Friday, April 29, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver.  (HarperCollins 2007)

A couple of weeks ago my friend Uta K. and I went to the Beaumont Library to go to a class on container gardening put on by Kathy Austen of New Beginnings greenhouse.  Kathy did a great job, the room was full of parsley, mint, strawberries, and other amazing plants.  We really enjoyed ourselves and it was nice to smell dirt and green things growing (there was still snow on the ground at this point.)

After the presentation Uta and I wandered around the library looking for a good book to read.  Uta picked this book off the shelf and offered it to me, saying both her and her daughter had read it, and that I would really enjoy it.  I put it on top of the other books I had chosen and brought it home.

Barbara Kingsolver is a very talented fiction writer who lives in southwestern Virginia.  She, her husband and children used to live in Arizona, but were increasingly concerned with the amount of fuel and water that are used to produce or ship food for consumption in that desert climate.  They owned a family farm in West Virginia, and decided to return to their roots and live in a more temparate climate where you can grow your own food and eat locally.  As an experiment, she and her family made a committment to live for a year eating food that they either grew themselves or which came from within a 100 mile radius of where they lived, and during this time they would write about their experience.  A year of food life, as it says on the cover of the book.  The book therefore has a journal like feel, with each chapter in chronological order, including a submission from her husband and oldest daughter.  The author wrote about their experience, her husband wrote about the actual issues of food production and local farming, and their eldest daughter shared recipes and gave the point of view of a teenage girl living this experiment.

This book reads like a story in many ways, and I was drawn into the daily experiences of the family, of baking bread and weeding their gardens, trying to figure out what to eat in March (when they started the experiment), dealing with zucchini and tomatoes in August, and the funny side of poultry farming.  I also was drawn into the valid concerns of the family about the real consequences North Americans may face regarding factory farming.  I grew up in a small farming community in rural Nova Scotia, and my food experience as a child was very different from what my children are experiencing.  My mother bought milk from the farmer up the road.  I remember the big silver pasteurizer on our counter.  I also remember the taste of fresh milk, and the cream floating on top of the milk covering my oatmeal.  We kept chickens and geese for a time, so we had fresh eggs.  Our garden was very large, and I remember peeking out the window in the early mornings of the summer to see my mother kneeling in the garden pulling weeds before the sun got too high.  We bought pork from the farmer up the road as well.  I knew where my milk and eggs came from, pulled carrots out of the ground and wiped the dirt off on my jeans before I bit into it, and gave a thought to Snowflake the pig before I ate my porkchop. Compare that to the big box grocery stores where I shop, and it's no wonder my kids sometimes ask 'what animal does pork come from?'.

There are many reasons to read this book.  The narrative is wonderful and entertaining, the issues are timely, and I can't wait to try some of the recipes included.  As a result of reading this book I have spent a lot of time in the last two weeks thinking about where my food comes from, and look at my little vegetable garden in the back yard with new appreciation.  In some ways these are things I already knew, in other ways I feel like my eyes have been opened.  Thanks to the author for a wonderful experience!

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