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Water on the belly

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 24 October 2016

My granddad’s favorite way to describe his “spare tire” was that he had a bad case of “water on the belly.” Now certainly, this was not a physiologically accurate diagnosis, but people understood what he meant. Grandpa’s extra 15 pounds he put on most winters settled right on his gut.

Then on a diet of bologna sandwiches and an exercise routine only a logger in the woods of northern Idaho would recognize, he lost his spare tire, all while smoking his daily pack of cigarettes. His diet plan is certainly not recommended, but hard work and plain food have been just what the doctor ordered for decades. However, in time, logging season and his daily dose of bologna would end. By Christmas he’d have himself a raging case of “water on the belly.”

While grandpa was a logger, not a farmer, his self-diagnosed weight fluctuation is something that plagues both professions. Now certainly I don’t say this from the perspective of a nutritionist, but simply as a person trying to out-maneuver the effects of the condition. I am trying (and failing) to cook for an active veterinarian who also farms in his spare time. Now my problem is that said veterinarian-farmer doesn’t have 15 pounds to lose, but he seems to do it every summer anyway. His wintertime “water on the belly” is more of a restoration of the appropriate weight for a man of his height (6 feet 5 inches). I have learned through this process that it is plain hard to cook for a farm family. The calories they need to consume seem almost astronomical. Certainly the advent of irrigation pivots and supersized combo meals have made the job a little easier, but then again they contribute to the wintertime problem.

I know a farm family who, when all five boys were at home, would regularly consume 20 gallons of milk a week. To me, this seems excessive, but the mother saw no business regulating the intake of something as wholesome as milk. At some point the cost impacted the family budget, so they bought a milk cow, which the boys had to milk, which added to the caloric deficit the mother was battling.

Last week I participated in a family meal of seven adults and three children. In an hour, we devoured 10 pounds of potatoes, 5 pounds of carrots, five large zucchini squash and a 6- or 7-pound beef roast. Now this was all fairly plain, non-processed food, but it was cooked in butter and smothered with gravy, so certainly not low-calorie. What blows me away is that many farm wives cook in this quantity every day. Hard work gives us healthy appetites, and for farm people, the opportunity for hard work is rarely in short supply.

I have been told that when the veterinarian-farmer gets a little older, his metabolism will slow, and he will get himself a real case of “water on the belly.” But I imagine by that time I will have myself a brood of farm kids who need feedin’ even more than their father. I applaud you farm moms and farm wives and plain old farmers. It is hard work keeping up with the demand of farmer stomachs while feeding calves and driving grain trucks. But, in a country where obesity is the rule and not the exception, it’s not a bad problem to have. Then again, Wonder Bread and bologna isn’t a bad plan either.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelancer based in Idaho.

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