Sunday, October 14, 2012

In a dairy daze

Dear E,

Remember the summer we got together and I left you, after two weeks, to go study about ecology and sustainable farms in Washington state with Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies? And then I went directly to a study abroad in England and the U.K. for four months? 

A favorite experience was touring a small scale organic dairy farm in Washington where they were milking around 80 head. It was obvious the animals were well cared for and well adored. The farmer's kids had named most of them. They were pastured except when they were being milked and were surrounded by the scents of clover, raspberries, and apples and all around everything was green. Their babies got to be near the mamas most of the time. It seemed like a pretty great place to be a cow, nay, a farmer. Naively at the time, like most Americans, I thought that just like the fisher price sets and the plexiglass displays at children's museums, this must be how it is at all dairies.

(Later I've learned, that in fact in the data from the last twenty years more than 50% of dairy cows in the US are in fact from Confined Animal Feeding Operations with more than 1000 head of cattle. [As of 2001. See CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations by the Union of Concerned Scientists, p.22]. Ugh).

More than half of my time in England was spent in rural Suffolk county running down serene cobblestone paths with curious dairy cows peering at me over ancient stone fences.  (Until very recently CAFOs have been rejected in England. This may be changing). The other half was spent eating an inordinate amount of artisan local cheeses, some of which were made from raw milk.  A visit to Neal's Dairy Yard in Covent Garden was one of the most formative culinary experiences I had ever had. After adjusting to the pungent aromas of many fresh cheeses combined, I was astounded by so much well made floor-to-ceiling cheese, cheese that was bigger than my head.

I was there reading all the pastoral poets and these romantics and later American transcendentalists seemed a marvelous contrast to the greasy cogs of the industrial revolution. I returned further enamored with the rural lifestyle. And had our relationship not already been in motion, I certainly may have become an organic farmer.

How did you ever convince me to return? You, after all, abhor gardening. Nor do you like mucking around in manure. Grow it, nay; eat it, yeah. Certainly your love of food has been important.

(Unlike our kids), you remain the most appreciative and wonderful person to cook for. My heart to you for that darling. You love fine tastes, you know good food, and, one more thing, you love great cheese.

Dear Hannah, 

How well I remember. That time was a lot tougher than I let on. I really was a little worried you wouldn't come back. But of course you came back-after all, I'm very charming ;) .

I don't abhor gardening, but being the slave labor for my parents' garden ruined it for me. Wait- it's not like I don't help. Who built your garden beds and garden fence? [A combined effort!] Who trims and removes trees for you? [About that...]

But I do love seeing how happy your garden makes you. I've never seen someone so excited about basil or potatoes. 

I do love cheese. It's interesting comparing different methods of production and how good and how different cheese from real milk tastes. I must visit these English farms with you. Of course, my ideals of great cheese comes from my travels in France. I would love to compare those cheeses I know and love with the British counterparts...I imagine the French cheeses are somewhat stronger smelling and more pretentious.


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