Canning, raising chickens, and the Slow Food movement

I am writing this as I wait for several jars of tomatoes to finish their hot water bath-a part of the canning process. I am not the only one canning in Little Rock this weekend.  Several others I know are doing the same with the bounty of organic tomatoes we’ve been having. The odd thing is that most of these people are not of the senior category-they are young and middle-aged people who are going back to the lost art of putting food by (in other words, storing seasonal foods to eat during the winter). It’s a growing trend around here. When The Root, a local café set to open next spring is promoting its local food menus with home canning workshops, they had waiting lists almost immediately. 

There is another odd thing. I’ve been looking into raising some new breeds of chickens, and every time I go to a hatchery’s website, I keep seeing lots of notices saying “sold out” or “sold out for 2008.” I’ve been ordering chickens for a few years now, and I have never seen so many hatcheries sold out at this time of the year. They are out of many varieties of laying hens, sold out of heritage breeds, and almost completely sold out of heritage breed turkeys. 

I don't believe that farmers are solely responsible for this sudden demand for chicks.  Instead I think there are more and more people keeping small flocks of chickens and even a couple of turkeys in the suburbs or cities. 

Canning workshops booking up, hatcheries being overrun—I take these to be signs of hope. Something is happening out there, and there are many, many people on board with Tom Hodgkinson's proclamation to "Stop consuming, start producing."  Here in Little Rock I know of at least a dozen people who began to learn to make their own cheese this last year. Others of us are learning to make our own crackers, vinegar, and wine. Still others are butchering their own chickens in their backyards. These may not seem like great steps, but for those of us who grew up in the generation of boxes, cans, and bottles, it is something very new. 

I am not sure exactly where this new movement came from. It is no doubt a confluence of things from the rise of the Slow Food movement, to dissatisfaction with the bland, to the publication of books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma.  However it came, it is here and growing, and we need it to grow even more. But however much movements like this grow and ebb, I am a believer that they will never go away. The industrial age, space age, computer age, information age can all come and go, but the desire to raise some chickens, grow some vegetables, and make food and drink from scratch will always remain. They are the activities in which we will find the most satisfaction and reward because they touch us at the places that make us human. So can some vegetables, learn to make mozzarella, and get a chicken. It will feed you, body and soul.


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