Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Kalapana, January 2006 | by Jim Gupta-Carlson

My husband Jim recently resurrected a photo he had taken at Kalapana, Hawai'i, in early 2006. We were newly married and had recently decided that we would leave Hawai'i, where I had lived for ten years and he for about five, sometime that following summer. I had wanted to try and visit all the islands one more time before we left, and to make the two-day hike along the Kalaupapa trail on the Na Pali coast of Kauai, a trek I'd always swore would be my parting hike from Hawai'i. As it turned out, the winter and spring of 2006 were unusually rainy, with flash floods occurring regularly across all of the islands. Tears, perhaps, from heaven that paralleled my own sorrow over the departure. The rains coupled with a crazy schedule and a lack of funds meant that Hawai'i was the only island -- other than O'ahu, where we lived -- that we were able to visit.

I didn't remember the photo initially, but as I looked at it more intently, memories floated back. The steam rising through vents in the volcanic rock, the sparse but energetic vegetation, the haunting sunset. I had first visited Kalapana in 1996, and had been struck by what I perceived as its lifelessness. I am not sure of the actual details any longer, but the story holds true: a massive corporate development had been planned and would desecrate some areas that the Kanaka Maoli held sacred. Madame Pele intervened, and in 1986, the lava from the Kilauea flow rolled in, destroying the town and a series of subdivisions.

Ten years after the flow, there was little life. You could drive to the edge of the lava field, walk on the rocks and feel the heat. Steam vents were common.

Ten years after that, in 2006, nature was doing its part. Life was returning to Kalapana in the form of vegetation and a small amount of what seemed to be locally based commerce (as opposed to the corporate tourism that seems to dominate so much of Hawai'i) to the town.

The revival made me happy. And it heightened my sadness over my pending departure from Hawai'i.
I am not a person of permanence. I was born to immigrant parents, and within the first ten months of my life, I had lived at three different addresses. The moving continued through my childhood and young adulthood years, from Iowa City to Cleveland, to Muncie, to Chicago, southern Illinois, Fort Worth, northeastern Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Seattle, and then Honolulu. By 2006, I was forty-three years old. The longest I had lived in any one place was fifteen years in Muncie, where I grew up. The second longest was ten years and the place was Hawai'i.

I never intended to remain in Hawai'i. From the outset, I considered my presence there to be morally inappropriate as it was continuing a colonialist practice of outside settlement and exploitation of fragile resources by those non-native to the islands. I tried to be as politically supportive of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement as I could as a doctoral student who was earning her keep by working as a journalist for a newspaper whose ancestral ownership included members of the business elite that masterminded the illegal 1893 overthrow of Hawai'i's monarchy. I was constrained by my job from overt political participation. Nevertheless, I taught the politics of colonialism and U.S. imperialism as they pertained to Hawai'i in courses in the political science department at the University of Hawai'i and used my time in the islands to learn what I could about the theories and practices of decolonization from a bottom-up perspective. And, in what feels today from the pragmatic lens of the crusty, cynical Northeast as an overly superstitious view, it seemed as if for years I was being asked to stay. After deciding I would leave, the wheels would be stolen off my car, symbolizing the fact that I wasn't going anywhere as yet. But when my rent began to climb beyond the point of affordability on a part-time salary and I began to realize that I was spending more time working at my job to afford to live in Hawai'i than I was actually living in Hawai'i, I knew it was time to go.

The decision pleased my new husband, who had not shared many of my experiences of the islands, and had questioned the truth of aloha spirit. But it tore me up. Even though I put on a pragmatic face, I wasn't ready to leave quite yet.

We left on July 12, 2006, two days after I defended my doctoral dissertation. I finished the revisions in Seattle the following fall and spring, and flew back in May 2007 to graduate, just as that Hawai'i-born senator named Barack Obama announced his bid for the presidency. Today, I feel that I live very far from the world I inhabited from August 1, 1995, through July 12, 2006. Yet, there are parallels. The ground today -- on this today -- is lifeless, blanketed by a thick crust of snow. Smoke rises, not from steam vents in lava rocks but from wood-burning furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces that people in the rural part of northeastern New York where I now live use to heat their homes. Yet, underneath the snow, there is new growth. Nature will do its part as it did in Kalapana to restore life.

I look at the photo, and I love it. I suggested that we get it printed for my office, where it -- like the 88-cent calendars from the Long's Drugstores in Hawai'i that two friends loyally send me every year -- will remind me of what I learned in Hawai'i and inspire me to continue the work I began there in the social justice activism that I, now no longer working in mainstream journalism, am free to express publicly. Jim wants it framed and hung properly. I want it as a poster, stretched out in a horizontal 20 x16 portrait and affixed to the wall with thumbtacks, scotch tape, and/or duct tape. He protests that I don't know how to treasure things of value. I retort that I am not a person of permanence. The story behind all this is how I want to engage with the photograph. I want to press my nose into the landscape and smell the sulfur from the vent. I want to trace my finger around the tree that forms the dominant subject. I want to touch the mountains in the distance and imagine the feel of that sun burning my skin with memories of its warmth. I feel as I look at it that the land -- the tree, the steam, the sunset -- was telling me something that perhaps I couldn't understand then and am only beginning to comprehend a little now. That life is mobile and dynamic. That land is life. That we should keep moving forth.

There's an addendum to this story: In doing a bit of Internet fact-checking on my memories of Kalapana, I was reminded that Pele had released the lava in the area again more recently, this time in 2010. What life was rekindling may now be snuffed. Yet, like the frozen life beneath the snow in my backyard in New York, there is a promise of rebirth.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Staying up for Santa

It's a little before the midnight. Santa will be arriving shortly, though one can make the argument as adults that he's pretty much always here.

I woke up late this morning in a bit of a down-in-the-dumps mood. I felt as if the year were rapidly drawing to a close, and my results toward my goals were, well, close, but didn't quite hit the mark.

Morning pages helped pull me out of the funk as the habit of three-pages-longhand, stream of consciousness writing so often does. I found myself reflecting on the over coding that holidays produce. You're supposed to be celebrating yourself to exhaustion when the best celebration is perhaps sitting by the fire and reading a book and getting a full night's rest. You're supposed to be giving gifts when perhaps the best gifts were those that were given throughout the year. You're feeling crestfallen because your house contains no Christmas tree and no pile of gifts when perhaps the gifts you received throughout the year are gestures, items, and acts of love and caring that you'll never forget.

A few minutes ago, I told my husband jokingly that he was like Santa Claus. He reacted with mock offense. I responded that he did all the things that Santa Claus does, although his weakness is that he isn't very good with lists. That got me thinking about lists, and goals, and resolutions, and what's at stake when we make them. And if we might see all of these things as the everyday acts of kindness that many of us strive to carry out but often -- when the pace of life and the crisis of the moment strike -- we neglect.

I can't get the generosity of the farmers who sell at the Saratoga Farmers Market where we often work as volunteers out of my mind. We were leaving the market Saturday, when suddenly our table was piled high with a palette full of baked goods, cheese and yogurt delicacies, and farm-fresh meats and foods. "We appreciate the work you do as volunteers," said the market director, a berry farmer in the summers and a tree vendor in the winters, told us. "We don't always show it."

I had gotten a hint earlier that a gift might be in the offing from one of the other farmers, a woman who simply cannot keep a secret. And, because I've gathered donations from the farmers in the past to support musicians and other artists who perform during the markets for free, I knew that what was given to us wasn't a great deal from the individual farmers' perspectives in a material sense. It was a lot, however, in an emotional sense. It left me feeling stunned.

Stunned in a good way, in a way that left me resolving to continue to try and do whatever it was that I was doing. The gifts were immaterial, if one sees gifts simply as transactions of obligation. The building of a better world is what matters, which is where the gifts become relevant.

Earlier this year, I wrote an essay about finishing a triathlon in last place but not minding that at all, and feeling appreciative of the huge number of people -- who knew me only by my race number of 82 -- cheering me on. That essay and this past weekend reminded me of an Ecstatic Dance Group I had joined for a few months in 2007 when I had returned to Seattle and was trying to get the revisions to my doctoral dissertation done. I had shared my struggles periodically in the brief shares offered in a closing circle over those months, and had joined the practice of ending the sessions by introducing myself with my first name. The group was large and only a couple of people knew me outside the circle, yet when the dissertation was finally done, signed off by my advisors, and submitted to the graduate division, I introduced myself one Sunday impulsively as "Dr. Himanee." One person laughed, another clapped, and then the realization of what I'd just announced dawned on the collective consciousness of the circle. The applause, cheers, foot stomps and shouts of joy lasted for about a minute. I couldn't believe the generosity of the anonymous could be this huge.

But that is perhaps where it lies. In Washington DC, on the weekend leading up to President Obama's second inauguration ceremony, the National Day of Service took place on the Mall. Participants were handed pledge books and were encouraged to make a commitment to volunteer a set number of hours in 2013. Earlier, I had created a pie chart of priorities and because service to community was among the eight pieces, I decided to put down a pledge of 240 hours or 20 hours a month. Given that I already was spending two to four hours a week at most of the weekly gatherings of the Farmers Market, I didn't think this number would be difficult to fulfill. As weeks and months wore on, my efforts to find ways to volunteer to tally up the hours made the figure feel more and more formidable. And, then, at some point, I just stopped counting and just said, "yes," when asked if I could help. Volunteering ceased to be an obligation and turned into a way of life. In a sense, it became a gift. More of a gift to me than a gift I felt I gave someone else because whenever I did help out, I was pulled out of myself. I got engaged with a community; I talked to people; I learned something. I had fun.

So that's why we're staying up tonight waiting for Santa to make his annual red-jacketed appearance with his antler-heavy entourage. It's not so much for the gifts (or lack thereof) that we expect tonight. It's for the gifting that circulates all around us -- giving and receiving -- throughout the year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Ghosts: 2013

(I wrote the following stories as part of an Advent Ghosts writing project in cyberspace, organized by Loren Eaton at

Free for all
The Hungry line up outside the church. Damien frisks each one of them before letting them in.
            Inside, plates fill.
Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes.            
            Shouts erupt. Fists bang. The line becomes a mob.
Damien locks the doors.
"Would you like a dinner roll?" Abdullah asks a man.
            "No white bread. No white food."
            "Yams, yes. God's first food."
            The man has black hair, a feather dangling with a bead. Eyes wedged with grit. "Jesus died for all of us."
            Abdullah leaves his station and walks toward the door. He overpowers Damien, lifts the latch, and lets the Hungry in.

            Last Words
Johnson was irate. He was on TV and Jeanie missed it.
She worked late. Again. She didn’t call home. Again.
Johnson hurled his hurt like a whip. “You self-absorbed, selfish ego-maniac.”
Jeanie took the lashes, and poured some wine. And more.
She switched to vodka.
She started retching and passed out.
When she awoke, Johnson was penitent.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m sorry. I made a mess.”
The voice was not his wife’s. He looked at her and saw bloodshot eyes, and a contorted neck. She laughed. A diabolic laugh.
Her arm whipped forward and Johnson’s world went dark.

 Violations of Trust
            Shep met Avery on Philbin Street, while photographing the streets. Avery was reciting verse.
            They started talking, and Avery showed him his Book of Words.
            Shep left the area, and months later Avery saw his picture with a story about the homeless. The photo angers him, and he turns to drugs while waiting for Shep to return.
            On Christmas Eve, Avery sat with his nose in a sack, his eyes glazed but watchful.
His patience was rewarded. Shep returned.
            Avery crept up.
            “Do you remember me?” he asked, as the Book of Words formed a noose around Shep’s cashmere swathed neck.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Bean stomping

It is almost mid-December. The winter solstice is eight days away, the date that signifies the first day of winter and the return of light. Snow is falling sporadically, and deep freezes have turned our ground hard. Still, our garden keeps giving in amazing ways.

For the past four weeks, I have trekked out to the remnants of the summer garden two or three times a week to break off kale, collard, and brussels sprouts leaves from their stalks. I also have snapped baby-sized brussels sprouts off their stalks. I use the words "break" and "snap" literally. The leaves and the sprouts are frozen, but they are still green. We let them sit in our mudroom for a few hours, rinse them well with cold water, and cook them quickly with a little bit of oil, leek, garlic, and cumin. They taste almost better than they did at the height of the season.

Herbs also are still valiantly alive. This afternoon, with the temperatures barely making it out of the teens, I snipped sprigs of thyme for a crockpot stew. I also have been continuing to harvest basil, lemongrass, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram from pots that we wisely stored this year in the mudroom -- which is less well heated than the main part of the house -- instead of indoors. The cooler air and the absence of hot air filtering up from a wood-burning stove or forced air heating vents seems to be suiting most of the herbs well. As long as we can remember to mist them every two or three days, gardening guides tell us the plants will make it into the spring.

And then there's the dried beans.

We ended our season with a joyful outcome on beans. After losing nearly all of our crop in 2012 to deer, we vowed to do a better job this year of protecting them and invested in a solar powered electric fence. The fence surrounded most of our garden and was considerably cheaper and less physically intrusive than any other barrier. I worried about deer getting hurt from the shocks of the fence, but they seemed not to be bothered in the least. The fence prompted them to alter their paths and gave us a wonderfully rich supply of winter beans.

Most of which remain in the two large cardboard boxes we stashed them in after harvesting the dry vines in October.

I had visualized quiet winter nights by the fire, listening to music, sipping tea, and shelling beans. That image worked well until I realized how slow the process of bean shelling is. Three or four times, I've sat by the fire for one or two hours shelling away. The end result is usually a few healthy cups of brilliantly colored legumes, a huge pile of brittle pods, aching shoulders and chapped fingers, and minute debris from leaves, splintering vines and other yard material scattered everywhere.

In the meantime, the load of beans that remains to be shelled seems to have barely diminished, to the point that my husband Jim remarked tonight that there was no way I would get through the beans before next year.

I decided there had to be a better way, and consulted the Internet.

Happily, there is.

A couple of colleagues once shared with me a practice of laying the bean pods on a sheet, donning clean socks and stomping all over them, crushing the beans n the process. Apparently, bean stomping is a time honored tradition with gardening enthusiasts, homesteaders, and small farmers offering suggestions. One from Mother Earth News that dated back to 1983 involved putting the beans in a burlap sack, tying the end, and placing the sack in an area of a house that sees a lot of foot traffic. After a few days, the pods are crushed and the beans are "de-podded". Once the beans are freed from their pods, the author noted, one only needs to give the burlap sack a few good vigorous shakes. The beans settle down on the bottom and you scoop the chaff from the top.

Other suggestions included putting the bean pods in a trash can and weed-whacking them until the pods were crushed, then using a leaf blower to disperse the chaff; donning work gloves and crushing the pods one by one, allowing the beans to fall into a container; and putting the pods in a pillowcase and beating them with a stick.

To be fair, I did try a modified version of the pillowcase method about a month ago. I loaded an armful of beans into a pillowcase that happened to zip close, put it on the floor and walked all over it. It did work, but I found separating the beans from the chaff to be quite laborious. Looking over these suggestions, I realize that shaking the  pillowcase and then finding some sort of way to dump out the crushed pods and other debris without losing the beans might have helped.

So, empowered by the tradition of bean stomping, I am hoping tomorrow to create a modified version of my colleagues' sheet method. I'll load beans up not in a pillowcase but in a chicken feed sack. The sacks we receive our feed from are made more of a vinyl material than burlap, but they are tough and should be able to withstand some rough handling. Plus, we buy 100 pounds of feed at a time so I'm figuring that we can fit the rest of our harvest into one or two of the bags. I'll tie the ends, take the bags upstairs out of our cats way, and stomp away. Perhaps I'll dance on the bags a little as well. Afterwards, I'll give the bags a shake (or get my much stronger husband to do so), and prepare to scoop out a big pile of debris … all good compost material that so minute and dry that it will take little to turn it into new soil. And, then, we'll see what lies below.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Some real costs of food

Last night, I started to write a story that I had envisioned that I would post to my Sustainability blog. It was supposed to be about finding abundance by creating multiple meals from a single farm-raised animal, in this case, a duck. The story, as it evolved, turned out to be something different and I ended up sharing it not on my Sustainability blog but on my Short Stories blog. The story that I ended up writing was less about finding abundance and more about honoring animals through the meat that we eat. It tried to intervene in the debates over whether being vegetarian was a more proper ethical choice than eating meat. You can read it here:

It struck me later that not acknowledging this story as a story of sustainability was buying into certain perceptions of what constituted sustainability. By categorizing vegetarianism as an ethical or religious preference (a belief I inherited from my parents) and as a practice that would prolong the life of the planet, it seems that I might have been creating an assumption that non-vegetarianism had no ethical or religious grounding and no sustainable value. It also seemed that I defended non-vegetarianism as a practice that could be sustainable if done in certain sustainable terms: eating only as much meat as your body needed and not engaging in greedy overindulgence; doing your best to ensure that the animals you consume have a good life before they are slaughtered; and honoring the life that the animal did live by using as much of the animal as possible and not merely throwing away the leftovers after one meal.

So, I'm not sure I see ethical or religious justifications for eating meat, any more than I understand how abstaining from meat is an ethical or religious stance. I appreciate that abstinence is a moral choice. What makes the choice moral … well, all I really can say is that some people (including my parents) see the choice as a moral one and I honor the right to do so. I especially honor the right of my parents because they are firstly my parents and they secondly extend a reciprocal gesture to their many friends and relatives (including their children) who do not follow their ways.

But, ethics, morality, and religion aside, it seems that the arguments I made for how to eat meat sustainably could be applied just as appropriately to the production and consumption of fruits and vegetables. In other words, one can be vegetarian or vegan, it seems, and still be highly destructive in one's actions in terms of self, community, and the planet if one is not considering the sustainability of the foods one eats.

Let me offer one example. A few years ago, I was part of a dinner gathering for which I had prepared several vegetable dishes. Many of the vegetables went uneaten, and the hosts, instead of packing up the vegetables to be consumed later as leftovers as they did with the leftover meats, breads, and beverages, simply threw them away. I cringed as I realized too late what had happened because I knew those vegetables alone could have made at least one -- if not two or three -- light, nutritionally balanced, wonderfully tasteful meals. I also knew that the loss of the vegetables was a bit of an economic loss: about one-third to one-half of what I was spending back then on groceries (before beginning to grow my own food) was on fresh produce. The example also reminded me of other parties and dinner gatherings that I'd been to in the past where beans, carrots, shreds of corn, salads, and other highly wholesome foods end up in the refuse bin from guest plates uneaten.

Growing my own vegetables now alerts me to the use-value of most of what I eat. Or, to get away from the language of Marx, I know what it costs in terms of labor to raise a single vegetable from seed to harvest.

Let me offer the example of garlic. I am choosing garlic because I currently am preparing a few hundred cloves of garlic my husband and I raised last year for dehydrating and ultimate grinding into a powder. My husband and I bought nine pounds of garlic last year through a cooperative arranged by a local farmer for $90. We broke the garlic bulbs into cloves and planted 400 of them. After that planting, we had probably another extra 100 or so cloves, some of which we used in our own cooking and some of which we gave to a friend who was interested in planting her own garlic. Sticking just with the figures of $90 and 400 cloves, each clove -- or "seed", if you will -- cost about 22.5 cents. We had a great harvest, which yielded about 400 bulbs of garlic, as well as some 400 garlic scapes, some of which we enjoyed for severals months in saut├ęs, stir fries, and pestos, and some of which we distributed to our garlic scape-loving friends. So, perhaps, we can assume from these statistics that each bulb of garlic that we grew cost us about 15 cents, especially since the success of the crop meant that we didn't need to invest an additional $90 this year in garlic for seed.

A single garlic bulb sells for between $1 and $3 at our local farmers market. Based on these figures, the fact that our own garlic cost us just 15 cents seems like a great deal.

Except for the labor, soil, and fertilizer costs.

I personally am not at a point yet where I can figure the per-plant costs of soil, water, and fertilizer. But I can speak a bit about labor: It took me about four hours to prepare the bulbs for planting. It took my husband about sixteen hours to turn the soil and prepare the section of our garden where we decided we would plant garlic. It then took the two of us about six hours to plant the cloves. Cutting scapes in July took me about eight hours. Harvesting the garlic took the two of us about twenty-hours. After harvesting, the garlic bulbs needed to cure for about six weeks before I could snap the bulbs from the stalks and store them away. The post-curing snapping and storing took about six hours. Part of that process also required separating the bulbs into ones that we wanted to use for fresh eating, for drying, and for the seeding of the next crop. And, as noted, the process of dehydrating has only begun. So looking at our labor hours, totals up to 60 hours -- spread over a time period of about nine months.

Labor analysts estimate that a current living wage for our economy should be about $15 an hour. I'll be frugal and use the minimum wage of $8 an hour, which is set to go into effect in New York State in 2014. Our labor costs for the 400 bulbs of garlic we raised were $480, or just a little over $1 per bulb, the low end of the going rate at the farmers market. So if we look at the seed cost of 15 cents per clove and figure that an average bulb of garlic has six cloves, we can see that growing one bulb of garlic cost about $1.90.

Before this discussion gets too "economic," I want to reiterate that growing garlic is a joy. It's typically planted in the late fall between the time of the first frost and the point where the ground freezes. It lies dormant under soil and snow and begins to sprout its first leaves in about mid-March, one of the first plants to grow. Growers can savor the particularly pungent flavor of "green garlic" by pulling a few stalks as early as mid-May, before the scapes start coming into full bloom in June. The first mature stalks that we pull have a robust, creamy flavor that when roasted lightly on an outdoor grill are unparalleled in taste. Garlic retains its freshness for several months, so reminders of the previous years' harvest can stay with you through the emergence of the new leaves in the following spring.

With this in mind, imagine what happens when we do not honor our produce and let it go to waste: to rot in fields, to go uneaten on plates, to be thrown away after a meal instead of saved for another? Garlic is just one example of the costs that growing food entails. It seems that like meat it is most ethical and most sustainable to grow it and share it and to make sure the whole plant is consumed.

I should mention the stalks on which garlic grows, as well as the papery skins that surround each raw clove. They generally dry until they are brittle, and broken up in a compost pile, they decompose quickly, forming an excellent component of the topsoil in which all of our plants grow.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Honoring the animals we eat

A secret little jar has been tucked into my refrigerator for the past week. It is a cooking item that came from an unlikely place: the fat off of a duck we enjoyed in at least four different ways over the Thanksgiving holiday. I like to think of that duck, which we purchased from Bob and Mary Pratt of the Elihu Farm in Easton, NY, as the gift that keeps on giving.

My husband Jim and I visited the Pratt's farm about eighteen months ago, and saw the ducks they were raising skipping around in a field and scooting off into a pond. We had gotten a duck from another one of our favorite farmers last winter and had prepared it Chinese-style, as a Peking-style duck. We loved the preparation so much that we decided that we wanted to do it again for Thanksgiving. The Pratt's had had some of their flock recently returned from the butcher, and were happy to reserve one for us.

The Peking-style duck, done the right way, is actually three courses. It takes about a day and a half of advance preparation, and can be a pretty heavy eating experience. Jim and I love to eat, but we don't like to gorge so we split the three courses into three or more meals, which makes the intense level of preparation worth the effort.

But how did I end up with a 16 ounce jar of bright yellow duck fat? The answer begins with a description of how the duck is prepared.

The first step, after washing and patting the duck dry, is to pour one quarter of a cup of vodka over it. The vodka helps dry the duck skin and enhances its flavor a bit. We put it in the vodka and let it marinate overnight. The second step comes the next morning: the duck is rubbed with honey and then hung by the neck to dry in a cool, breezy space for at least four hours. We put it in our mudroom with an electric fan blowing gently next to it, and let it dry for about six hours.

Then, comes the roasting. The duck is placed on a roasting rack over a pan of water and roasted at 375 degrees for about thirty minutes, then at 300 degrees for about an hour. One then turns the temperature back up to 375 and continues to roast the duck until it is tender. We had a 4-1/2 pound duck and expected the cooking process to take about three hours. The duck was done, however, in about a half hour after we turned the heat back up, or in about two hours total.

The first course is served with handmade mandarin pancakes, which are simple crepes made of flour, water, and sesame oil, and with either hoisin sauce or a fruity jam and some onions on the side. The meal looks deceptively light; in reality, it is quite filling. After we ate, I cut the remaining meat into pieces that would be suitable for a stir fry and stored them in the refrigerator. I also wrapped the carcass into a plastic bag and stashed it away, as well. The stir fry was to be the second course, enhanced with crisp green beans, carrots, garlic, and onion. The carcass would make a rich brothy soup for the third course.

As I was putting away the first course, however, I lifted the roasting rack off of its pan and noticed a rich golden residue had gathered in the water. A quick finger taste revealed that fat from the duck along with the honey and perhaps some traces of the vodka had accumulated to create a rich savory mixture. It seemed too good to throw away so I carefully poured it into a small cooking pot, figuring I could make a gravy with it later.

Chinese style stir fries and American style gravies, however, are not exactly compatible in a culinary sense. When we made our duck stir fry a couple of days later, I did it as a fairly dry mixture because the meat was so rich with fat. The liquid sat in the refrigerator for two more days, and I fully planned to throw it out.

And then a friend suggested I save the duck fat for cooking such things as hash brown potatoes and pie crusts. Suddenly, it seemed that we had gained a few more additional meals from the duck.

I got the pot out of the refrigerator and immediately noticed that the fat had congealed. I scooped it out and put it in a small jar, marveling at its vivid yellow hue. And, underneath the fat, lay one more find: a defatted light golden-brown broth. I resolved to use it to cook risotto.

The lingering remnants of honey, duck meat, and vodka combined to create a deliciously light flavorful broth that the starchy arborio rice used in risotto eagerly soaked up. We scraped the pan clean of the risotto, and began looking forward to meal number four: the traditional third course of a Peking-style duck meal, which is a noodle soup.

And, in the meantime, the duck fat formed the basis for a crust for an apple pie, oil for frying potatoes, and a moistening agent for the leftover duck stir fry. About half of the bottle still sits in the refrigerator, waiting to be used, and we have requested another duck from the Pratt's to eat over Christmas.

So what is the point of such a story? There is some back story to this question, too. Last spring, I was at a health and wellness conference sponsored by my college, and found myself chatting with a student who had decided she no longer wanted to eat meat. She told me that one of her reasons for going vegan was reading the grotesque accounts of the Chicago meat-packing industry in the late nineteenth century that are documented in Upton Sinclair's classic book The Jungle. I knew those accounts well, and when after a four-year period in my own life in which I stopped eating meat I decided to resume eating meat, the industrial practices of the early twenty-first century factory farms weighed heavily in my mind. I grew up in a family where my parents are lifelong vegetarians but, as immigrants from India, wanted their children to acculturate to American life and saw eating meat as a way for us to do so, figuring that we could make the decision later in life whether to keep eating meat or not. Because of this experience, I never have had ethical qualms about eating animals, though I certainly respect those who do. I do, however, do not like to see food of any sort going to waste -- especially if the source of the food was once a mammal, a fish, or a bird. And I don't like to see animals suffer in life, even if they are being raised with the intention of being turned eventually into human food.

As a result, my husband and I have tried our best to buy meat from farmers or fisherman whom we know personally and often have taken advantages of opportunities to visit their farms. From these experiences, we also have learned that one can honor an animal that one eats not only by giving it a good life while it is alive but also by ensuring that as much of it is consumed as possible so that it's life is not one that was considered expendable. I realize that this is a hard concept to get across in the polarizing debates over vegetarianism and veganism, but I feel that it is an important point. There are plenty of good reasons why one should not eat meat -- ranging from personal religious and ethical beliefs to the planet's sustainability and lifelong health. There also are plenty of good reasons to eat meat -- including nutritional benefits, the gaining of personal energy, and lifelong health. Where the bridge exists between these extremes is perhaps in the degree to which one consumes meat and the how. How much do you eat at a single meal? Are you overeating or are you taking in just the optimal amount that your body needs? What are you doing with your leftovers? How much of the animal are you consuming? Can you honor the meal more by stretching it into four, five, six, or even more meals? Are you doing what you can to ensure that as little as possible goes to waste?

For those reasons, the jar of duck fat feels like a gift. It is a reminder to me of how the abundance of a life can be sustained.