Raising and killing your own animals for meat is seen as a revolutionary act. An engagement with a food system that’s become foreign and a remembrance of where meat comes from. Less emphasis is put on the raising and eating of your own veggies and fruit. But the act is just as revolutionary.
I’ve gardened every year of my adult life -- at least to some extent. But gardening on a daily basis, in a climate that allows it year-round, with enough land to produce a significant part of my diet, has surprised and challenged me in unexpected ways.
It all began with the aphids.
This spring has been a bad one for aphids. I bought some organic broccoli from the farmers market a few months ago. My husband cooked it up in a soup. Suddenly, I noticed these little bugs floating along the surface of the soup: cooked aphids. We had trouble finishing lunch.
I remembered being at my friend Megan’s place a few years back, when she pulled a package of tea bags out of the drawer only to discover they were infested with moth larvae. I decided against having tea. But she made an impassioned argument for using them anyway: why did it matter if there were some bugs in there, if those bugs weren’t harmful? Didn’t we eat bugs accidentally all the time? Weren’t bugs used as food coloring in Frappucinos (before the outrage, that is)? Wasn’t it just added protein?
Why couldn't I just change my mind?
These same aphids showed up again and again in my stressed patch of cold-season crops this spring. It was an unseasonably warm February in Southern California, and my greens were bolting with abandon. One morning, I saw a swarm around a cauliflower plant. Damn it! The aphids were taking over.
I fought back with religious applications of a neem oil, soap and water mixture. Planted marigolds. And prayed for ladybugs. Eventually, the outbreak was brought under control.
But every time I went to eat the greens, they required three or more 10 minute soakings to loosen the bugs. Given the drought, and the time commitment involved in triple washing, my attitude towards aphids started to soften. Maybe this was just a part of life: people ate bugs. Just as I ate kale from my backyard garden, so too I ate aphids.
Maybe, as one online commenter put it, aphids are just walking vegetable juice -- the vampires of the garden.
A second challenge to my sensibilities arose reading my favorite garden book, Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening. A passing reference claimed Finns pissed on their vegetable patches as a form of natural fertilizer. I was intrigued, and mentioned it to my mother. Ever a strong advocate for sanitization, she was shocked. This was a bad idea.
Or was it? It turns out, there are significant arguments in favor of using rather than disposing of urine in clean water (which then has to be processed in a wastewater treatment facility). But waste goes beyond the toilet bowl. Today I encountered a recipe for tomato fertilizer that used seeming garbage from around the home: human hair, egg shells, wood ashes, coffee grinds. As a coffee-drinking, hair-growing, egg-eating, fire-making lady, I had these ingredients lying around. So I mixed up a batch of homemade waste-based compost tea.
Slowly, daily food production in my own backyard is changing me. It’s challenging my strict sense of disgust, eroding it slowly through repeated exposure. And it’s making me rethink what’s disgusting in the first instance: little harmless bugs, or little harmful pesticide applications?