When I first moved out here, I was alone. An unfamiliar city, knowing only the handful of folks that I worked with and the lovely young woman I was seeing. It was the beginning of December, 2008, and for Seattle, that meant that I had months of cold, gray, rainy days to look out at from my post in front of the fish stand at the market.

I’ve discussed this period of time with her, and at that point, she never thought I’d go through with the move. When I did, I realized that even though I wanted to spend my time with her, she had already booked her ticket back home for the holidays, months before I even arrived.

Two weeks in the city, and I was on my own. Work, home, sleep, repeat.

When she returned after Christmas, I found out a little bit more about her family in the form of the gifts that she had brought back with her. There were Christmas cookies for me to eat, and holiday roasted pecans tied up in a bag with a neat little bow, and gifts from her parents, who after the holidays knew the basics about me.

The short story is that I went through the culinary school, cooked at some internships, decided that the hardened life of a chef was not for me, and came into a job as a fishmonger, which I’ve kept for the last six years.

She handed me two packages, each meticulously wrapped. In the first- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Oh, sigh. For the six years previous, I had worked at Whole Foods, and in TOD, Michael Pollan had taken them to task for their participation in the big organic movement. When I first picked it up, I wasn’t hearing any of it. This was my company, and from an insider’s perspective, they were doing a lot of things right. I didn’t like someone badmouthing my company when I was working hard for them to promote what they set forth as Green business practices. I put the book down and didn’t return to it until I was presented with it as a gift.

I turned it over in my hands and decided to give it another shot. For the months of January through March, I saw the sun a handful of times, but it mostly stayed overcast at a constant 45 degrees with a chance of no rain. I stayed indoors, and kept the book closeby, reading it a few pages at a time.

Then, I forgot about it.

Then, I watched Food, Inc. (Different topic for a different time, but interlaced all the same.)

There’s Michael Pollan, and his radical farming companion Joel Salatin whom he spent chapters with, and a bunch of familiar faces and names that have been thrown around in the fight for the sustainable future of our food. I began to think about it again, and I came home and picked up the book.

Then I put it down.

Then, I got a library card and forgot about it altogether.

I read books. Lots of books. Novels, the History of the Amish Farmer’s Market in Pennsylvania, Burgess Meredith’s autobiography, Essays on the Big Lebowski. Devoured them all.

Last week, I read two books: Gene Wilder’s Autobiography, and a history of what it was like to live and work with Paul Newman, written by his ol’ pal, A.E. Hotchner. You may remember his name from the back of Newman’s Own Salad Dressing. That was a huge part of the book. He discussed how it was that they made their dressing in bathtubs, stirring it with the none-too-hygienic but story worthy canoe paddle, and the utter refusal of Paul Newman to compromise and use less than natural ingredients in their products.

Not only did reading this book inspire me to start making salads again after a multimonth hiatus, it encouraged me to pick up and read the last few chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

(One other thing that gave me a reason to write this was my cousin’s recent blogpost on Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Find his witty, insightful post at http://psoutowood.vox.com/library/post/animal-vegetable-haranguing-lecture.html)

It’s difficult for me to express in short order my philosophy on food, and when I try to engage people in conversation about it, it can end in two ways: I can either ponder and pontificate for a long period of time with no real resolution, or I can work in a roundabout sort of way, trying to explain myself without really saying much that people can relate to. There are all of these individual facets of what I believe in pertaining to food that fit into a puzzle, but who has time to put all the pieces together, especially if their conversation partner is as scatterbrained as myself at times.

As I was giving this last section of the book a try, I came upon an odd realization that Michael Pollan, as a writer whose books revolve around food, is just as curious as I am. As he hunts and stalks a wild boar, there are ethical questions as to the morality and true validity of what he is about to do: Is it that important for him to take the life of an animal by shooting it in the butt and wounding it, and is the primal sense of accomplishment from killing that animal really worth doing it yourself? It’s very difficult to distance yourself from those questions, unless, of course, you are a consumer who never sees that your dinner at one point had a face.

He points out that humans are, by nature, carnivores, and we’re designed to eat meat. We have teeth that are designed for eating meat, and the bodies that are streamlined and bipedal for mobilization on the hunt. Still, why did he bristle when he saw his grim smile in a picture hovering over a strung pig carcass?

What I took away from TOD was the peace Mr. Pollan took in presenting his book’s final chapter. It was a meal foraged by many hands, savored by many mouths, and reimagined by many pairs of readers’ eyes. I looked at the recipes and thought, “Hey, I can make that. Morels are in season. We’ve been making fresh pasta. There’s plenty of fresh, local seafood around here. Why not?” I try to eat locally, and what I can’t get locally, I at least try to get from local vendors, supporting local businesses, etc. With Michael Pollan’s book, Food, in this sense, is the vehicle for a bit of understanding into what it takes to be a conscious consumer. I don’t think about the clothes I have on my back, but if I look at the tag, I almost guarantee that one of them has some third world country on it where it was made. The next logical step for me asks, “If I have the knowledge on what to do to eat as locally, seasonally, and consciously as possible, how do I enact this in other facets of my life?” What do I do as an American to help myself to the lifestyle that we’ve all grown so accustomed to without subscribing to the manifesto of yet another huge industry? And where do I start? Clothes? Shoes? Do I just bike and walk more? Where do I begin?

I try not to internalize it too much. It’s a lot to process at once, but I want to become more conscious of my surroundings. I think I have the food part down. If you can sit down, make fresh food, support your local economy, enjoy it with others over a bottle of wine or a night around the coffee table, isn’t that all that matters? It’s the amount of thought that goes into the little choices like dinner that make things memorable, and make the lasting impressions that will serve as formative experiences later in life.

It’s the thought that counts, and the gift of that book left a lasting impression on me. Many thanks for allowing me to put my thoughts into words.

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this blogpost, I mentioned that there were two gifts that were given to me. All that was known about me at the time by the parents was that I was really into food, and that I was a fishmonger. The first gift left me with the thoughts that you see here, and the second left its mark as well.

When I opened the small package, inside was a neatly wrapped bar of lovely smelling soap.

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