By the end of the 80's our back-to-the-land life had slid into the mainstream. We shopped more at regular grocery stores than our local coop, we watched a lot of television, my mom bought margarine, and we no longer farmed. We had a bunch of dogs and cats and a few ducks, chickens and geese, but that was it. We kids wanted to be “normal,” and after a bit of culture shock after entering public school, we were soon as acclimated as our non-hippy peers.
At 14 my parents sent me to the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, MN for a 21 day canoeing expedition in the Boundary Waters Canoe area. I spent 19 days paddling northern waters with a bunch of city kids who could not see the meal potential in all the dried beans and grains that we packed into our 50lb Duluth Packs. Nor did they know what to do with the 10 film canisters of spices in our cooking mess. Because I was a vegetarian, there was no meat allowed on the trip, quite a shock to the McDonald's set with whom I shared canoe and tent. I appointed myself crew cook, as I liked cooking and the food, for me, was familiar. We had a good selection of staples and big hunks of cheddar cheese wrapped in cheesecloth that oozed grease and got smashed to bulbous shapes in our food packs. The others did a good bit of complaining and dreamed of Whoppers and McNuggets. There was one German girl on our crew and she dreamed of her mom's homemade pot roast and vegetables. This was very illuminating for me, to see how mainstream Americans were conditioned to value nutrient depleted fast food over nutritious homemade food. We lived off of all-natural mouth gluing peanut butter and jam, a high calorie trial bar appetizingly called a “flapper” and lentils and rice.
During our “solo” time, where we were dropped off on our own little section of wilderness for 3 days, we were only given 1 cup of granola and 1 flapper with all the lake water we could drink. Many of us decided to fast during the time. One guy on my crew decided to eat all his food as soon as he was dropped off because he was going to fast for the duration. He was a super skinny 15 year old with a high metabolism. By the evening he was starving. The next day he tried to spear a woodchuck with his pocket knife that he had tied to a stick, but his efforts left him despirited and down a pocket knife which fell into a crack in the rock that was his home for three days. What he would have done after that is a mystery, as we weren't allowed to have a fire, and I doubt the city boy had ever skinned anything. He ended up eating his chap stick instead.
On my solo, I ate conservatively and drank a lot of water. Although we weren't allowed to have a fire, I built a fire pit and decorated it with a nature mandala. I also had smuggled my book with me, although we were told that solo was a time for reflection and no reading materials were allowed. I felt no guilt at reading my contraband. Three days is a long time for reflection for a 14 year old.
At the end of the solo, our instructors made a us a feast of calzones-complete with home made yeast bread and melted cheese. It was superb and it was the first time I understood how deprivation and appreciation could impact taste and experience.
Outward Bound was definitely a turning point in my life. It taught me that I could do anything, that nothing was insurmountable, including navigating 90 miles with map and compass and telling time with the sun. When we returned to the base camp, we did a service project for the camp of staining the dock on the lake, as an appreciation for the experience we endured. At the feast that night, a meal of lasagna, salad and bread, I could have eaten 10 pounds of salad. That is what I missed most on the trail, fresh food-alive and juicy. After dinner my team and I helped with the clean up in the kitchen.
This was my first experience in a commercial kitchen, and I loved it. I loved the Hobart dishwasher and the sprayer, which after washing dishes in lake water was like arriving in heaven. The gleaming stainless steel prep tables and stacked large pots all made me feel happy. This was the first time I ever saw a walk-in and I loved looking at all the cambros labeled and dated. It some ways it was the best part of my Outward Bound Trip. It left such a huge impression on my 14 year old mind, that I would return to the deep North woods 9 years later, after I graduated college, to be the assistant cook.