserve to eat tomatoes when it’s 95 degrees for two weeks straight. It wants to act like LA, we gonna eat like… well we’re going to eat like hot Portlanders in the heat. We’re gonna eat panzanella, with steak.

Yeah, you know, panzanella: making old bread sound healthy since the seventeenth century. The classic, according to the most reliable sources on the internet, is just stale bread soaked in water, tossed with onions in olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Sounds disgusting, no? That bread soaked in water thing, that’s what I don’t get. Instead, I break the (really very) stale bread into chunks, by hand if possible, toss them in a prodigious quantity of garlic-infused olive oil (heat the oil real quick with the chopped garlic, strain), season well, and grill until golden. Toss that with some tomatoes in big chunks, or just in half if they’re cherry-sized, some sliced Walla Walla onions, and tons of basil. Let that sit while you grill a huge steak. Take the steak from the grill and let it rest on the “salad.” After ten minutes you slice the steak on a hard bias and lay that beautiful bloody mess out on top of that meat- juice-soaked bread.

steak salad with panzanella

Oh god, it’s good to think about even though I’ve already gone and glutted myself.

I avoid balsamic vinegar like the brown acid at Woodstock, but I make an exception here, and just splash a little over the top. I’m sure that’s not traditional, but neither is the steak, so fuck the Tuscans. What do they know about cooking?

What I’ve fantasized about for so long was having a rare steak with a bloody mary, so I finally did. Last year, on the advice of a dude named Favero Greenleaf, a poster on Sandor Katz’s blog, I took a bunch of overripe tomatoes, sliced them into quarters and salted and layered them in a crock. After two weeks or so of carefully skimming the scum from the top every day (this is vitally important), I pounded them through a conical strainer and bottled them up. Pour a little layer of olive oil in, put an airlock, or just an overturned ramekin, on top and let it sit in the basement for a year. If that sounds dirty and bad, it’s because you’re really too uptight.

tomato bloody mary

This stuff is intense like heroin. I used half fermented tomato, half other tomato. By “other,” I mean whatever I had laying around in the fridge: a little juice from those delicious Mutti canned cherry tomatoes, a little tomato paste, and some chopped-up canned stewed tomatoes. Then it’s just a bloody mary: Worcestershire, lemon, horseradish, Tabasco, salt and pepper, vodka. Favero Greenleaf mentioned sipping it through a little piece of lovage stem, so I did that too.

I know we’re not even, and that’s why I’m going to help you through this heat wave, assuming it ends next week or so. Tonight you eat steak and bread, tomorrow, razor clams al ajillo!

T-bone beef

I’m gonna chew on that bone for lunch.



Cherry, Let’s Bounce

Cherry season is nearly upon us, and although the Northwest is primarily known for the harvests of sweet Bings and Rainiers, we all know what to do with those: eat them. They make terrible pies and bland jam. They just can’t be cooked. The only uses I have for sweet cherries besides eating out of hand is fermentation (see Double Mountain’s delicious, but now outrageously expensive, krieks), pickling (in vinegar, sugar, and spice—to serve with charcuterie) and, too a much lesser extent, preserving in booze (to get drunk on, out of hand, in the depths of a moldering winter). Sour cherries though, I got an idea for those.

You’ve heard of cherry bounce, that often wretchedly sweet blend of eating cherries and brandy or bourbon. Well, that’s just some slop people call cherry bounce in the amnesiac age, where disruption is indisputably virtuous, and hacking means you’re doing it right. Well, we got neither patience nor palate for that mess. We’re going to make cherry bounce the right way, the old school way, the Sheila Hibben way.

Sheila is kind of my hero of depression-era food writing. Even back then, she could see that American gastronomy was being hijacked by the technological gee-whiz of the industrial revolution and she, like me, had no misgivings about letting people have the tongue lashing they so richly deserve: “refrigeration and good canning mean progress, but before now, in many fields, progress has upset the apple-cart of permanent and enduring standards.” Boom! How’s that disruption taste now, Rob Rheinhart, Mark Post, Frederic Tudor? Not as good as this is going to be…

Bella Organics on Sauvie Island, that riot of Ray Bans, BOB strollers, and microbrews has a secret stand of sour cherry trees that they don’t even know about. You have to climb up into these perilously tall trees with a fruit picker’s ladder, and drop the cherries down into the bucket below, because you’re going to be too busy fighting your way through the cherry branches to get to the cherries hidden inside to deal with a damn bucket. Get a lot, since this is the lowest tech, most primitive and simple preservation method you’ve yet heard of. You could probably slip a microchip in the process somewhere to make it “smart,” but that would be dumb.

sour cherries bounce

Watch your eyes!

Fill a gallon jar with the stemmed but whole sour cherries and pour a fifth of rye whiskey over the top. Put something over the fruit to weight it down. Let it sit for three months or until you get to it again. Dead simple.

Sheila wants you to pour off the booze (and reserve it, of course), mash the cherries, and take care to break some of the pits. This is important. When broken, cherry pits release benzaldehyde, a cyanide precursor, and a little cyanide. This benzaldehyde is the flavor of almond extract. I normally despise this flavor, but here it’s subtle, and goes nice with the cherries. Then she wants us to strain it all through a flannel bag. Old school flannel bag. Here’s where I use a modern convenience that I hope Sheila would be okay with: the food processor. My weak little 21st century arms find all this crushing and squeezing too taxing. I just want to sink down into the smart sofa with a tablet device and pretend to be doing something super primitive and manly like building fortifications or engaging in armed combat

So after we lug that heavy anachronism of a kitchen tool (food processor? Ugh, so not modern) back into the cabinet, we pour the slurry into a conical strainer and pound it through with a pestle or rolling pin or something. Alternatively, you could probably find an old flannel from the ’90’s and squeeze it through that, don’t mind the fake blood stain from your last GWAR show, or the scent of marijuana and Manic Panic. You could also just line a wire strainer with a couple layers of cheesecloth, pour the cherry slurry in, and let it drip through into a bowl overnight. To summarize: extract the liquid from the solids. Then mix the booze back in to the juice.

Sheila wants us to sweeten the booze with “1/2 pound of sugar” “for every quart” of booze. Although I, more than most, appreciate a grandmotherly hand with the sugar, here again we part ways. Make a simple syrup (with as little water as you can get away with) and sweeten the bounce to taste. To my taste, it should resemble a dry cherry lemonade, so maybe half as much sugar as Sheila wants. If you’ve done it right to this point—tricky considering that you’ve had only this block of text rather than a video or an app to guide you through the process—you’re going to want to drink it all right now to shut out the dystopian scenario that your home has become. Don’t do that. Put it in bottles, cork it, and let it sit in the basement for a few more months. Better yet, let it sit a few years until the robots come to take your job away. You can take it with you when the robot sheriff comes on behalf of Bryncorps Financial to evict you from your home, and drink it on the banks of the Sandy River, since that’s the only place the new gentry (the robotic robot designers, programmers, and engineers) will allow homeless humans to stay without fear of being sentenced to hard labor in the scrapyards

cherry bounce in the glass

Robots cannot appreciate this stuff.

While sitting there in the fading light of a perpetually smoggy day at the edge of a garbage-strewn, fluorescent orange river (robots have no need for environmental protections), you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the ruby hue of the cherry bounce, while relaxing under the shelter of a beat-up old Arcteryx hardshell held up by a couple of ski poles; the color of a ruby port. The slightly oxidized aroma and fore-palate should remind you of that bygone era (right now) when dry sherries were all the rage. Finishing off a small glass will feel as refreshing as a lemonade did, back in the days when lemons were plentiful because the subtropics still had plenty of water, and agriculture was still an anthropocentric enterprise. That was before the robots turned vast tracts of arable land into canola and soybeans for biofuels and industrial lubricants, and forced humans to survive on algae and cicada gruel, with the occasional dollop of vegetable butter. Efficiencies.

Fermenting Resolution

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? Drink more? Philander? Eat shittier food? Good ideas all!

Especially this “eat shittier food,” because you know what I love? What I have always loved? I love those cheap hamburger dill slices they put on top of hamburgers at virtually every fast food joint in the country. I’ve worked at a couple of those awful “bistros” (the early 90’s midwestern equivalent of upscale casual) where they serve the typical American city menu of burgers, grilled chicken, fajitas, caesars, a handful of pastas, and maybe a few atrocities that the “chef” (glorified kitchen manager) thought up on his own. Those kind of pickles usually make their appearance in places like these as a garnish atop the hideously wilted shred of green leaf, right alongside the crunchy pink tomato slice. I’d say they’re generally the most edible things on the premises. The diners may love it when their chicken fettucine alfredo is delivered with a flourish by a dude with a secret barbiturate habit and at least one venereal disease, but it don’t look so appetizing when you pull the pre-grilled chicken strips out of a little plastic baggie, where they were placed three days ago, and toss them with the equally old pre-boiled pasta, canned chopped garlic, and pre-shredded parmesan. The pickles are clean and pristine.

I’d always assumed these pickles were just quick pickled: tossed in a vinegar bath with some kind of calcium-based crisping agent and canned. Au contrair! They are in fact industrially produced in the hippest, most self-consciously artisanal method of 21st century food faddism: fermentation. The USDA does a ton of research on vegetable fermentation in order to devise and modify regulations for the fermented pickle industry. Artisan pickle producers: you have been found out! Your $10 pickle quarts will be a thing of the past when trendy foodies everywhere wake up and smell the lactic fermentation on their Wendy’s hamburgers. Although, it should be obvious to everyone by now that there is no earthly reason why a quart of pickles should cost $10.

Of course, Food Services of America will never be able to slap the label “small batch” on the sides of their white, five-gallon pickle buckets since they typically ferment in 30,000 to 40,000 liter tanks. But what disqualifies them from the label “artisanal”?

Pickle vats at the Mt Olive Pickle Company; scientists in funny pants. Photo by Robert Flynn for the USDA.

Pickle vats at the Mt Olive Pickle Company; scientists in funny pants. Photo by Robert Flynn for the USDA.


See those? Those are are the open-air, wood fermentation vats at Mt Olive Pickle Company, the largest independent pickle producer on the United States. Looks old world—artisan even. Of course they go and junk up the final product with corn syrup and yellow dye and Splenda. In fact, they proudly let you know on the website that they were the first food processor in the US to use high fructose corn syrup way back in 1969. In any case, shouldn’t the small-batch, artisan pickle cost less than the Mount Olive pickle since it doesn’t have polysorbate 80 or yellow #5? That stuff doesn’t grow on trees you know.

What’s nuts is that the research done by the USDA at their Agricultural Research Station in North Carolina, a lot of it in conjunction with the Mount Olive Pickle Company, has led them to the conclusion that vegetable fermentation is really, exceptionally safe. So safe that those five gallon pickle buckets aren’t even pasteurized. Sandor Katz likes to quote a USDA microbiologist named Fred Breidt as saying that: “There has never been a documented case of foodborne illness from fermented vegetables. Risky is not a word I would use to describe vegetable fermentation.” Whoa!

Actually though, there was the older California woman, first generation immigrant of Southeast Asian descent, who nearly killed both herself and her husband by leaving a bowl of tofu sitting on the counter in some chicken stock for a week, then eating it. Apparently, she had been preparing that recipe her whole life and this was the first time she had any problem. So even that risky-sounding procedure is usually just fine.

Leaving a fermented pickle fanatic to wonder: if fermentation is so safe and easy, why don’t more restaurants around here serve house-made sour pickles, rather than the usually painfully acetic and otherwise unexceptional little quick pickles that they so often do? I honestly don’t know. After reading this article in the Oregonian where Jason French and Ben Meyer claim that the state essentially forbids restaurants from fermenting their own vegetables, I got curious and did a little research.

I called the Oregon Department of Agriculture and asked them and they said nay: if they did regulate restaurants, which they largely do not, acidified foods are lightly regulated. So I called the county health department. Indeed, the old grouch on the line informed me, you can pour cold brine on vegetables and put it in the walk-in, and keep it there indefinitely.

I said that I didn’t think vegetables would ferment at walk-in temperatures. She insisted they would. I said that, maybe they would, but it would take a long time. She said that to do it otherwise would require a variance, and she made it clear that I didn’t want to try to get a variance. I asked how I could get a variance, and she gave me the number for a woman at the State Food Program. Aha! The state!

So I called Erica at the state. She said that yes, you can ferment vegetables in a restaurant, in the normal way, at room temperature, and then store them indefinitely. The people at the county are confused. She said that she would get on the line with them and set them straight.

So diners, chefs, restaurateurs, I removed the obstruction to the floodgates; you may now proceed with the tsunami of proper pickling. You’re welcome.



7 Other Donuts

Flickr user Ewan Munro. Thanks Ewan!

Flickr user Ewan Munro. Thanks Ewan!

I’ve been busy writing listicles is why I’ve been gone for so long. That and Christmas. That and I was preparing a real fire and brimstone sermon to rain down upon you people about the ethics of eating meat and, after struggling with it for two weeks, I decided ethics was way above my pay grade. If you’re wondering if it’s okay to eat meat, just look in your heart, then look in your maw, and you’ll find all you need to know.

My last published list was about donuts. I struggled with the title, as I really wanted to say something about the pink boxes and stuff, but feared the retaliation of the social media mob. So I just went with “7 Other Portland Donuts,” which the fools at Listicle Central lengthened to “7 Other SPECTACULAR Portland donuts,” which, besides the absurdity of it, doesn’t even capture the spirit of my title.

Photo Courtesy of Yelp User Courtesy of Yelp user Tammy G. Yes, I actually asked for and received permission to use this. photo I hope you're reading this cheeseburger blog  blogger girl.

Before you even ask , yes, I’ve been to Annie’s. Photo Courtesy of Yelp user Tammy G. Yes, I actually asked for and received permission to use this photo. 
I hope you’re reading this, cheeseburger blogger girl.

I really did just taste and comment upon each of the donut shops I tried, although it was far from neutral. Bottom of the pack was Blue Star, whose donuts share some qualities with matzoh. I just tried that guy’s fried chicken shack last week too, and it was an even bigger disappointment than his dusty ass donuts.

I tried to make it to Delicious Donuts, but they were closed due to scarcity of donuts. Pip’s kind of disappoints me after this donut ordeal. They’re so gentle and soft. Annie’s is still fine. But the very best donuts of all, the donuts that I hold in my mind’s tongue to savor when I’m lonely, come from Coco Donuts. I never craved donuts before. That’s because a donut never really picked me up like that. A donut never really believed in me.   


Cell phone photo of my new girlfriend. Later Annie.


Coleslaw, it ain’t 1996!

The best thing about this blog is it’s utter lack of direction and focus. I just get on the computer and write about whatever has seized me with such force that I feel compelled to electronically log it for posterity, as if the electronic written word will still exist in posterity. Today, it’s the secrets of coleslaw. I’ve had your coleslaw, and it sucks.

Don’t feel bad—mine did too. I’d made mushy slaw, too-chunky slaw, too-sour slaw, too-creamy slaw, too-rich slaw. I tried salting and draining like Tom Douglas suggests. That slaw is way too rich. I went through the chunky, hand-cut phase back before it was cool, and decided that what I do not enjoy wrestling with my tongue is big chunks of raw cabbage. I went through a box grated cabbage phase, because I’ve decided that I’m really old-fashioned, but you still have the problem of mushiness and wateriness. I wanted a slaw that was crisp and refreshing, but with that traditional sweet/sour/creamy balance.

Fancy vinegars I’ve tried. I probably got more fancy vinegars that you do, and none are right. Heinz white distilled has got the straightforward acetic acid kick I want. It lets the cabbage and carrot sweetness shine through without ostentatiously announcing itself, trying to make everything into something it’s not. Same goes for the sweetener: granulated white sugar doesn’t put on airs. Honey is way too aromatic. We’re trying to make a cohesive whole, not slam a bunch of stuff together in a bowl like fancy chefs. We’re not trying to be clever. We’re trying to be happy and satisfied.

The fat is more complicated. Mayonnaise is essential for that palate-coating creaminess, but it’s a little one-dimensional. Buttermilk is pretty good, but it’s kind of assertive with funk, and it gets a little thin with the vinegar. I like the dressing to really cling to the cabbage, even when it starts to give up it’s water. Sour cream is cloying. Although laughably nontraditional, plain, full-fat yogurt is perfect. I usually go maybe a little heavier mayo than an even split.

The biggest challenge is still the cabbage itself. It does have too much water, but salting it and wringing it dry makes an overwhelmingly rich slaw, and it still gets mushy. Coleslaw is practically synonymous with crispness in my imagination, so I took a lesson from the quick picklers of yore. I have a bunch of pickling lime from my homemade mineral water projects, and that’s what lime—Ca(OH)2, not the fruit—is for, making vegetables crunchy. The USDA recommends against using lime in pickling since it lowers the pH, and makes the process more risky, but coleslaw don’t need to keep for but a few days at most.

Those plates, those are  lime crystals.

Those plates, those are lime crystals.

So here’s what I do now: I slice the cabbage and carrots thin and long, by hand, since I’ve had some decent hand-cut slaws more recently. I salt the cabbage well (maybe two tablespoons salt per head) and let it sit for a half hour before squeezing gently to get some of the excess water out. I don’t want to bruise the fuck out of it and make it impossible to crisp up. Then I put the cabbage into a bowl with a few cups of cold water and a tablespoon of pickling lime, and let it sit in there for fifteen minutes or so. Then I drain it and spin it. The cabbage is now crisp as glass. Careful.

Toss that with the dressing. I do mine with maybe a tablespoon+ of mayo, one of yogurt, two teaspoons of vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar. I’m really not sure—I’m just eyeballing and tasting. I feel it doesn’t really matter anyway because if I did measure carefully and post recipes, people would just complain that it was “too sweet!” or “too fatty!” or “too sour!” Make it the way you like it. I’m pretty sure that’s some 1996 way that involves citrus and honey and olive oil, and no mayo, just don’t bring that mess to my barbecue. I’m totally over 1996.

Look at that cabbage, still got integrity after a whole day.

Look at that cabbage, still got integrity after a whole day.


Squirrel Benediction


I finally took the leap and fried up a batch of squirrel—gray city squirrel harvested from my backyard. I’ve been halfheartedly killing them for a while now because I hate them and everything they stand for, except free lunch. It’s clear from the little bites taken from each and every piece of unripe fruit on the trees that the squirrels expect a free lunch.

I’d been watching them from the kitchen, climbing up into the trees, eating all the figs and persimmons, digging their little walnut stashes all throughout my raised beds, where they might return sometime in the spring to dig their booty, carelessly tossing my seedlings aside. I was helpless as a baby in the sewer, since my .20 caliber Sheridan Blue Streak blew a gasket a few months ago. It sat impotent in the garage, as I stood at the window.

Sheridan Blue streak in its natural environment.

Sheridan Blue Streak in its natural environment.

But thanks to the good people at Ollie Damon’s (not the counter dude, he’s a dick), I got my long arm back, working better than new. It was time to rain hellfire on these vicious little rodentia. And I did. But after a few carcasses tossed carelessly into the city compost, guilt began to gnaw at the frugal, white trash conscience that steers me fecklessly through this life. It was time to do as I like to imagine my hillbilly forebears did, and take advantage of the bounty of wild game right in my backyard. I’ve got hunting grounds—I’m like a fucking redneck baron over here!

For all my big talk about the squirrels I’ve killed, and the feasts I have planned, squirrel eating has been more concept than execution around here. My brother and I shot a couple a few years back and tried to braise them with wild mushrooms. After 18 hours of simmering in their own juice in the dutch oven, they were tough as rats, and inky black for some reason. Later, my brother turned a couple of them into a pot of rillettes, and brought it to thanksgiving dinner. Everybody, even the East Coasters, grubbed on that.

Still, I’m not trying to spend an hour killing and cleaning a tiny little rodent so I can spend another 2 hours cooking up a quarter pound of toast spread—but after the turkey slaughter, I was on a spree.

So, a week ago, I shot two in a day (and I still remember that day with fondness), and said, “well that’s a damn feast!” The first one was hard to clean, and I got so much fur stuck to his flesh membrane after about 10 minutes of incompetent hacking that I gave up and threw him out. I went to throw out the second one, but fortunately remembered that, despite the situation, I was a modern person. And modern people have You Tube. This guy skins a squirrel in a minute. I saw that and ran out of excuses. It took me about 5 minutes.

Then I learned from the comments (I know, right!?) that if you get the squirrel wet before you skin it, the fur doesn’t stick. Then I watched this guy fry a couple of squirrels on a range in the little kitchen he has set up in his workshop. Fucking genius, especially the part at the end where he gets up in the camera so you can see how easily he pulls the meat off the bone with his teeth. You gotta watch that part (25:29).

The wife had some important professional-type stuff to do this evening, leaving me with the child. So I took those squirrels out (they’d been marinating in garlic, oregano, and pepper for a few days), dredged them in 50/50 flour/cornstarch seasoned with Coleman’s and cayenne, and fried them in lard for a half hour. We had butter beans and coleslaw, fried morels (frozen from last season), and fried squirrel with Criolla Sella hot sauce. Squirrel was benediction. Squirrel tasted like a sacrament, but moister than a communion wafer. Next time, I’ll probably brine it in buttermilk for a day. Actually, next time, I’m gonna sous vide it. Not because it needs high technology to be delicious, just because I want to sully that technology with my tree rat.

Looks like I fried all the cutest things at Disneyland!

Looks like I fried all the cutest things at Disneyland!

I did end up tossing the livers and hearts because they sat in the fridge a little too long. Next time, I’m thinking about making a little bourbon squirrel paté. I also did not eat the brains, ’cause I’m slightly afraid of the squirrel Creutzfeld-Jakobs. Although now I’m reading further and the whole thing seems a little like a panic parade designed to steer traditional eaters toward more economic and socially acceptable eating patterns. Like they did with that creole pig in Haiti. Don’t be scared people, don’t let ’em take away your birthright. Eat some squirrel.



Narcissism and Human Mortality Conspire to Slaughter


As Turkey Bloodbath Remembrance Day approaches, reflections on mortality plague the Gangster. My back went bad on me and I’ve been spending a lot of time on the couch, ice pack on my back, washing down Advil with bourbon cut with cherry bounce. My neighbor died a few weeks ago of cancer, and we weren’t close or anything, but I saw him coming and going a few times in the final weeks, and he looked beat, but I just thought, “He’s been dealing with that for a long time. He’ll come back around eventually.” Then he just died. And as I was driving back from Estacada the other day with a live turkey in a box in the back of the pickup truck, my sciatic nerve screaming at me to stand up or lay down, I had a thought: How do we know when we’ve run out of fight? I mean, John was walking. He needed help, but he was moving around, then he just died. He must have felt that coming.

I was pretty tired because that’s what chronic pain does—wears you down to a nub, a reflex, a rundown automaton that just goes, “ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch….” And as ridiculous as it sounds because, really, it’s just a bad back, I started to wonder how much closer this is putting me to the grave. I really thrive on my physicality and laying on the couch, surfing the internet and moaning, isn’t my idea of a life worth living. I like to moan and whine while busting my ass over some poorly-conceived and laborious project for which I’m unprepared and ill-suited. If I’m just limping to the grave, trying to avoid pain, I have to think about what I’m really living for. Let’s add it up: family, …alright I’m about out. Let me just say to my friends who suffer from chronic pain: I now understand why you’re so sad all the time. Sorry I’m so self-involved.

But none of this exactly explains why I decided to slaughter my own turkey this year—maybe that was just a coincidence. I decided a few weeks ago to see if any farmers were selling turkeys direct on Craigslist, and of course they were. At first I considered using deception to get a free bourbon red tom from somebody in White Salmon who stated in their ad that this seven-month-old turkey was not “an eating breed. It is a pet only.” I considered telling them that I was taking the “Joaquin Phoenix Turkey Rescue Challenge” to adopt a turkey this Thanksgiving and let it sit at the table and peck at a Tofurkey while we humans sang a secular humanist devotional dedicated to the emancipation of livestock worldwide, but I decided to take the high road.

The high road involved buying a royal palm turkey hen from a lady in Eagle Creek named Patty, who is amazing. The living conditions qualified as better than “free-range” but not quite “pastured” because, Patty explained, there’re a lot of predators up in the woods on Wildcat Mountain.


I can hardly wait to buy another animal from Patty. She kind of radiates good-natured husbandry.

I explained to Patty that I hadn’t thought this thing through fully, and was really way too busy to be slaughtering my own turkey this year. But here I was with a large plastic storage container with no lid, some sheets, and some rope and a knife in the truck just in case I decided to do it out there in the woods rather than bring the thing home for my 3 year old daughter to fall in love with. Patty chastised me for trying to pet the turkey (I was just trying to calm it down), then she (implicitly) questioned my intelligence for not bringing the lid to the box. I was questioning my own intelligence for thinking maybe the turkey would just lay down on some sheets in a box, and what did it matter if it flapped around in the canopied bed a little on the way home? “Oh, we don’t want any flapping,” Patty warned me

So we put the turkey in the box, and I bungeed a sheet to the top and prayed the bird wouldn’t flap it off of there on the way down the highway. I needn’t have worried, since it never even occurred to the dumb thing that the top could come off.

In fact, it was still just calmly standing in there when I came back from taking my elderly neighbor to the grocery store almost 2 hours later. I felt bad about leaving it there for so long, but I had promised the old lady I would help her out after she fell and dislocated her shoulder and went to the hospital. No matter, the turkey didn’t seem to mind.

It was dumping rain, but the little girl said she wanted to watch daddy kill the turkey. We had a little conversation about that: did she understand that it would be alive, then dead? Did she know we were going to eat it? Did she want to eat it? Yes, yes, and yes, but I was still hesitant. I know a lot of people would be like, “Oh yeah man, that’s a good education for a kid, they gotta learn where food comes from. Good for you man!” But let’s face it, we generally don’t just throw the totality of the truth right in front of children’s faces from the very beginning. I mean, my kid knows that babies come from mommies’ bellies, and that it has something to do with daddies, but I’m not going to give her the low down on penetration just yet. Likewise, when she asked about a picture of a tank in an article that I was reading about some clusterfuck in the Mideast the other day, I explained that tanks are for killing people, and that freaked her out plenty. I didn’t then go and hunt down some pictures of charred human remains to drive the point home. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to be brutal about it.

So I hope it didn’t do any damage when she stood out in the rain in her little frog raincoat and watch me tie this strikingly beautiful white and black bird up by it’s feet, decline her request to pet it, and slit it’s throat with a knife that was way too big for the job. I’ve shot animals before, but this was a lot bloodier, and a lot more intense. Despite wrapping it with a sheet to keep it calm and contained, the thing flapped loose for a minute while it bled out, and got it’s pretty white feathers all bloodstained. After it was dead, it flopped a few more times, and that confused the child.

“Is it still alive?”


“Why is it still movin’?”

“Because…,” and I started to explain about electrical impulses, and the nervous system, and involuntary movements, and realized that although true, that was a little too much for her to absorb. So I just said, “everything moves for a little while after it dies.”

“Is it going to come back alive?”

“No. Nothing comes back alive after it dies.”

“Why not?”

And that, and all it’s implications for mommy and daddy, grandmas and grandpas, and Lucy the cat, is a conversation that we’re still having today, and we’ll be having for a while still.

I just dragged the butcher block into the garage. Those are my new cabinets to the right!

I just dragged the butcher block into the garage. Those are my new cabinets to the right!


Nona wanted to help rinse the bird off—I got splashed with turkey poo off to the right.

Nona wanted to help rinse the bird off—I got splashed with turkey poo off to the right.



That little paring knife in the sink is my new Richmond Artifex. Made short work of the guts.

That little paring knife in the sink is my new Richmond Artifex. Made short work of the guts.


You like that white trash tarp in my driveway there? Me too. We're like a little bit of country in Beaumont Wilshire.

You like that white trash tarp in my driveway there? Me too. We’re like a little bit of country in Beaumont Wilshire.