On Craving, the Alps, and Frugality

by forumholitorium

This past week I started getting minor cravings for eggs and cheese for the first time since I went vegan for Lent. Most of the time it was not difficult to do without these foods because my normal diet includes an egg or two a week at most and cheese only once or twice a month when I go out to eat. Is my body telling me that it needs animal products? I don’t think so. I have felt full and healthy the past few weeks without them. The problem is that I am planning an Easter journey to a region whose traditional cuisine relies heavily on dairy products, a journey that will include visits to people’s homes where the choice will be meat or dairy. I stopped eating meat decades ago because the taste mostly disgusted me; plain milk has also always disgusted me. But with cheese, it’s different. When I stopped eating cheese, I went through a bit of withdrawal – when from time to time I ate cheese again, my body irrationally wanted more right away. Yet I felt better when I didn’t eat it; I was very pleased with the magical disappearance of hay fever and of a nasty rash and better digestion that occurred within days of eliminating dairy products. What is going on now, I think, is purely psychological. I know that I will be able to indulge in tasty forbidden food for the week after Easter. This is the craving of anticipation brought on by reading too many guidebooks and researching places to eat on my trip, a distraction from the delicious present. Last night we had slices of TC’s special sourdough bread with oatmeal stout toasted and topped with white beans and homegrown kale. Hearty and filling, a good way to bring to a close a day that greeted us with grey skies and snow clinging to the bushes and trees.

It pays to be an early riser because in two hours the snow had vanished. The scene was set for spring and a pecking at the window could be heard once more. We have been receiving visits from a strange bird that will sit on the windowsill outside and peck sharply at the window as if he wants to grab our attention. We look at him, he pecks a bit more, then flies away. He’s come by numerous times over the past week. At first I was worried he would fly into the window and hurt himself, but he has his routine now. What would he like to communicate? I’m rereading one of my favorite childhood books, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a copy in mint condition despite being rescued from a paper recycling bin. In the book, the protagonist Mary is befriended by a robin who ultimately shows her the way into the locked garden. I can’t help but think of the robin when our new friend comes calling.

Besides visiting Yorkshire in this novel and China in The White Road, I’m also underway in the Alps in Werner Bätzing’s Die Alpen: Geschichte und Zukunft einer europäischen Kulturlandschaft. The book explains why the Alps should be regarded as a cultural landscape, i.e. one shaped by humans, and not untouched nature. The first traces of humans in the Alps date back to 85,000 years ago, and they have been there ever since. Bätzing has succeeded in writing a scholarly book that can be read by a lay audience, explaining the different agricultural systems in use in the Alps and their impact on the natural world. In the section I just read, there is a lot about cheese production. The Swiss came to specialize in large scale cheese production for export to towns, choosing to import grain instead of growing it themselves. Putting all their eggs in one cheesy basket, so to speak. I hadn’t realized how important Swiss cheese was on the journeys of discovery made in the sixteenth century. Hard cheese could be taken on board ships because it would last a long time. Sheep have also played a major role in transforming the shape of the Alps. The book describes them as genügsame, or frugal, animals. Yes, sheep make good use of what grows in rough terrain, and I in turn make use of every scrap of leftover wool to make small pouches, for example.

Hope you make the most of any rough terrain around you!