The advantages of eating locally — maybe a goose
From my desk at Colby Farm, I hear the geese outside, honking. They are probably discussing their adventure earlier this morning. As a gang, the five domestic Chinese geese waddled down the driveway, then out onto the county road. I sent Pepper the blue heeler over the neighbor’s fence to outflank them just as a passing car hit the brakes.
Pepper has all the instincts for this kind of work. I adopted him at the Rifle shelter, but he’s the real thing, a full-blooded, stumpy-tailed Australian cattle dog. Unfortunately, untutored instinct isn’t enough, so our herding escapades often as not degenerate into wild goose chases.
Plus the geese are terrified of Pepper. From a distance, when they saw him coming, they started moving toward the driveway, then ran right on past, heading west toward Utah.
Exasperated, I rounded them up with my red Saturn, Pepper next to me leaning into the windshield, eyes bulging, while I honked the horn and weaved behind them. Once they were safely back in the driveway, I set Pepper on them to “Bring ’em home,” a command he executed with pent-up enthusiasm.
These geese are apparently not for eating, although the topic does come up once in awhile. Every time I finish chasing them around the neighborhood, it seems like a pretty good idea.
Soon the females will start to lay softball-size eggs with thick, armor-like shells for a few months in the spring. The bulging golden yolk inside is proportionately larger than that of a chicken egg, and the texture more viscous when cooked. Gourmets rave about the creamy richness. The goose eggs are a novelty, and we’ll sell them to the curious for a dollar.
When Ed brought six goslings to Colby Farm six years ago, it was a lucky accident that three were ganders. Geese are known for their monogamy, and the flock paired off accordingly. But one spring morning a few years ago, one of the females suddenly died. Her grieving mate became the target for all the bullying and aggression of the mated males. He was an outcast, his feathers tattered by innumerable barnyard chases and fights.
Then one day as Ed and I watched from the kitchen, the lonely gander stood up to his abuser. He spread his wings and swelled his chest and fought back with all the ferocity of his sorrow and misery. He beat back his tormentor, then made off with his girl as Ed and I cheered.
By the next day, the old order reasserted itself. We sent the widowed goose to live with the chickens for his own protection, and wondered anew if he wouldn’t be happier served up for our Christmas dinner. I have never eaten goose, but I hear it’s fatty and savory.
Once breeding season passed, everyone got along again. Peace prevailed.
The following spring brought a new arrangement. While one couple carried on as before, the rest of the geese opted for a manage-a-tois. The threesome was inseparable. Two males stood watch while the female sat on her nest in shrubbery against the house. Everyone seemed happier. The lonely gander’s life was spared.
Complex problems rarely have simple solutions, but sometimes you can tug one string to untie a knot.
Everyone has to eat, every day, and there are more than 7 billion of us. Luckily, by eating locally, individuals have the power to impact vexing modern problems while enjoying a better life.
• Energy. The average serving on your plate travels 1,500 miles to get there. It may take more calories to get the food to you than the food has in it. But studies show that transportation contributes less carbon than pesticides and fertilizers made from natural gas. Arguments over food miles are tricky, but it comes down to this: If you grow a garden, eat local produce in-season and local grass-fed meat, choose organic and preserve your own food, you are saving fossil fuels and slowing climate change.
• Pollution, waste and garbage. A quarter of the trash in the U.S. is from packaging. Most of it is plastic, used once, and destined to last for ages. Processed foods come swathed in lots of packaging, unlike the vegetables in your garden and most of the food at the farmers market.
• Health. Diabetes and obesity from too much sugar and fat, hypertension from too much salt: these are national health crises. Processed foods packed with sugar, salt and a smorgasbord of chemicals contribute to our most persistent, chronic and expensive health problems. Cooking at home with fresh ingredients is just healthier.
• Security. Several years ago, big snowstorms hit at Thanksgiving and Christmas, closing Interstate 70. Aspen swarmed with holiday tourists, and it didn’t take long before the shelves at City Market were picked clean. Just-in-time delivery relies on cheap fossil fuel and no shocks or interruptions to a complex system to bring food from afar, and leaves all of us vulnerable to food shortages.
• Economic security. Distant Wall Street bankers conjured up the Great Recession, costing jobs and gobbling up savings. The experience showed us how dependent we’ve become on forces far beyond our control. During World War II, in support of the war effort, 20 million rural and urban Americans cultivated “Victory Gardens” to feed themselves, their neighbors and friends. These backyard gardens produced 40 percent of everything Americans ate, and show what is possible. Building a local economy and food supply protects basic needs.
• Empowerment. You can try this at home. Farming is our heritage as human beings. Food wants to grow. Knowing where your food comes from is a healthy way to gain a sense of power and security in an uncertain world.
I’m keeping my eyes open for a super-size egg in the goose house, a sure first sign of spring.
Marilyn Gleason writes Eating Local periodically for the Good Taste pages.
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