“What’s the most Irish food there is?” Megan asks our bus driver and human-knowledge-bank Desmond, or Des as we fondly refer to him. “Oh, well, let’s see.” Des pauses, then gives a sly smile, “Black pudding.” “What’s black pudding?” I ask. “Blood sausage!” Des responds happily, then upon seeing my grimace states, “Oh come now, there are foods in America that are a lot less appetizing.” I think for for a moment, then slowly utter, “Well I suppose that blood sausage isn’t nearly as unappealing as a processed McDonald’s Happy Meal or ballpark hot dog.” “Exactly!” Desmond exclaims, “Now you’re thinking.”
He’s got a point. While traveling through rural Ireland, I have not seen a single fast food chain. The food seems fresher here and somehow more… present: mussels are harvested straight from Killary Harbor, greens are picked from the communal garden at Cloughjordan Ecovillage, and milk comes from grass pasture-fed Irish cows. Thus far, I have been able to trace the majority of my meals back to the earth.
Back home, many people I’ve talked to do not know where canned olives come from and how broccoli grows. Food consumed by college students is often packaged and preprocessed. In contrast, when I was walking through the Cloughjordan minimarket, I learned that eggs on the mainland need no refrigeration due to their freshness and there is a law against selling milk from cows on antibiotics. Upon acquiring this knowledge, my mind briefly flashed back to Michael Pollan’s descriptions of U.S. factory farm feedlots in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The juxtaposition of his gruesome illustration of cows and chickens wallowing in confined filth with the animals here, wandering contentedly through luminescent green pastures, is absolutely striking.
Yesterday the staff at Killary Harbour made me the most delicious salad after learning that I was a vegetarian. I could taste the freshness of the vibrant beets, greens, and red raspberries. And I savored each flavor, grateful for the earth, which we often forget is the provider and nurturer of all species. Mother Nature lets us grow the foods that bring us together—from the grains grown to make Guinness enjoyed during pub gatherings, to the oysters my peers happily slurped as we crowded around a picnic table, telling stories about our days.
When contemplating American processed foods, I found it immensely troubling when Des informed us that McDonalds and KFCs are cropping up in Dublin, Limerick, and Cork. As he alluded, McDonald’s Happy Meals are, indeed, not happy meals at all. Rather, the smiles I see on my peer’s faces during dinner times here—while biting into freshly caught salmon fillet and homemade mashed potatoes—speak to what a happy meal actually is: the closeness and contentment we feel, conversing over food grown from the ground and raised on the fertile land, vibrant with well-respected life.