Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Last week during our trip to Wyoming, McKay and I listened to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. I really enjoyed listening, and I think McKay did to.

It follows Barbara Kingsolver's family as they move from Arizona to Virginia to live a year solely on foods that are grown or raised locally. Each member of the family is given a splurge food that they are allowed such as coffee. They raised turkeys and chickens, grew vegetables and fruit, and frequented the farmer's market. It was very interesting to see how it all unfolded. Also, throughout the book, Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver contributed essays. In the audio version, they each read their own essays.

The book didn't stick solely to the act of eating locally, but also elaborated on why they thought it would be a good idea. The main argument is based on the idea that the cost and use of gasoline in transportation of food is harmful for the environment. They also discussed that buying from local farmers means that the food tastes better since it isn't bred for travel or for how it looks on a shelf. There is also the argument that local farmers are more likely to use less chemicals on the land and food. Other topics I found interesting were the nutritional value of organic and free-range foods, cheese making, lactose intolerance, turkey sex, canning, their trip to Italy, and recipes. This morning when we were eating some organic local (almost free-range) eggs for breakfast, I asked McKay if his eggs tasted less cholesterol-y because the book mentioned that free range eggs have less unhealthy cholesterol than the general large white supermarket ones.

This book has made me think about food differently. When I went grocery shopping yesterday and today, I felt more that my dollars were my votes- and what am I voting for? I made sure that more of my dollars were voting for local foods and for agriculture that replenishes the land instead of depleting it. Knowing that it would be ridiculous to suggest that all people eat only local food for the rest of their lives (we can't kid ourselves: Utah is a desert), there were suggestions in the book on ways to eat more locally for at least some of your food. For example, if you live here in the west, it is probably better to buy apples from Washington than from the eastern seaboard. While Washington isn't really our backyard- the apples travel less distance, limiting the carbon footprint. She also suggested, that when you go to the farmer's market and find a vegetable you'd like to can- say tomatoes- buy up all of the farmer's crop. That way, the farmer will be encouraged to plant more the next year and you'll probably end up with plenty to can into sauces and salsas. Don't worry that you're being selfish and hogging it all: the food is going to a good place, as is the money.

I read some criticisms of the book the other day. For example, some were saying that Kingsolver was being too pushy with her agenda. Since I'm used to reading books with agendas, I asked McKay his opinion. He responded, "Well, it's as pushy as I'd expect for a book like this." Maybe it was because we were listening to it and could hear the tone of her voice that it wasn't as upsetting as some people were suggesting. Other things that ruffled feathers include a fairly long argument against vegetarianism and that Camille's writing isn't as good as her mother's. So if you're a vegetarian and comfortable with your choice, ignore that part. As for Camille- maybe it was because her youthful voice gave away that she's simply a college freshman but the switch in writing styles and levels didn't bother me.

More criticisms included Kingsolver's attitude towards buying tropical fruit because of the distance it travelled. "I'm not going to stop buying bananas!" were the exclamations. I don't think she was trying to tell anyone what to and what not to buy, but was trying to give the eater more awareness of their food and where it comes from. Of course, throughout the book, I was able to keep a smug little smile on my face, "Well, someday we'll move to Califonia and I'll get all the local citrus I want, Ms. Kingsolver- HA!"

While listening to this book it occurred to me that perhaps my stewardship over the earth isn't limited to simply recycling paper and plastics #1, 2, & 3 or buying for cars with increasingly better mileage. We use stuff- and we should make sure our stuff is produced and shipped to us as ethically as possible: buy local or buy fair trade and organic products if they have to travel large distances.

I'd like to participate in a local CSA share, but McKay's not completely on board because of the upfront cost. I would buy one here next year if we weren't planning on moving next summer. When we move to California, I think it would be very worthwhile to join a CSA and I've already looked into some in the area we'll probably be living.

We have a few tomato plants; I'm interested in making salsa. I think I may at some point try my hand at making cheese. It doesn't sound all that hard- and I know there are dairies in the area that have raw milk. I know it sounds more expensive to buy organic and raw, but I think it's worth it to support responsible agriculture. Also, I am reminded of when I read 12 Steps to Raw Foods. The family in that book reversed chronic illnesses with their diet. Yes, the diet was expensive, but they were no longer paying for expensive health care related to those illnesses- they were really saving money in the end. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver worked out the math and found that they really did save, mainly from cooking from scratch. I look at Margaret, and I know if I'm willing to put forward the extra few cents to put good foods in her body, she will reap the benefits.


  1. I just checked that out from the library today. Looking forward to reading it...

  2. I find that when we buy local free-range eggs the COLOR is SO much nicer! The store eggs are pale and nasty looking.

  3. Mozzarella cheese is easy to make :)

  4. Sounds like an interesting book. I'll look into it. FYI There's also a documentary coming out soon (if it's not out already) with a similar subject. I think it's just called "Food" or something simple like that. I saw the trailer online a while back, and I thought it looked very informative.

  5. Interesting book!

  6. I have a great fresh salsa recipe (ie, the salsa isn't cooked before canning, so it keeps that brighter fresh flavor, but it's not as thick either). LMK if you'd like it. :)

  7. Thanks for the great review!! We face a similar problem here - we're not a desert, but we have COOOOOLD weather lol! Certainly an ideal to strive for, though. Eventually.

    Will check this book out! (when I'm done the other gazillion books in my library.)

  8. I listened to the audiobook a few months ago. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed hearing how newborn chicks can transport well in a crate to their new owner because they are born with enough stores for two days. My own theories expound on this idea for our babies. We don't need to force feed human newborns bottles becuase they too are born with nutritional stores. We can wait for the milk to come in. I know this is an oversimplification, but you probably get my drift.

    I really admire a vegetarian diet and admire the vegan diet even more. I found some falacies in Camille's arguements against being a vegetarian. Otherwise its such an informative book to read or listen too.

  9. I really enjoyed the book. I was overwhelmed by all the gardening knowledge she had, but I have started small and figure doing a little and learning from doing is as vital as reading about it. :) It is a fun read, and I think she certainly turns it into a lovely narrative.


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