Journey to the Source of the Mulberry Leaf Omelet
Nutritious and delicious, the mulberry leaf omelet at the Organic Farm Café takes the omelet experience directly to my body in a nourishing and satisfying sort of way. After a few bites of speckled green omelet, I’ve fallen in love and want to meet the mulberry leaf’s source of goodness, similar to how couples who are in love become curious about the source of their partners’ good looks. After asking around, I find out that my omelet’s mulberry leaves’ tree parents live only 3 km from town at the Vangviang Organic Farm.
From the restaurant, I walk across the street to a bike rental shop. Ten bikes are lined up on a patch of dirt accompanied by a ‘bikes for rent’ sign. I hand the man a dollar (the dollar is one of the many currencies accepted in Laos), and the popular LA brand bicycle is mine for the day.
My route takes me through the center of Vang Vieng a.k.a. Tube Town. While riding, it dawns on me that the challenge of travel is how to maintain a familiar level of comfort while in a foreign culture. Here, it’s easy. Countless bars serve up a mind-numbing cocktail of drugs in milkshakes or on pizzas, TVs show constant reruns of Friends, and low tables surrounded by pillows invite one to lounge the day away.
A few blocks from the bar scene, the Nam Song River flows through town. The popular tourist activity is to tube the river while wearing small amounts of clothing. Most of the men are shirtless with sculpted hair. The women wear big sunglasses that hide part of the forehead, eyes, and upper cheeks. It seems the women like to show off everything but the upper part of their faces. The bright bikinis make up for the lack of eye color.
I leave the tourists in Tube Town behind, and continue on the road toward the farm. The road is a transportation utopia – shared by foot traffic, bicycle traffic, motorcycles and trucks. Everyone appears at ease with everyone else. This feeling of serenity must come with knowing the motive behind what you are doing. American drivers always seem perturbed when they drive. I think a lot of that frustration comes from driving without a real purpose.
A conversation between an American motorist and himself:
Self, “What the hell am I doing by myself in this gigantic Humvee driving to the store a mile away from home to buy a can of soda?”
Inner Self, “You look good in a Humvee! You can afford a Humvee, so it is your god given right to drive a Humvee!!”
Self, “This stop-and-go traffic sucks!! This street needs to be widened from two lanes to four. Look at those trees taking up valuable driving space.”
Inner Self, “You should be able to drive freely, and nature ought to be caged in national parks.”
Self, “There are no parking spaces close to the store. Why can’t the store be longer so there can be more storefront parking? I hate walking.”
Inner Self, “Leave the walking to the four-legged critters who don’t have the sense to drive, but you still want to maintain a healthy look. Don’t drink regular soda. You need Diet Coke Plus!”
Self, “I know, I drive by the billboard so many times, I have it memorized. Each 8-ounce serving of Diet Coke Plus provides 15% of the daily value for niacin and vitamins B6 and B12, and 10% for zinc and magnesium – but I only have a coupon for regular soda. I promise I’ll eat a chewable Flintstone vitamin as soon as I get home. Maybe go to the gym?”
Inner Self, “You always break promises. You feel ugly and guilty.”
Self, “I’m going to take a drive in the country to relax.”
A Lao truck driver would never ask himself why he’s driving a gigantic truck, because the answer is obvious – the 10 chatting people in the back or the sound of a mooing cow.
When I arrive at Vangviang Organic Farm, I find more than mulberry trees. I find a business built on the philosophy of preserving ecological diversity and providing locals with accessible and sustainable technologies to earn a living. Someone here must realize that you can grow a vegetable from chemicals, pesticides and big industry, but you can’t create a salad from thousands of acres of corn.
Even with the success of the mulberry business, the owners want more than just a mulberry tree empire. At the farm, there are goats, guest houses, and a beautiful vegetable garden. There is also a volunteer program to help build community centers, teach English, feed baby goats and many other projects. The goal of the farm is to grow a healthy community.
As I pedal back to town, I wonder what it would be like to order an omelet in Boise, Idaho and use the omelet as a guide for a bicycle adventure. For instance, would the hash browns be made from local potatoes within bike riding distance? If so, would I get run over by a Humvee along the treeless four lanes of Fairview Ave on my way to the farm? When I arrive at the farm tucked away between the suburban sprawl of Meridian and Boise, will I be greeted by a business that provides a local product and supports local people? Or will I find a dusty field growing one crop only and the topsoil blowing away in the wind?
Thinking of the traffic and monoculture farm practices makes drugs and reruns of Friends seem like a bright future. Actually, I think the future is all ready here. How many times a day can a person watch Friends reruns on network and cable TV? How easy is it to get prescription drugs? Hmmmmm….
This blog post sponsored by Local Grub.