Conversation Ender

A friend of mine posted the above on her Facebook page today. She is an extremely nice person, but believes in nonsense like accupuncture, and the vaccinations are bad for you woo-woo, and other things like that. She is also into all natural foods.

The above reminded me of my grandparents (my father’s parents), who I loved very much and had many great times with when I was a young boy. My Grandmother grew up in squalor in Munich, and my Grandfather did the same in Riga, Latvia. They met in Chicago. I have some photos of my Grandmother and her family in front of their rabbit cages – they raised them for meat. They had no indoor plumbing, of course. This was just after the turn of the century. I don’t have any photos of my grandfather when he was growing up. His father was killed in WW1 and he was shifted from relative to relative. I can only assume that a camera and photos were the last thing on his mind.

I was treated to the way that my grandparents ate when I spent summer weeks at their house in northern Wisconsin (Birchwood, for those who may be interested). We ate all sorts of shit that my friend of today would simply puke on if presented to her. Processed meats, fortified grains, you name it. Coming from the places they did, although they lived a comfortable retirement, they still wasted nothing. If we had chicken for dinner, we would make soup that night or the next day out of the carcass. It wasn’t even a question, we just did it. All the leftovers went into the soup.

I think my favorite was when after a roast or something was cooked, my grandmother would take the rendered fat and wait until it solidified, then scraped it up, put it in the fridge, and hauled it out for a lunch the next day. She would simply spread it on rye bread and that was it. Take it or leave it. My grandpa would wash that down with a beer or two.

This is what people, when they were poor, had to do to scratch it out every day. My comment, which ended all of the “hell yeas!” and “I agrees” in the Facebook thread above was:

I admit I miss the lard and rye bread sandwiches my grandmother used to feed us.

Lack of perspective cracks me up at times.

23 thoughts on “Conversation Ender”

  1. Dan – your grandparents reflect many who grew up poor. Those who went through the Depression of the 30s – most of them had a later life style that reflected the possibility of again suddenly finding no income – and they spent accordingly.

    My parents were always financially conservative. In the 70s with the first real estate boom going they had friends who became very wealthy by leveraging themselves to the hilt. My parents wouldn’t do that – a philosophy that today seems rather prudent. Think of the millions who bought real estate as an option – stretched to the hilt but convinced their “investment” would pull them out and make them rich. I think there is a lot of silliness to your friend’s Facebook philosophy; however at my age (61) I am starting to think that an excess of processed food does seem to have a detrimental effect on one’s well being.

    At the advice of a friend I started taking this B12 complex in liquid form – from a dropper – 5,000 times the FDA “recommended” dosage – and discovered miraculous changes to the good in my skin. So all of this processed crap I have been eating (presumably a “balanced” diet – has been lacking – something – that was always available with the diets of 70-100 years ago. of course I won’t even mention the over abundance of “fast food” and the fact that the average American drinks 3-4 sodas (not diet – the full 20 teaspoons of sugar kind) per day – and we wonder why there is an epidemic of grossly obese and pre-diabetic people in this country

    I am not in your friend’s dietary camp but I am not in the average American’s camp, either. Some of the more extreme adherents to a “natural diet” don’t seem to realize without pesticides there would be a lot of hungry people ;-) And when you are hungry as your grandparents were you aren’t so picky about what you eat ;-)

    As top acupuncture – the Chinese have been using it for 1000s of years – even giving major surgery with it – I would suggested reading up on it. We as westerners have been a bit arrogant about our science and only recently come to realize that some of the herb remedies – and acupuncture – has some validity. After all, they have been doing it for over 1000 years…

  2. (Speaking of old school foods, you wouldn’t believe the cholesterol in some of my family’s old German recipes. Wilted lettuce fried in bacon grease, anyone?)

    My wife has a box of “locally sourced” organic vegetables delivered to the house every week (her idea, I assure you). On the one hand, the expense of it motivates us to eat a lot more vegetables.

    On the other, she’s says she’s going to stab me in the eye with a fork the next time I take a bite of this stuff and say, “Hmmmmm! You can really taste the E. coli!”

  3. Bill – that was my point, that is wasn’t all gardens and smiling babes with baskets of fresh produce for all of our grandparents. My grandmother had great stories about slaughtering rabbits and making stew – it wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Of course THAT food isn’t covered in today’s organic cult.

    “After all, they have been doing it for over 1000 years…” It may have been Shannon Love in these pages that said everything in the past relatively sucked, and everything today pretty much rocks in comparison (I am paraphrasing). If that doesn’t apply to Western medicine, I don’t know what does. But I won’t let this thread delve too deeply into accupuncture as I consider it a colossal waste of time.

  4. I’m sympathetic to the ideas behind organic growing, and have been involved in it myself, but, while there might be some improvement in the food, the majority of the benefits are in positive externalities and/or avoidance of negative ones. (elaboration and digression excised…)

    I think pesticides and herbicides *are* a lot like modern medicine. Those who refuse them entirely are at least as crazy as the hypochondriacs who pester their doctors for anti-biotics and an MRI every time they have a headache or a sniffle. Unfortunately where farming is concerned the huge agribusiness operations don’t typically have the resources or inclination to monitor plant and animal health and don’t dare take multi-million dollar risks. So, they spray and spray some more, and damn the cost because they need to be SURE. (Admittedly many of them don’t even think it through that far, they just do what the USDA tells them to since they’re pretty much bought and paid for.)

    I can walk through my gardens in a morning while doing other things, and if the bugs are getting out of hand I can take steps. This actually results in lower costs than I would see if I acted like the big boys, and makes up for a lot of their economies of scale, because, similar to modern medicine, that stuff is expensive if you don’t need it and very cheap if you do.

    Having said that, my sympathy only goes so far. For some reason organic food seems to attract nuts, and that was *before* the feds, the biggest nuts of all, got involved. I think the thing is that nuts don’t do complexity. They want Tarzan speak: “That good thing. That bad.”

    And of course *my* grandfather was a huge fan of DDT and was very unhappy when they outlawed it.

  5. One thing I remember reading from years ago – and not forgotten – is that people years ago ate stuff tghat we could consider hiorrendous – lard as one example. But they exercised usually with physical labor (didn’t have time or money to go to the 24 Hour nautilus ;-) )

    That is the difference.

    The French with their own strange eating habits and red wine, still perplex me.

  6. @John – many of the organic/local movement people are lefties that treat it as some sort of religion, like politics and that is what bothers me. When I ask questions like “what about people who can’t afford the more expensive but supposedly healthier alternatives?” I get blank stares and/or looks of bewilderment, as if there is no trade off to discuss.

    @Bill – Lard. Can’t cook with anything better.

  7. My wife is from Eastern European peasant stock. Every now and then she goes on a rant about organics. “I know about organics. We grew organic. You know what it means? It means scrawny apples with worms in them. Don’t tell me about organics!”

  8. I think a lot of the food foolishness comes from conflating “organic” with “vegan”.

    Our grandparents’ food, or at least what they ate as children, was a lot less processed than what most kids eat now, but I doubt many old-timers would put much stock in modern leftist food fetishism.

    The lard that your grandparents made sandwiches with, Dan, is much more of a “whole food” than some of the absurd concoctions you find at organic markets.

    I never cease to be amazed at how many people are completely disconnected from history, even recent history. They talk about “your grandparents” without actually bothering to ask anyone old enough to have memories of the time they talk about.

  9. Setbit – you should have seen the look on the butchers face when we took our first steer in and I insisted on having at least a couple packages of the fat from the carcass. He said only the “old continentals” usually ask for that but he was happy to oblige.

  10. I grew up in California. I lost all my woo-woo friends as years passed and the gulf between our beliefs became too great. I miss some of them now. I still don’t believe a word of Calos Castenada.

  11. Just for perspective, 31 people died and many more seriously sickened by sprouts from an organic farm in Germany.

    By contrast the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex gets hit with an earthquake and tsunami – in the same day! – and no one is killed, although approximated 40 are injured.

    And yet, Organic Food = Good and Nuclear Power = Bad.

    I’d say go figure that one out, except we all this know this about a belief system, i.e. a religion, not about rational trade offs.

  12. Lard is not bad for you; in fact it’s much better than many of the alternatives. The entire “no fat/low fat” idea is being to be looked at with a jaundiced eye by many people who now realize that decades of this haven’t led to much of anything but a larger percentage of obese people. The European nation with the highest cholesterol levels (Switzerland) has the longest life expectancy. Look at Mary Enig’s book – Know Your Fats. You’ll probably be surprised at many of things her extensive research has revealed.

  13. Using salt, fat and sugar, our grandparents preserved the hell out of food. How else could they have survived winters without refrigeration?

    This post–and Shannon’s post about preservatives–immediately brought to mind Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books which describe in great detail that family’s efforts preparing food for the winter. There’s an excerpt here. Michael Ruhlman has more here, along with a description of his own experience butchering a pig.

  14. Bill Brandt,

    Actually, processed food in general contains rather a lot of B12 because its one of the vitamins that are seeded in foods e.g. like vitamin D in milk or folic acide in bread.

    Historically, B12 defiency caused a disease called pernicious anemia which was fatal before the cause was found. Today B12 defiency usually shows up as neurological problems in vegans. That’s because…

    Problems with B12 today result from people eating less meat, especially organ meats. B12 is created from alge and cyno bacteria. Humans have to get from animals that eat alge, like fish and shrimp or from herbivores like cows that have cyno bacteria in their guts. There are no plant sources and no non-artificial sources that can be reliably absorbed. It’s Darwin trying to tell vegans something.

    If you are deficient, then megadoses of B12 can bring about significant improvements in general health once you stored up a multi-year store of it, taking more is just a waste of time. If you are persistently deficient then you probably have a problem with B12 absorption and have to take large doses to insure that some get through. Most of the B12 you swallow is probably never absorbed.

    There is a wide variety of stomach, intestinal and pancreatic issues that can block B12 absorption. You might want to have it checked out if B12 supplement have big impact.

  15. My mother was of reasonably well-off parentage (her father’s photo is stashed somewhere in the National Portrait Gallery) and her idea of roast beef and roast potatoes included lavish use of the “drippings” from the beef roast, which were also gathered and stored in the larder for use on bread, etc. This would have been in the late forties and early fifties, though — when rationing was only slowly being lifted… but my memories suggest that dripping was a bit of a delicacy, and in particular gave the roast potatoes a crisp golden outside that I haven’t seen in a restaurant in fifty years…

  16. My mother did the same thing with fat from roasts. The most spectacular browned potatoes, unlike anything I have had in many years. They were a glossy brown on the outside. She did it with lamb and pork, not beef. We had baked apples with the pork, mint jelly, which I did not like, with the lamb. The meat is too lean now. You could not cook like that if you wanted to, unless you special ordered the meat.

  17. When people decide to adhere to crazy diets (and there are a million of them) for “moral” or “health” reasons (often phony, IMHO), it sunders society, because now people cannot peacefully share a meal. Instead each meal become the opportunity for posturing or for taking offense.

    I once endured a ten minute lecture on the various forms of veganism when I asked if the host’s meal had cheese in it. My question was not answered during the entire lecture delivered to the whole table. At the conclusion of the lecture, I asked again. I was not invited back.

  18. ErisGuy – I know of what you speak. I was recently on a bicycling trip in France and I got a remark from a person in my tour group because I ate most of my meats rare – and I mean close to raw. I just looked at her and said you eat your food, I will eat mine.

    Lex “The meat is too lean now”. This isn’t all bad. The Scottish Highland beef we have been raising has proven to be quite tasty. There is no way you will be able to do a roast and have the drippings you describe – to the contrary, you have to cook the steaks and roasts a bit more carefully. But the flavor to me is not better or worse, just different. It is not like eating a well marbled ribeye at Ruth Chris, but it tastes more like beef is supposed to taste like. Hard to describe I guess.

    The ground beef is extremely lean, and is wonderful in chili, tacos, etc. The burgers are good too – different again, but good.

    Also, knowing that we raised this beef with our own hands is icing on the cake, and very rewarding.

  19. I should add that we only feed our bovines pasture grass in the summer and hay in the winter. I suppose if you grain fed a Highland that you could get more marbled beef, but that isn’t what we are after and then you start getting into hormones and all of that crap so they can digest the corn.

  20. The meat is too lean now. You could not cook like that if you wanted to, unless you special ordered the meat.

    A very interesting point. 30 years ago, in a pretty rural area, my parents raised some pigs and sent them to be butchered at a local meat locker. When they picked up the meat there were two lard buckets for each pig, but one of each was empty and the other wasn’t full. The man from the locker came out to speak with my dad very earnestly about the lard, since he was very concerned that my dad would think they had stolen or wasted it. As it turns out, my parents were raising a particular breed of pig that was bred for lean pork with little fat and weren’t alarmed, but the point is that lots of lard was expected and considered valuable.

    Most of the meat we raise, and certainly all the venison I shoot is pretty lean (although lately the deer have been getting fatter and fatter, unfortunately venison fat is very unappetizing) probably, like Dan, because of how we feed them and the breeds we choose. On the whole I value lean meat and consider excess fat an indication of cheap meat. OTOH, I’ve become frustrated that store bought breakfast sausage no longer contains enough fat to make gravy for biscuits and gravy. Having to fry sausages in vegetable oil is just wrong and make them taste funny.

    Guess I better get the pig pen built and avoid that breed my parents raised…

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