by Dolly Freed, January 29, 2010 10:08 AM
I just watched a show where the narrator was trying to demonstrate people's complete dependency on technology. "If civilization fell," he asked in a dramatic and scary voice, "do know how to raise your own food? Could you even tell the difference between a cucumber seed and corn seed?" I had to smile, because, yes, I do and, yes, I can. You, too, can smile when you hear such scary things if you have a few possum skills. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Know how to grow vegetables. Gardening has to be learned, but, hey, it's not rocket science, and I ought to know. If you are really new, start with something easy, say, basil or lettuce in a pot, and get a soil-moisture meter*. (Staff at a nursery will be glad to get you started.) Once you are ready to do more, look up organic gardening for your area or join a community garden. If you end up hating gardening, well then, you'll know. But if you like it, you will experience the joy of making your own food magically appear from the ground.
2. Find cheap or free things to do for entertainment and to relieve stress. We like to go to a park, volunteer, exercise, check out free activities, join social groups, play with our pets, visit museums, have friends over, play games, or do any of a hundred other inexpensive things.
3. Give up any notion of status related to possessions. If it's workable, clean, and in good repair, it doesn't have to be as good as your neighbors' or friends'. I try to remember that my luxury is being in control of my time and money.
4. Know how to forage, find, or scavenge. Go wild berry picking, learn how to fish, forage for nuts, join a mushroom-hunting group, research and eat invasive species, read a survival manual, or get a field guide to edible weeds. I'm not sure how much this would really help if civilization fell, but just knowing what food sources are around you is satisfying and fun.
I'd love to hear your ideas — please send them to me at www.possumliving.net.
Before I go, let me leave you with this list of some thought-provoking books that relate to possum living: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama, Collapse by Jared Diamond, Affluenza by de Graaf, Wann, and Naylor, and 1491 by Charles Mann.
May you find your bliss in life,
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* The typical soil meter doesn't use batteries, costs around $25, and lasts forever. You poke the probe into the ground about 2 inches and if the dial registers in the middle, the moisture is about right. Stick your finger into the soil when using the meter and you will soon learn to judge moisture levels by
by Dolly Freed, January 28, 2010 11:17 AM
After reading Possum Living
, people sometimes ask me, "How could you be so mean as to raise a bunny then kill it and eat it?" I tell them that our rabbits had the best little bunny lives they possibly could — lots of space, no predators, good and varied food, other bunnies for company, plenty of clean water, and a quick death. That's as good as it gets for most animals.
We could ask if it would have been better for the bunnies to have never been born than to be born and die. We can't answer that because we aren't bunnies. But we can consider it for people — it's a question that's been debated at least since the ancient Greeks. Most people are in favor of existence. You are reading this now, so you must exist. (I read, therefore I am?)
In any case, we can agree that it is wrong to neglect or torture animals. But that's how agribusiness treats most commercial animals. Cows are fattened in lots so filthy and fed such crummy food that they have to be given antibiotics continuously. Pregnant pigs, calves for veal, and chickens are kept in excruciatingly small pens. Many will die a slow death. This is wrong. I don't buy this type of meat.
When I was possum living, there was a family-run dairy farm a mile down the road. The cows grazed in clean fields. They reminded me of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem about the family cow: "And blown by all the winds that pass, and wet with all the showers, she walks among the meadow grass and eats the meadow flowers." That's the way cows should be raised. If they also had a clean death, I can eat this type of meat with a clear conscience.
Another issue of conscience for meat eaters is where to draw the line on intelligent animals. Obviously, humans are taboo. It's harder to decide about other animals. Most Americans won't eat a dog because dogs are intelligent and affectionate. Yet, if we applied the same logic to other animals, few Americans would eat pork since domestic pigs are just as intelligent and affectionate. On the other hand, rabbits and chickens, although cute, aren't very smart.
It's perfectly possible to possum live and not eat meat. You'd just have to eat more beans. Soybeans are cheap at a food and grain store and any kind of bean is easy to grow. But even vegetarians and vegans face ethical decisions. Is it OK to kill insects that eat domestic plants? If an animal dies on its own, such as when a dove flies into a window, wouldn't it be OK to eat?
Just because it's complicated doesn't mean you shouldn't think about it. You may not succeed completely, but you can at least try to eat with a
by Dolly Freed, January 27, 2010 10:33 AM
We just got back from visiting friends in Austin, Texas. While we were there, a white-winged dove flew into the window and died instantly.
I picked it up, gently turned it over, and took it inside.
I decided it would be a shame to waste a perfectly good, fresh dove. I thought I would revive an old possum recipe and fry it up. Securing my apron, I got to work. First, I pulled the feathers from the breast and cut off the chest meat for two little cutlets.
I browned them in butter, blended in tomato sauce, and simmered them a few minutes.
They were so small, we each got only a few bites.
Most of us thought it was really good, even Carrie, who screwed up her face like I was feeding her bitters and who couldn't force down more than one bite because she was disturbed about seeing the carcass. I told her she ought to be a vegetarian and showed her how to fry tofu*.
You have to understand that Carrie is a gentle soul. When she found a black widow spider living in her window, she couldn't bring herself to kill it. She had me capture it and made me promise not to kill it. I kept that thing in a large jar with holes in the lid (very tiny holes) in my laundry room for two or three years. I fed it mealworms, and Carrie was OK with that because it was the spider that was doing the killing. When I found a brown recluse spider in her bathtub, I squished it, then told her. I didn't want two venomous spiders as pets.
I love Carrie, but we are opposites in many ways. Carrie is an ubershopper. Her house is tastefully decorated in carefully chosen knickknacks. All of her towels match. And I don't have a problem with that. Possum living, or even being frugal, was never about righteousness for me. It's about spending your time and your money in ways that are meaningful to you. It's about choices. Carrie doesn't mind working for her nice things. And when she gets fed up with my worn out towels, she buys me new ones for my birthday. How could you have a better friend?
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* How to Fry Tofu
Start with a block of firm or extra-firm tofu. (Do not use soft or silken tofu for this!) Remove it from the box and let drain a few minutes. Carefully cut it into smaller, bite-sized blocks. Pour 3 inches of canola oil into a high-sided pot and heat to 375 degrees. (I use a candy/frying thermometer to check the temperature.)
While the oil is heating, fill a bowl half-full of corn starch. Place six pieces of tofu into the bowl and gently toss them to coat with cornstarch. Carefully add a few pieces of coated tofu at time to the hot oil and cook until they get golden flecks. Drain and serve with soy sauce. (A skimmer utensil helps with putting the tofu in and out of the oil. I use one for putting them in and one for taking them out.)
Or, for a chewier style, cut the firm or extra firm tofu into bite-size blocks and freeze them. Take them out and, without trying to separate the pieces, let them thaw and drain. Fry a few pieces at a time in three inches of canola oil at 375 degrees until light brown. Drain. This type is very good in stir-fries and other Asian
by Dolly Freed, January 26, 2010 9:58 AM
When people read in Possum Living
that my Dad and I raised, foraged, or caught most of our food, heated it with a wood stove, and lived without a car, they assume that we worked hard all the time. They don't believe me when I say we were pretty lazy.
It is true that sometimes it was hard work. Paying off and fixing up a house, putting in a large vegetable garden, and setting up housing for rabbits and chickens is hard work. But once everything is set up? Phht! If you are the least bit self-motivated and like gardening and hands-on projects, it's fairly easy.
The secret was that we got the bulk of our calories from feed and grain stores. Sacks of wheat, soybeans, corn, and potatoes are incredibly cheap there compared to grocery stores. It also meant that if we had a crop failure, we weren't going to starve.
It's not a case of rosy memories, either. I'm rereading the daily journals I kept at the time. When I was possum living, I did more socializing, bird watching, reading, napping, and general fiddling then than at any other point in my life.
For proof, I offer this description, from my journal, of a typical summer day for us possums in 1975. (I was 16 and grammar impaired.)
Had scrambled eggs with peppers and shallots for breakfast — very good. Bertha came by to visit but only stayed a few minutes because her friends were in the car waiting for her. I went swimming in the creek for a little while; the carp were jumping up near the shoreline, I think they were spawning. They made a hell of a lot of noise.
We had leftover snapping turtle soup and fry bread for lunch. I walked to town with a cart of laundry, finished at the Laundromat and started home around 2:30. Daddy went fishing and caught two catfish and several sunnies. I went raspberry picking and came home with a pot full. Took a nap. I real quick got up and ran to the cow farm. The cows moo'd for me. The sunset was beautiful.
After I recovered from my run, we stayed outside and talked to the neighbors awhile. They just got the cutest tri-colored kitten. We cooked peas and fried fish for dinner. Fed the bunnies. Listened to records, cracked nuts, read, and then went to bed about 11:30.
Doesn't sound too bad, does it?
Dolly Freed looking for wildlife while wading up a
by Dolly Freed, January 25, 2010 10:06 AM
In 1978, as a cocky 18-year-old, I wrote a book about how my dad and I lived a rich and happy life in a middle-class neighborhood with only an occasional part-time job. We gardened, raised rabbits and chickens in the basement, and bought bulk food at a feed and grain store. The book was chock full of ideas for frugal living that worked so well, we lived on the equivalent of $5,800 a year in current dollars. We joked that if possums could live without a job, so could we, hence the title.
It's been decades since I lived the full possum life, but its principles have given me tremendous confidence. I went to college with only a 7th grade education and lot of reading in the library, became a NASA engineer, switched to environmental education, was a college professor, and started my own business.
Ironically, I now see the same fears and problems occurring that prompted me to write the book in the first place — a staggering recession, worries about job markets, and concerns about natural resources.
And as I've gotten older, I find myself turning more and more to my possum ways, verifying that even if you can't go the full possum, so to speak, being part possum can be comforting and prudent. Reprinting Possum Living seemed like a good idea.
In Possum Living, I spoke of the merits of cheating on taxes, made fun of several major institutions, and suggested that people eat euthanized cats and dogs. For good measure, I also explained the making of illegal moonshine and mentioned how to intimidate annoying people.
It is true that I wasn't completely serious about the dogs and cats (I love my dog and cats and would never eat them), I don't make enough money to bother cheating on my taxes, I've renounced the concept of any good coming from terrorizing people, and I haven't made moonshine in years — all of which I cover in the new afterword. Still, it seemed wise to keep the pen name for the reprint. After all, just how many IRS audits and crank calls do I need?
But there's a problem with using pen names today. Some newspapers like the New York Times got burnt by reporters simply making up stories, so now they won't print interviews unless real names are used. I think this is downright wrong. I imagine Benjamin Franklin rolling in his grave at the very thought of not respecting pen names. These papers didn't use fact checkers properly in the past and now they are not using them properly in a different way. In the long run, this policy will diminish public discourse.
Of course, I could be wrong. What do you