This week we drove 950 miles in four days and many of those miles were spent on the Interstate 5 – a ‘real food’ desert. It wasn’t exactly the most relaxing way to spend my time off work, particularly with Monkey and a bouncy Labrador in tow, but we were on a mission.
You’ll recall that we lost our dear friend Hector earlier this summer. Knowing that he can never be replaced, but wanting to help out a Lab in need, I have been following a bunch of Lab Rescue fan pages on Facebook. It’s a bit like online dating, only better. About seven weeks ago I spotted a big black English Lab, curiously named Tank, in poor health. He had double pneumonia, burns on the back of his neck and a variety of other issues, not least that he seemingly had had no training.
I’m a sucker for a sob story and wanting to alleviate the pain of our loss, I made a donation to his medical fund. The dude was in the veterinary hospital for weeks and had run up a bill equivalent to a year’s tuition at a private elementary school. And that was that. With my good Samaritan deed done, I went on my merry way.
Except I didn’t. I bored my friends to death with updates on Tank, filled out the adoption questionnaire on the web site, pestered the long-suffering foster for regular updates and pretty quickly had negotiated myself into poll position to be his adopter once he had a clean bill of health. Oh, did I mention he was in Southern California? Why make things easy? So five weeks later here we were driving six hours down I5 one day, only to repeat the journey in reverse the next.
Living in Sonoma County and being neighbors with Marin, I am spoiled rotten. We are surrounded by pastoral rolling hills. Cows happily grazing as they whisk away the flies with their tails. Small organic orchards abound. Rows of lovingly tended lettuces and kale adorn front yards. This is ground zero for organic farming. [Soundtrack: Birds tweeting, trees rustling in the breeze.]
And then… sound of record being scratched on a turntable… there’s the Central Valley of California. Industrial farming in all its ignominy. Massive orchards, many of which seem to feature trees with their tops sheared off instead of being allowed to grow naturally. (One has to assume this is to make it easier for the picking machinery to do its work.) Feed lots, basically dusty giant pens, filled with so many cows and steers you can’t even imagine it. The poor animals barely have enough room to stand, but they have access to huge quantities of grain. I doubt they’ve ever eaten a fresh blade of grass. (Read here to see why that’s bad for them and us). And the ungodly stench reaches to the heavens above and beyond.
The landscape is flat and seemingly never-ending. The only relief for the eye is the irrigation channels and large patches of green punctuated by dusty dry fields, many with entirely dead eerie-looking orchards. All along the freeway are signs proclaiming “Congress Created Dust Bowl” or detailing how access to water has been severely reduced year after year. Apparently water rights is a huge issue in these parts. [Soundtrack: Appalling radio featuring Bible readings and Fox News-sponsored talk shows reminding us why the Government shutdown is Obama’s fault.]
And as if to exemplify where the products of industrial farming lead us, the only places to eat for 300 miles are fast food joints. They are all here: Taco Bell, MacDonalds, Jack in the Box, you name it, you can have it. Except I didn’t want it, not a single bit of it. And decided I’d rather skip dinner one night than eat any of that crap. There are two exceptions: Harris Ranch Restaurant (which seems to be built around the remnants of what really was a working ranch decades ago) and Pea Soup Andersons. We walked through the former, and there was nothing appealing about it to me, I’m pretty sure the meat came from those feed lots.
The latter, Pea Soup Andersons, we stopped at on our way home. As it’s famous for its pea soup I had a cup. It was below mediocre. Monkey had a diner breakfast which was exactly what you’d expect. The place seems to be in institution and it is one step up from a fast food joint, but that’s all I can say for it.
Back to the purpose of our trip. After hours of driving we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Lebec, CA. (There is nothing to recommend this place or the Holiday Inn. Avoid it at all costs.) We met Tank for the first time in the parking lot and all I could notice was how outlandishly large he was. Like pony-large. Like he should be called something like Tank Just an hour later someone asked me if he was a Newfoundland.
Regardless, we stuck to our plan of taking him home, and three days later we all seem to be getting used to each other. Plus, I would have to drive him all the way back to San Diego if it didn’t work out and I’m in no hurry to revisit the food wasteland that is I5 anytime soon.