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My Empire of Dirt


I had hoped to share the occasion of my first meal, if not the actual food, since there wasn’t very much, with Lisa and the kids, but Lisa was steadfast in her boycott of all things farm, most especially the farmer. She scheduled drinks for after work and arranged for Heath and Jake to stay with my mother. So I invited my friend Dan to join me. Originally from Alaska, he knows his way around homegrown poultry. He was less excited to wash it down with water.

“Nothing but water for a month?”

“I didn’t grow any booze, Dan,” I replied, remembering for a second that I originally intended to. That seemed like a very long time ago.

“Of course not. Still?”

“You’re welcome to open a bottle,”

“No. Not if you’re not drinking. It wouldn’t seem …”

“It’s fine, Dan. Open a bottle.”

“Well, don’t mind if I do.”

I roasted one chicken on my outdoor grill, then split the bird and piled each half on a bed of greens I’d blanched, then sautéed in chicken fat, green onions, and garlic. I put thick slices of raw tomato, dusted with coarse sea salt and black pepper, on the outside of the plates and garnished them with parsley. It looked beautiful, easily good enough to serve in a restaurant. The taste was even better. I cut along the thigh bone with a knife and fork, and took a big mouthful. The skin was thick and crisp, like pork crackling, and dripping in delicious fat. The meat underneath was a revelation, dense but not at all chewy, with the concentrated flavor of a dozen store-bought chickens. It tasted like something that had been alive, the way a line-caught fish does. Dan enjoyed it, too, but it didn’t matter so much to me what he thought. He was there to witness my satisfaction, which was complete. So complete I didn’t even begrudge him his gulps of white wine.

When Lisa arrived home with the kids, I practically accosted them in the doorway, urging them to try some of the remaining chicken. Lisa refused outright. Jake looked at his mom and then the chicken and said, “No thanks, Dad.”

“Really? Not even a taste?”

“I’m fine,” replied Lisa. Jake just watched the two of us.

“Come on, Jake, try it. It’s totally amazing!” I insisted. Desperate for an ally, I tried to split the family along gender lines. “Not like regular chicken at all.”

“I like regular chicken,” Jake said.

The next day, I made another plate as perfect as the ones I’d made for me and Dan, and served it to Caleb, my loyal farmhand. He looked at it as if he wished it were a slice of pizza and remarked, with undergraduate panache, that it “smelled a bit like underpants.” But when he finally ate some, he had to admit it was delicious.

For the next four days, I ate nothing but self-farmed goods. There was not much variety. The eggs were a godsend; I ate one every morning. Then nothing until an early dinner, which I started preparing around four and ate, by myself, at five. The meals were all minor variations on my first one—I alternated between roasted chicken and chicken stewed in tomatoes and onion. I had collard greens and fresh tomatoes on the side and, every other day, some eggplant. Once or twice, I admit, I cheated, using olive oil to cook the eggplant because it was so dreadful boiled.

My dining schedule was dictated by the fact that I didn’t really have anything for lunch, at least not anything that was different from what I had for dinner, and by the fact that I still sat with the kids when they ate their decidedly non-farm supper at seven. Never before in my life have I salivated at the sight of a frozen fish stick, but that started to happen. The images of sushi dancing in my head had a psychedelic edge. Time slowed down. I tried to live a normal life, but leaving The Farm inevitably brought me into contact with food I couldn’t eat, and I found the temptation for almost everything unbearable. I walked to the deli to pick up milk for the kids and just about got down and begged for a bag of microwaved popcorn. Normally I hate microwaved popcorn.

On Day 6, I was in fact driven to my knees—by severe gastrointestinal distress. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that I had to forgo The Farm diet in favor of saltines as well as maintain, at all times, an unobstructed path to the toilet. Whether this ailment was caused by The Farm I do not know. I am proud to say, however, that after two days of suffering, I was able to return to The Farm diet and, with the exception of a steak dinner on my birthday (sadly, I burned the beautiful piece of meat my mom brought over for me, probably an act of the gods), I have stayed on course as of this writing.

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