Oil runs through my veins.
That’s what I think as I sit, cross-legged, listening to the contemplative practice on living systems from week two of our class. I’m returning to it a second time, four weeks later. Before, I reflected on ‘the far-flung resources’ that brought me my dinner. Today, I imagine dinner floating past on an inky, petroleum river. I think about what I’ve learned so far, about the farm equipment and transportation network that supports our food system, about journalist Amanda Little’s observation that, ‘Americans eat oil,’ (Power Trip, 2009).
Have I ever had a meal without oil? My mind goes to Mongolia, where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. Oil transported me there—by plane to Ulaanbaatar, then a twelve-hour bus ride west to the provincial center Bayankhongor. I think about a week I spent three hours away across open steppe, where my friend Dashka’s family herds goats, sheep, and yaks on wild grass. We ate clotted cream stored under a table in their ger (yurt) and khorkhog—meat cooked with hot stones over a dung fire. There is no refrigerator.
It was idyllic. I wasn’t expected to milk the animals, and Dashka’s brother-in-law slaughtered the goat for our khorkhog while I lazed with the kids by the river. It occurs to me that although I come from a line of ranchers on my father’s side, I’ve never learned the basic skills my Mongolian friends have to feed themselves. If left alone on this land, I’d die.
Honestly, even for Dashka’s family, those meals weren’t petroleum-free. We had flour, carrots, onions, potatoes that probably came from China. And they own a motorcycle for trips to the soum (village) center for supplies. Still, I’m thankful to have experienced those meals, and to have been a part of that living system.