I first met Jenn Campus a few years ago through our mutual participation in the Sarah Connor Charm School. Then, as now, she was living in Vermont, the creative force behind The Leftover Queen, and now Got Goats? We have a lot in common – she is an amazing cook, and I like to eat. Our talents came together gloriously on my short tour to Baghdad in 2010, when I opened a care package to find a bounty of Anzac biscuits. We won’t dwell on how embarrassingly quickly those cookies were consumed. Instead, I asked Jenn to talk with me a little about her food activism, homesteading efforts, and why she likes reindeer.
Jenn has been the prime mover behind The Leftover Queen for six years. The blog is much more than a simple recipe collection; it includes articles about traditional foods and local food initiatives, stories of Jenn’s experiments with organic egg-dying, and, yes, delicious recipes.
“[The Leftover Queen] is one of the key components that lead to my homesteading and food activist efforts,” said Jenn. “It started as a way to combine my love of food, cooking and writing. Through constantly updating it and learning what my voice in the community is and more about the dangers we as Americans face in terms of our food supply, I started to care deeply about where my food was coming from, which eventually lead to homesteading – for me my ultimate expression as a food activist.”
Food activism – working to ensure that what we are putting into our bodies will nourish us and not poison us – becomes even more important as we get older, especially for people our age, who are having children, raising children, or – in my case – enjoying the benefits of being an auntie to many nieces and nephews. Knowing how hard it is to find healthy food that doesn’t have a long line of unpronounceable chemicals listed on the side of the package – or to be told of some new diet that is going to require giving up my ancestral food of macaroni al’oglia (pasta with olive oil and garlic … oh my goodness, so delicious!) I asked Jenn about some of the challenges people face today when they try to eat healthy and/or ethically.
“Misinformation,” said Jenn. “It’s everywhere.”
She further explained, Americans are at a disadvantage for the most part because most of us do not have traditional foods or diets. Whereas older cultures, or other countries, have closer relationships with their food sources or traditional diets, many Americans don’t have a gestalt awareness of food, except perhaps for hot dogs and apple pie at the baseball game. Due to the way our food arrives, Americans are often disconnected from where that food comes from.
“We have to weed through a lot of information never really knowing where the truth lies,” said Jenn. “So we jump from fad diet to fad diet and treat the latest science as gospel, instead of looking back to traditional cultures and seeing what the mainstays of their diets are and what the commonalities are and going from there. It is … a hard tide to swim against.”
From reading her blog and following her Facebook feed, I knew Jenn had worked hard to support Vermont’s “Right to Know” GMO labeling bill. I asked her to tell me a little about what it was like to be involved on that level (which also warms the cockles of my political-communication-major’s heart…) Her reply:
“I was very involved last year in Vermont’s “Right to Know” GMO labeling bill. It was a very exciting time and culminated when hundreds of Vermonters showed up at the state house to make statements. People were waving their checkbooks telling the lawmakers that we as a population would be happy to put money towards the State of Vermont fighting legal threats from Monsanto. Sadly, even with such a turnout and support, the bill was not passed due to Monsanto’s bullying efforts which was very disappointing to the people of this great state.”
I have every faith that Jenn and her fellow Vermonters will continue to be active in fighting for healthy and ethical food practices in the years to come.
Jenn has always impressed me with her exploration of her roots and her spirituality. And, her awesome reindeer tattoo. I asked her what the reindeer tattoo meant to her, and for a little of the background behind the design.
The reindeer has always been a symbol to her, and has grown to signify even more as she got older, Jenn explained. When she left cookies for Santa, she made sure the reindeer got their special treats of sugar cubes and carrots, as well!
“For me the Reindeer symbolizes freedom, family and that unknown magical part of the world that keeps us full of awe and wonder. It is also a symbol of quiet strength and wildness,” said Jenn. “These are all things that are important to me, and having this tattoo reminds me daily of the importance of those things in my life and my commitment to keeping the wild and untamed parts of me nourished.”
Jenn recently traveled to Scotland to visit some of the areas of her birth family’s heritage. She wrote of her experience in finding and meeting her birth family, an “incredible journey” that revealed to her answers to questions she had always had about parts of her that never seemed to fit.
“Finding my birth family and learning about them made me feel whole and real and that I actually came from somewhere physical instead of truly feeling like a stork dropped me off,” said Jenn. “I was able to understand my history, personal history as well as ancestry, and I can say in all truth it was one of the best things I have done for myself. I grew up in a wonderful family that I love very much and finding my birth family in no ways overshadows that. I just say I am lucky to find more people to love and connect with!”
Jenn spent two weeks in Scotland, including Aryshire and the Isle of Arran, wherein lie the roots of her clan, Clan Boyd.
I wanted to give Jenn the last word, and so asked her where she could see herself in five or ten years. Her answer:
“That is a good question and I can say with all truth, I have no idea. The floodgates have opened up for me this year and I feel big change on the horizon – another lifetime of adventure! One big change is that I will become a mother for the first time in a few months and so I feel like anything is possible since this new role will reshape and remodel me in ways unimaginable to my present self. Life is full of adventure and I am a firm believer that the only constant is change. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith to get us to the place we are truly meant to be.”
Some helpful links for further information:
From Jenn’s Blogs:
Jenn’s Favorite Traditional Skills Books:
Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll
Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich
Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Jenn’s favorite homesteading books: