This I believe

You’re looking at billions of my friends

NPR listeners know this title is a revived Eisenhower-era personal essay program in which average Joes and Janes, and then some famous ones, voice their personal credos and tenets. With listening to enough of them, you start wondering what your own walking papers might be, especially since so many of them veer heavily into faith, or a leap thereof, into the unknowable. So I have done some thinking.

I believe in the power of microbes.

My smaller forays into food preservation have given me a healthy (and maybe unwarranted) fear of BAD microbes, so if I can something, I am most certainly doing it in a way least hospitable to something that can sicken us. With thought, though, I realize that most microbes are good, or at least benign. And, if you pair with them correctly, wonderful things can happen.

I am talking about sourdough bread, of course. But I am also talking about my other small steps into yogurt-, kefir- and cheesemaking, and those countless reliable others out there who brew beer, make wine, and make other wonderful comestibles like tempeh, kimchi, mead; soy sauce, miso, sauerkraut; bacon, ham, sausage, jerky. Salt cod, smoked salmon. All these wonderful things take advantage of something unseen. And if that isn’t faith, then I don’t know what is.

And then there’s the garden. I am in love with my compost piles, as has been well documented here. By pairing with compost, I give my plants a little microbial home cooking, in the hope that (most of them) will end up helping MY home cooking. Compost, of course, is the ultimate belief in the power of putrefaction; it’s little deaths, and their products, that make it all happen.

Most of what our food preservation is is a suspension of putrefaction: a short vacation before the ultimate death of what we eat. It’s a way to extend the harvest. And in most instances, it’s a delicious detour.

11 responses to “This I believe

  1. Oh my. You may have inspired me to turn my pile this week. I don’t want to, but I feel compelled, somehow.

  2. Too funny! Only gardeners get excited and post pictures of their compost.

    I did, too.

    I still hope to get some worm bins up and running this year. That stuff is just pure magic.

  3. I am a religious zealot when it comes to compost. I have gone to great lengths to have a compost system that works in the city, here in Oakland. My bins are not ugly, but not that attractive either, if you look at the beautiful gardens which surround us in the neighborhood. I don’t want to offend, or godferbid bring down property values.
    I envy your space! Why if I had 5 acres I could—well, I’d like to find out.
    Maybe I’m out of place here, but I do know where my real wealth is. It’s the gold inside my compost boxes.

  4. Ohhhh…….that’s hot. Hot with microbes! I often listen to that segment of NPR and think of what my belief would be. You picked a good one. And you are lucky you got that rain. We need it bad and it just sprinkled lightly over the weekend.

  5. Mmmmm…pickles…A friend tilled for us, and he wanted to pick up handfuls of dirt and just eat, it smelled so good. That’s germs, darling. I LOVE the smell of bacteria in the springtime. Thank you for the reminder of its smallness and greatness. I love to think of how it nourishes us, and someday we give it all back. Even if that’s all the immortality I get, that’s wonder enough.

  6. I think I love you!
    (At least, I think I’m learning from you. I’m a suburban faker, but by golly, I’m going to give it a try. I’ve got room for a compost heap. Or plastic compost “kit.” I can do this.)

  7. Blackswamp_Girl

    Wonderful! I always listen to these essays with interest and wonder why I can’t be inspired enough by one thing to write something similarly moving. I’ve never approached anything near this level of writing, though.

    FWIW, the one that sticks with me so much that I could almost recite it in my sleep is the one by the Penn & Teller guy. When he talks about how not believing in god actually makes him more conscientious and moral because there is no divine forgiveness (thus he only gets one chance to treat people right) I almost had to pull over the first time. I thought my head was going to explode. And I thought that, religious or no, the world would be such a better place if only everyone approached every situation that way.

  8. Laurie, get turning. Though of course if you don’t compost still happens.

    Lisa, and Moonbear, too, I am so glad you two piped up. I am loving what you guys have to say on your own blogs. It does a heart good to know someone is doing what I am doing on a big country place and a city lot! In other words, it’s all possible.

    M, we got soaked. I wish you rain, AND microbes.

    Jo, I so agree. I guess that is what I was trying to share: I believe in this circle-of-life thing. A dear chicken of ours died, and I buried her (deeply) under the compost heap. So she’s still contributing here, and will be for a long time.

    Cookiecrumb. That feeling is MUTUAL, baybee. So many “food” blogs (and admittedly garden blogs too) are so much about “look what I can do” showoffiness and I just sigh and say BLAH. Yours? Nope. There’s learning to be done, and oh, yeah, politics too.

    And Kim, yeah, I loved the Penn Jillette essay, too. I don’t know why atheism is treated like a crime in this country. He simply brought up that being nice does NOT need to have the excuse of a god behind the motivation. (Thus he pointed out its converse: people are only nice because they fear eternal damnation or some such.) But mostly, I believe people are a long way from knowing what FOOD is, other than this brand of Campbell’s soup versus that one. SNORE. How about how that bacon was made? Who discovered the secret of Stilton cheese? Why is it the best crackers have bubbles in them? Good food, like good gardens, usually requires some background knowledge, a little how-to bits. Plants can be easy: Green part goes up, dark hairy roots down. But putting it all together, as you do, can be very artful.

  9. Blackswamp_Girl

    El, excellent point re: finding out about food and its origins. I have tried to explain to my Mom that just that kind of curiousity is why I adore Alton Brown (who drives her crazy)… I thought of him when you went through your list of questions about bacon and stilton and crackers with bubbles. 🙂

  10. Ms. Booty Homemaker

    Ziggy first began to call my compost pile, “Protest,” which is somehow oh so fitting. He’s compelled, day after day to visit and revisit the pile, and though originally he asked repeatedly for me to “Pick up, Mommy!” (oh, the disorder!)he now is fascinated by the ants, the rot, and the layering unfinished product right into the lasagna beds, a method that’s really working for me.

    can’t WAIT to make kraut later this year, and marry up all that good science and faith. the husband makes a mean hunter’s stew and the boy adores the sour. the mama likes knowing we’re imbibing the best of our environ’s bacteria..

  11. babushka bakery

    How fun to read your blog about compost….We never had “4 legged” pets when my 3 boys were little because of allergies, so we called the compost pile the pet. I would take them out and pull up a handful and try to instill a little awe in them. Every year our town has a pet parade and I would suggest to the boys they put some compost in an aquarium and pull it on a wagon so they could be in the pet parade too…it was a tough sell. Congrats on your success!

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