Thursday, September 29, 2005

Partly Processed and Optimistically Organic

I’m a hypocrite in so many ways, but today I’ll just focus on the food and recycling side of things for reasons of brevity and to keep my self-worth on a relatively even keel.

I’d like to be more committed to buying, living and working towards a more chemical-free, recycled and natural style of living, I really would, but the reality of such a lifestyle occasionally reveals itself to me and I flee in terror and revulsion. There still is a place in our world for slices of cheese wrapped in plastic, over-priced Lindt balls and diet coke, I'm sure of it.

Let me share with you my life of five minutes ago. Love Chunks’ father, Rob, has lived for the past ten years in a shearing shed about 20km out of the riverside town of Morgan. His companions have mostly consisted of a flock of chickens, 70 randy goats and a grown sheep called Malcolm who thinks he is a goat. Rob doesn’t venture into Adelaide very often and when he does it tends to be when we’re all out at work, school or an outing. We’ll then return home to find several bottles of home-brewed stout on the back door mat next to a frozen goat leg wrapped in newspaper and our muddy running shoes filled up to their tongues with eggs.

Don’t get me wrong; these are all great offerings and we enjoy them with gusto. However today Rob popped in with a dozen eggs that he’d collected from his chooks just hours earlier before his 30-something Kingswood wheezed its way from Morgan to our suburb. Before he opened the lid, he said apologetically, “Now you don’t have to accept these if you don’t want to.”
“Of course we want them – we love your eggs – they’re so big; the yolks are so yellow and they’re absolutely de-----."

I was unable to complete the sentence as I clapped my horrified snot-green eyes on the eggs – all of them were besmirched in chook shit, feathers and dust.
Rob sensed my dismay. “Sweet heart all you have to do is crack ‘em real carefully so that the gunk doesn’t end up in your meal. Or,” he added hopefully, “….just make sure that you don’t eat them raw in case the poo germs win the war.”
“Oh, OK, thanks,” I said weakly.

Rob said he had a few errands to run before he was returning tonight to have an early birthday dinner with Love Chunks. Milly the dog was most disappointed at his departure – she had only just finished sniffing his boots which looked even messier than the eggs and had the added bonus of pungent goat and sheep odour affixed to them.

The eggs were plonked into a sink full of water before his car had finished pulling out of the driveway and the water immediately turned a murky khaki green colour. It was almost as if the chooks had decided to release a mighty big crap and an egg slipped out as well in a kind of karmic added bonus. Don’t worry dear reader, I will don gloves to scrub off the debris and then throw away said gloves and sponge and then disinfect the sink whilst the hopefully-clean eggs are drying on the dish rack. I now just need to gear myself up for making an egg and spinach frittata for tonight’s main course – perhaps a couple of Vodka cruisers beforehand will help. Only to participate in a social pre-dinner tipple, you understand.

Yet I buy my fruit and veges from an organic supplier, Rachelle, who is based in the Adelaide hills but delivers them to us at our children’s school. They may look a little less glamorous than those under the automatic water-spray and fluorescent lighting at Coles, but they taste great. Organic meats are also on the list but my squeamishness means that I’ll buy them only if they’re so far removed from their origins that they do end up under the fluorescent lighting of the Cole’s meat fridges; shrink wrapped and presented in pleasingly hygienic CFC-free trays.

Perhaps I can be forgiven this hypocrisy due to having to attend a primary school excursion to the Murray Bridge Meat works in 1976. For some reason, the educational powers-that-were deemed it appropriate to send the year ones, twos and threes there to see cows ‘run up a race’, get shot through the head by a bolt-gun, skinned, boned and sliced with the resultant body parts working their blood-dripping way through the factory to have pieces designated as chops, steak, roasting legs, sausages and BBQ packs. The smell of the meat was overpowering and I learned the hard way that ‘running up a race’ for a cow wasn’t going to end up with applause or a blue ribbon.

Murray Bridge at that time was also not privy to the requirements of reducing pollution. On a still summer’s evening (which was pretty often), the noxious smell of the factory rendering the left over animal fats lay over the town like a boy scout’s itchy grey blanket – so powerful you could almost taste it as you lay in bed, sleepless and agonized. Despite all this, I still eat meat!

I did try to be a vegetarian a few times, but the smells of grilled bacon or the thought of no longer having access to mince-filled spaghetti Bolognese or a good rotisserie chicken seemed too miserable to contemplate. Instead I’ve been determined to waste a microscopic amount of mental energy wondering about the original source or subsequent processes done to the product that finds itself in my supermarket trolley and in my stomach.

Apricot cutting (as discussed in my blog of: was another unfortunate opportunity to view the treatment of well, yes apricots, in a stark and brutal light. They arrived in the shed still dewy, soft and plump and left with their arses sliced in half, choked in sulphur and abandoned to bake mercilessly in the sun until they looked like miniature Donatella Versaces. And that wasn’t all – the ones that were too overripe and sloppy to cut were either scraped off the floor or slapped down onto trays and bound for some so-called health bar companies who added the orange gloop their bars and spreads. Unlike my meat experience, to this day I can’t abide eating or smelling anything that has apricot in it as an ingredient.

I’d like to say that I can assuage my guilt and hypocrisy by recycling all of our household waste, but I can’t say that. I do the tins, bottles, plastics, paper and cardboard, but honestly can’t be shagged setting up a smelly, sticky little bin for vege peelings, tea bags and fruit cores. Hence we don’t have a compost heap either. Every November I attempt to pay my penance by collecting ten boxes of soil, seeds and tubes from ‘Trees for Life’ to plant and tend the botanic babies for six months until the farmers they’re destined for come and collect them for planting.

The difficulty for me is in how to reconcile these conflicting sides of me. As William Hazlitt once said, "The only vice which cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy." Yeah, good onyer, nice one Billy boy – especially coming from a moral figure like you who founded a church and then left your second wife for a career in journalism….!!

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