Sunday, July 15, 2007
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
I love this image. It is printed in Barbara Kingsolver's latest book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (AVM)with the words "Picture a single imaginary plant, bearing throughout one season all the different vegetables we harvest...we'll call it a vegetannual."
I enjoyed reading this book. Many people know what it is all about by now - Barbara Kingsolver, well known novelist, along with her family, move from Tucson, Arizona to Virginia to pursue their quest to eat locally for one year. They planned this for a few years so were well prepared when the time came to begin. The book details their personal journey along with more serious information about our food supply. The more scientific sidebars are written by Kingsolver's husband Steven L. Hopp and the teenage perspective and recipes come from her daughter Camille.
Kingsolver makes a lot of interesting points. Here are a few that struck me:
* I wished I had marked the page so I cannot quote directly, but she writes that if each person/family ate one meal per week from local and organic sources we would save quite a bit of oil.
* Six companies control 98% of the world's seed sales. They own many of the catalog companies that home gardeners buy their seeds from. The number of non hybrid vegetable varieties available for seed purchase has gone from 5000 to 600 from 1981 to 1998.
* Consumers often view prices of local products as high. I know this is true because I overhear people discussing it at the farmer's market. I've wanted to tell someone 'try the garlic - I know it's $2 for 3-4 heads but it'll be the best you've ever had'.
* Mad Cow disease (BSE) does not occur in grass-fed beef. It has never happened, according to Hopp. Not surprisingly, the US government is overwhelmingly supportive of large scale cattle operations and frighteningly lax in its testing for BSE.
* On a brighter note, I was interested to learn that asparagus can grow into a four foot tree. It only looks like what consumers perceive asparagus to look like for one day.
Kingsolver goes into detail about how much work is involved in storing food for the colder months. She freezes, cans, and dries food so that in the colder months all their food comes from these stores.. It's very fascinating to read, but I think difficult to translate into real life for most people. I don't think that is necessarily the point, the point is to do what you feel comfortable with, but to the uninitiated this could all be overwhelming.
I found myself comparing this book to The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan which I found to be a more absorbing read. Both books cover some different aspects of the same topics. It may be that I read it first, but Pollan's book gave me more to think about and has influenced me to use my buying power - perhaps another reason is that he spends much more time on animal treatment than Kingsolver. I have been making changes in our diet slowly, one thing at a time. A long term goal for me has been to buy a deep freeze and purchase a large quantity of meat for the winter from a local farmer.
This is not to say AVM has not influenced me. I'd like to try to freeze more from the farmer's market this season . The rate limiting factor for me is the size of my freezer and the manpower to carry all the food home. My husband is supportive of many of my food and eating goals, but I'm not sure how he'd feel about dragging home bushels of tomatoes every weekend. In fact I already did get some eye rolling over that request.
Some aspects of AVM were surprising. Bananas are mentioned several times as a 'forbidden' fruit which frankly wouldn't bother me very much. Towards the end of the book she mentions never having need of a lemon - pardon me? Perhaps I am selfish or too used to our carbon consuming ways, but I really don't like to think about never buying another lemon. Or Parmesan cheese. Or a peach for that matter. The growing season in Minnesota is so short, I simply cannot imagine going literally 6-7 months of the year without a fresh vegetable or fruit or never eating stone fruits again that cannot grow here.
So I am back to believing do what you can, where you can. If I eat 3-5 meals per week from local sources in the more bountiful months does that make up for buying broccoli from California in February?
I recommend looking over the official book website Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. There are lots of great links as well as photographs of their farm and recipes. I made one of the recipes for Disappearing Zucchini Orzo and it was delicious! I think it is my new favorite way to eat this most prolific growing vegetable. I made 2 changes when I made this - I only used thyme since I had that in the garden and I salted and wrung out the zucchini before sauteing it- a lot of the water comes out this way.