Sometimes it Feels Liberating


Running lard through the grinder to facilitate rendering. We go through at least a quart per week. More if I get a hankering for fried chicken. Which I often do

On Saturday a pelting rain fell, turning the snow to slush. I ran in the heaviest of the precipitation, foolishly underdressed, churning my legs fast as possible to build body heat. By the time I turned back, where the road turns from third class to fourth, and the snowplow stops plowing, I was soaked through but warm enough.

The day before I’d skied late in the day, up through a sloping hayfield and into a high elevation sugarwoods Penny and I had first explored the day before that. It’s a beautiful, open, untapped bush; I can ski from here to there in 20 minutes or less, and then the options are boundless. This town perches on the edge of wilderness, or what passes for wilderness in Vermont. Sometimes this feels isolating to me. Sometimes it feels liberating.

I’m pretty sure I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’ve always been in pretty good condition – this life does not suffer sloth, and we eat real clean. But this year I’ve been tending to my body with increased awareness and intent, and I like the way it feels. Even my bouncing pouch of gut fat – an, old, old friend – is much reduced. This despite frequent and liberal applications of lard and cream and bacon. Friends, let me remind you: Eating fat does not make you fat. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with being fat or at least part of the way there – I think our culture is way, way too obsessed with body weight and appearance. But my point remains: Do not fall for the lie that dietary fat equates to body fat. It’s a load of hooey.

I don’t write about food much, and I’m probably not going to start. But I will say that I think in general people get way too wound up about how they eat. I think it’s unhealthy as all get out. And I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out, or even care to have it all figured out. We eat the way we do mostly because it fits our life and our budget and our ethos, and because we observe how good it makes us feel in body, mind, and spirit. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. Heather and I keep joking about putting on a “No Bullshit Diet” workshop, but then we realize that probably no one would sign up for a workshop that’s comprised of pretty much one sentence: Avoid processed foods and stop worrying, already. Because sometimes it seems to me that people like fussing over how they eat. Can’t for the life of me figure out why, but that does seem to be the case.

Anyway. It has gotten cold, and what snow remains has frozen into an iced-over sheet. There’ll be no skiing until more snow falls, but that’s ok. And anyway, I keep replaying a moment from my ski on Friday, when I was sluicing down a steep hill through the trees and flushed a fat deer. It bounded across my path in big, arcing leaps, suddenly in a hurry to be somewhere else. I pulled up short and watched it disappear.



29 thoughts on “Sometimes it Feels Liberating”

  1. grinding lard sure looks like it beats chopping/slicing. What is that rig? How much membrane removal do you bother with? I’ve been doing less and it hasn’t seemed to bother the product much.

  2. Good advice – straight and simple. I tell myself every morning that my homemade full fat raw milk maple latte is healthy – thanks for backing me up! We don’t eat lard, but my daughter loves eating fresh butter off the spoon.

  3. It’s so true about people fussing about what they eat! I blame the grocery stores and the year-round availability of most foods.

    It took me a few years to get used to cooking with what I could grow because it is a completely different mind-set than when you are presented with a fairly stagnant choice at the grocery store. When your diet consists of what you grow or harvest, you often get slammed by certain foods at certain times (like blueberries), and the focus is on what can you do with it all. This might last a few weeks, and then it’s gone for the rest of the year – but in that short window you have probably eaten yourself sick of whatever it is, and then you move on to whatever is next in season.

    Also, the amount of choice is so different….in grocery stores, you almost always have the same choice of foods. With growing your food, the goodness of the earth presents you with an abundance of what the season offers, and it’s up to you to be creative and do something with it. This is the basis of all the wonderful world cuisines, and realizing that a few years ago inspired me to start developing a seasonal modern local cuisine for what I grow where I live. Most people don’t even know what grows when – as one of my “fussy eating” friends pointed out to me when she said, “I think of eggs as a winter food.”

  4. Eat real clean and get some exercise! Yea, even running in the rain, underdressed, churning your legs until you’re warm enough!

    Don’t put exercise on the back shelf.

    I read once a long, long time ago that the (Masai?) in Africa had a super high diet of cholesterol but had no heart disease. The writer posited that it was because they ran everywhere. And now we hear from the medical establishment that cholesterol (in the fat) is not the demon they once thought it was.

  5. Best shape of your life? That’s pretty awesome, especially considering your fairly athletic early adult years. Well done. It feels good to feel good. (That sentence makes sense in my head.)

    I still crack up whenever you mention the “No Bullshit Diet” workshop. Has a real ring to it, and could be a gem for sure… even if the only people that signed up were our moms, out of sympathy.

    1. “best shape” is very different than “most fit.” I was definitely more “fit” back then – in a strictly athletic sense. But not really in very good overall shape whatsoever.


  6. Asking Americans to give up processed food is like asking them to give up their teeth. Or, to phrase if differently, when Trump finally gets around to demanding that we Americans choose between processed food or our teeth, know that we’re straightaway a teethless nation.

  7. I confess! I’ve been known to fuss about what I eat. The worry usually signals that some aspect of my food life is off. Peace of mind while cooking, washing dishes or while in the garden goes a long way towards easing any tension that has built up around food choices. I’m not sure there’s a way to be in American culture and not have some awareness that food choices are loaded no matter how one eats.

  8. I like the ‘no bullshit’ diet, that wouldn’t taste very good anyway, haha!
    Not good to ingest, or listen to.

    Extreme diets seem to be increasing, unhealthy in many ways, physically and mentally. It’s almost like religion, hard to discuss it objectively with anyone subscribing to one. What people really crave IMO is some kind of control…the more extreme the diet, the more desperate (and ‘out of control’) they seem. I SMH at the evangelistic fervorish ‘fad’ of a lot of it these days.

    Moderation in everything works for me. I’ve been avoiding processed foods for 4 decades,

  9. I clicked on your post at the sight of all that lard; too bad you didn’t follow up with a recipe or two 🙂 Everything tastes better with lard. I agree that it is not what you eat but how much you eat that makes you fat. Even processed food can’t make you fat if you eat no more that your body requires. Anyway, I enjoyed your post.

    1. We don’t do a ton of “recipe” cooking. We use lard mostly for frying – eggs, potatoes, etc. Penny’s been using it to replace some butter in baking, but that doesn’t happen too often. I make fried chicken once a month or so… that takes a lot. I hear what you’re saying about quantities… but I do think quantity is directly related to quality in that people tend to overeat low quality and low fat foods because they never really feel full.


      1. Just joking about recipes but was wondering what you use lard for. It is great for pastries, for sure. I read that it is the type of sugar used in processed food that bypasses the body’s mechanism for signalling that the body’s had enough.

  10. I love the idea of running fat through the grinder before rendering it. Will definitely have to give that a try. One question though–how difficult is it to clean the grinder afterwards? I’d imagine hot enough water would melt away any fat residue, but what about the membrane part–does it get hung up in the plate & blade or just go on through? (Can you tell I’m not a fan of cleaning plates & blades after grinding meat. LOL)

    1. It makes a big diff in how long it takes to render and also yield. I highly recommend it. Clean up is a bit of a pain, but not bad. We use the plate with the largest diameter holes so it’s easier to clean.


  11. I didn’t know that lard was pink? Maybe depends on the animal… I thought about forwarding this post to my mother, who believes in the demonization of saturated fat. I was once cooking some potatoes in butter and she says, “I can’t eat that….if I did I would have a heart attack”. I laughed and asked her if maybe the 3am Dorito binges, smoking, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (nasty!) and diet coke might weigh heavier in the heart attack department than a fucking potato????? The list could have been longer but I shortened it out of politeness. :}

    1. There are always little bits of meat mixed in with the lard… that’s what makes it pink. Once it renders, however, it’s pure white.


  12. Wow, Ben, I don’t think I had lard fried chicken ever. When you guys have that chicken cookout dinner under the stars, keep us in the loop! 🙂 In wintertime, my diet can easily consist of fried potatoes, sauerkraut and soured milk. Lithuanian style. 🙂 We go through so much butter, that I get funny looks in the store all the time, and the checkout lady asks: “Are you eating it all or baking?” Yes.

      1. Us too regarding that amazing grass fed golden goodness! Butter! I just figured out relatively recently that being veg or not didn’t matter as much as where my food came from, how it was raised and harvested and processed (if it ever got to that point). I eat what I like, what makes me feel good, what I can afford. I think you’re right Ben about that lowered fat/ overeating to get full correlation.

  13. I like the “No BS Diet” or maybe the “Just Eat and Move On Diet.” The general obsession with certain diets in recent years has made socializing (in some circles) rather cumbersome. I see families offering 5 different varieties of one dish at a party to attempt to cover all the various eating styles (I wonder if that is a more accurate term than diet for the way some people eat or their rationale for what they eat or don’t eat.) It also makes it somewhat challenging when you like to give food as gifts (as I do.) Keeping up with the list of chosen avoided foods and allergies is daunting in some circles.
    I also appreciate your distinction between fit and “in good shape.” I used to run competitively and don’t even own a pair of running shoes anymore. However, I feel I enjoy a more holistic version of fitness than ever before since getting out of that competitive mindset and just doing what makes me feel good – no more, no less.
    Happy Solstice to you and your family!

  14. Thanks for writing this post. I sometimes need a reminder about this topic of not worrying so much about what I eat and also about eating more ‘real’ foods. Thanks Ben, I always love reading your blog. It’s an amazing life you live.

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