You probably already know that I love food. I love reading about it in stories and watching stories unfold around it in movies. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp (husband) and Camille Kingsolver (daughter) proved to be the brilliant marriage of a good, food-based, true story with a plethora of thought-provoking information about food and the food industry. Be forewarned—Barbara Kingsolver has been named seventy-fourth on a list of one-hundred people who are destroying America.
The book takes you through Kingsolver’s family’s journey to eat only home- or locally-grown food for one year. They move to their farm in Appalachia one January, start their experiment in March, cultivate an enormous garden, harvest and preserve, and survive through the following Spring true to their challenge. They buy flour from local mills, make their own bread, yogurt, and cheese (I SO want to try this), frequent local farmers markets, and raise their own chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat. Each member of the family gets one item to cheat with on the condition that they could learn a way to obtain it that benefits the grower and the land where it grows. Kingsolver writes, “We hoped to establish that a normal-ish American family could be content on the fruits of our local foodshed.”
Kingsolver scatters humorous details throughout the book that assure the reader that things are absurd enough to be real life. For instance, she plans to make mayonnaise from a recipe she received in her high school French class that instructs one to “whip heartily for two minutes while holding only pleasant thoughts in mind” (33). She also hearkens the person who helps Thanksgiving turkeys (which are bred too stupid to reproduce on their own) reproduce as a job to add to the list of “unsavory jobs” (90) to threaten your children that they’ll be stuck with if they ditch school.
The book had a prominent serious tone at times, discussing the environmental and social issues related to conventional farming. I knew that buying local food is good for the local economy and that many local farmers grow food organically, even if they’re not certified, which is good for the environment. I’d never considered that buying locally grown food is good for the environment because of the fossil fuels that aren’t used to transport them. In one of his mini-essays, which usually appear in each chapter, Hopp tries to explain away the higher cost of local and organic foods, referencing the petroleum subsidies (paid through our taxes) that support the growing, processing, and shipping of industrial grown food. This comes to a total of about $725 per household per year. If we make the decision to buy locally, it seems that we are only paying more: subsidies through our tax dollars, plus higher priced produce. Perhaps if we begin to support local food with our pocket books, we will make enough of an impact to communicate to our legislators that this is not how we want to spend our hard earned dollars.
Kingsolver also had some interesting things to say about vegetarianism. She writes, “I find myself fundamentally allied with a vegetarian position in every way except one: however selectively, I eat meat. I’m unimpressed by arguments that condemn animal harvest while ignoring, wholesale, the animal killing that underwrites vegetal foods. Uncountable deaths by pesticide and habitat removal—the beetles and bunnies that die collaterally for our bread and veggie-burgers—are lives plumb wasted” (222). She points out that vegetarians often cite that an acre that grows crops will feed more people than an acre used to raise animals—that their choice is helping the cause of world hunger—as a reason for abstaining from meat. However, for some families, having a goat to supplement their small farm in an area where farming is difficult allows them to turn food that grows naturally in their area that is inedible to them but edible for their animal into human-edible milk and meat.
These pages didn’t contain any information so compelling that I’ve become a strict locavore (Kingsolver’s term for local-food-only-eater) or to begin eating meat responsibly again, but it did provide surprising new information that I will use as I make my food-buying decisions in the future. I will make it a priority to buy some local food and free-range or grass-finished meat may end up on my husband’s plate every once in a while. But, I’m not quite ready to stop going to the grocery store or to give up bananas altogether.
If you’ve read this book, what did you think? If not, what sources have impacted your food buying choices the most?