A Cook's Notebook
by Ali Berlow
Zachariah Jones has been doing the slop rounds since he was just a sprout of a boy, barely big enough to hold down the pig buckets in the back of his father’s red truck. Now in his mid-eighties, and with roads named after him, he tells every greenhorn he meets: “I’ve been a farmer on this Island for 80 years. And that’s not counting the first five years of my life, when all I did was suck my shirt and hang from my mother’s apron strings.” Most young farmers don’t know whether to laugh or not when Zachariah says that. The horrified or confused look on their faces always lifts the corners of Zachariah’s mouth, tightening it into a subtly disarming, Yankee smile.
A burl of a man who happens to be moving slower these days, Zachariah has seen it all come, and he’s watched it all go. It’s worth the price of a beer at the pub to sit next to him and listen. “Nothing’s new under the sun,” he says. “School gardens? Used to be good common sense, that’s all. And every neighbor grew something. They hunted, fished and put-up. It was a matter of pride, sure. But it was necessary because you never knew when The Government, or The Stock Market, was going to break your back. ‘Better you break your own,’ my father taught me. And grow something to eat. Sell it if you have to. Everyone eats—food is a good investment. Think about it.”
Zachariah doesn’t bother with what books you’ve read or what jargon you use: Locavore, Slow, politics; he doesn’t care if you are honoring a diet, a definition, or a fad; or if you grow food in the name of your Lord or in the name of the environment. Just don’t call it “A Movement.” God, how he hates that phrase. That’s when he’ll get up, leave you to drink alone, and figure out why for yourself. “Wait till you get on the other side of old…” he shouts at his pigs on the farm. They’ve heard it all before and reply in kind, with resounding appeals and demanding grunts. Zachariah stands before them, holding a bucket of slop. It’s filled from the day’s pickup: trimmings from the grocer’s produce aisle, out-of-date dairy, plate scrapings from a few choice restaurants, stale donuts and spent brewer’s grains. His pigs make such a fuss that naive ears would think they were hearing animal abuse a mile away. Quite the contrary. This is the only time Zachariah has the swines’ undivided attention, because once that slop hits the trough they don’t give him anymore mind. Shoving, biting, snorting, eating, and relieving, they devour slimy lettuce, cold grizzle, syrup-soaked pancakes and stale apple fritters. “What pigs,” he murmurs, mesmerized and resting on the fence, like he’s done nearly every day of his long life.
A cast-off orange, bruised and oozing, rolls down into a hollow of the pen where a sow steps on it, shoving it deeper into the mud. Pigs don’t like citrus. “But they’re greedy for damn near everything else people waste,” Zachariah thinks, “and even get picky, once fed too much stale bread after the whipped cream, butter, and fancy cheese slops from catered weddings.” But he knows all that milky fat makes for some tasty pork loins, chops, and shoulders.
As the feeding frenzy dies down, Zachariah affirms what he already believes: “The earth is round.” Then he turns his back to the pigs, on to the next chore. The ladies of the hen house are waiting.