Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"If it moves, feed it."

We all have to think about food. Especially if you happen to be the person in your family who does most of the cooking, because then you're thinking about food even when you're not hungry. Being in Alaska, though, I've noticed there is a whole new dimension to food that we didn't encounter when we lived in Texas, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Food is VERY IMPORTANT here.

Upon arrival at our new home, it wasn't long before our neighbor was coming over bringing gifts of food - squaw candy, home-canned salmon, salmon dip, halibut dip... Most of which was brought to us with his unassuming way of suggesting he had more than he needed and felt like sharing. Once he brought over a package of fresh-caught halibut and gave that to us, because his vacuum sealer didn't put the proper seal on the bag, so we might as well have it. Everyone with a vacuum sealer knows that all you have to do to correct that is to simply reseal it, so this was his way of giving us a gift of (very expensive) food without making it seem so much like a gift.

Because we got here in the midst of dipnetting season, one of the first things we'd be asked when meeting someone new was if we'd been fishing yet. Once a person has lived in Alaska continuously for one year (meaning you've stayed through a winter), they earn the privilege of using nets to catch a very large number of fish per person to help insure there is food for the upcoming year to feed even the poorest of families. That's called subsistence fishing. And even though everyone up here was frantically fishing, cleaning, freezing and canning as much as they could for their own winter eating, it was common for people to share their fresh catch. It's as if the neighbors are, in their own way, making sure the noobs don't starve to death.

Ladies I meet here are actively teaching, or participating in, classes on canning, preserving, and freezing the foods they grow, harvest from the wild, or catch or hunt. The Cooperative Extension's list of fifteen upcoming Neighbor-To-Neighbor classes include 14 classes related to providing food in some form (and in case you're wondering, the fifteenth class is one on using cloth diapers). Topics of interest for more upcoming classes list sixteen class ideas, with twelve of those involving food - growing it, harvesting it, preserving it.

Christmas gift discussions amongst the ladies involve starry-eyed descriptions of fresh quick breads, jellies, and jars of fancy-recipe home-canned salmon. Even as presents, many people here want food.

Winter is a harsh mistress here in Alaska, and while I'm certainly happy not to live in the Interior or up in the REALLY far North, I'm not deluding myself that winter will be hard here and the amount of canning and freezing we've been able to do will help us through the winter when fresh food prices will be unreasonable. I sincerely appreciate the casual mention within my hearing (and certainly said for my benefit, but without being pointed) that the ripening of such-and-such berry has started, or that so-and-so berry is almost past picking, and how good a cup of favorite herbal tea is when it's cold outside.

This isn't like a horde of Jewish grandmas shouting "Eat! Eat!" Rather, there is a gentle feeling of being guided and looked out for, as most of the sourdoughs around us were at one time cheechakos like we are, and they remember what it was like to learn the ropes, too.

I once read a very interesting article about having 'enough'... I wish I could find it so that I could make sure I credit it properly, but I can't. In the article, a younger man and his rabbi are talking together. The younger man reads Genesis 28:20 wherein Jacob makes promises to do certain things if God will provide him with a safe journey, food to eat and clothes to wear. The younger man is puzzled by the seemingly unnecessary addition of the words "to eat" and "to wear" - because what is food for if not to eat, and what is clothing for if not to wear? The older rabbi sadly explains that he knows *exactly* what those extra words mean. As a survivor of a concentration camp, he remembered that there were often times when he might have food, but not enough clothing to keep off the cold, and would rather trade the food for clothing so that he wouldn't freeze. Or he might have plenty of clothing, but not any food, and would trade his clothing away in exchange for something to eat. He might have clothing but not 'clothing to wear,' and food but not 'food to eat.'

Having 'food to eat' meant having enough other comforts that he did not need to trade the food away. It meant that he not only had the food, but that he had enough to be able to eat it without guilt.

Under the watchful eye of neighbors who offer us fish from their bounty, teach us what wild foods are there for the taking, and help us learn to use what we might have otherwise thrown away because we didn't know it had value, we expect that this winter we will have food to eat.

Please allow me to paraphrase in part Matthew 26:34 - 40:
"Then the King will say... Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink... Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry and fed You? Or thirsty and gave You drink?... And the King shall answer them, Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to Me."

And we thank you.


  1. How beautifully said!!!!! You are blessed in more ways than you could ever imagine!!! have I mentioned lately how proud I am of you? All of you guys really!!!! Enjoy....... and stay safe as well!!!! Love you lots sis (: Carla

  2. Wow! That really warms the heart, Deanna. Sounds a wee bit different that being here in N. Dallas, eh? Miss you guys, but really enjoy reading your blog and "catching up" through yours and Jim's pictures & FB. - Steve Hawes

  3. Jim (of the wild ride variety)October 9, 2009 at 9:21:00 PM CDT

    According to my weather watching site, the high temperature in The Colony today was the same as here -- 58. Wonder if that was a bug or the real deal.

  4. Real deal. Cold front, one of those "30 degrees cooler in 12 hours or less" types.

  5. Jim (of the wild ride variety)October 12, 2009 at 5:08:00 PM CDT

    Today it is 60 degrees and gloriously sunny. We're opening up windows to cool the place down.