Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is part gardening journal, part economic diatribe, part humorous essay, part science text book, part cook book, and in great part literary brilliance. Barbara Kingsolver is a masterful writer, and, while I don't necessarily agree with her political, religious, or evolutionary beliefs, she presents a beautiful and convincing argument for food knowledge.

The author chronicles her family's food journey over the course of a year, growing and raising most of their meat, vegetables, and fruit. The balance they purchase locally. I enjoyed the often laugh-out-loud anecdotes of farm life. Some inspired me to follow suit. Some convinced me I was never cut out to produce all of my own food, particularly raising turkeys.

I appreciate the fact that Kingsolver doesn't expect everyone reading to go to the lengths she went with her own family at that point in her life, but rather encourages each person to, at the very least, know where their food is coming from, both geographically and scientifically. The next step she proposes is to purchase locally as much as possible.

I was reminded in part of reading A Year in Provence, especially as the author was telling the story of their trip to Italy. Both books are a look at a year of food, A Year in Provence being the most humorous and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle being the most informative. Both books will make the reader ravenous, craving all manner of delectable dishes and savory foods. Both books will inspire the reader to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life, such as a fabulous meal.

pg. 9

The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving away from manual labor, and dirt--two undeniable ingredients of farming. It's good enough for us that somebody, somewhere, knows food production well enough to serve the rest of us with all we need to eat, each day of our lives.

If that's true, why isn't it good enough for someone else to know multiplication and the contents of the Bill of Rights? Is the story of bread, from tilled ground to our table, less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies? Couldn't one make a case for the relevance of a subject that informs choices we make daily--as in, What's for dinner? Isn't ignorance of our food sources causing problems as diverse as overdependence on petroleum, and an epidemic of diet-related diseases?

pg. 127

When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable. (Or worse, convenience-mart hot dogs and latchkey kids.) I consider it the great hoodwink of my generation.

pg. 286

Snow fell on our garden in December, leaving the dried corn stalks and withered tomato vines standing black on white like a pen-and-ink drawing titled Rest. I postponed looking at seed catalogs for awhile. Those of us who give body and soul to projects that never seem to end--child rearing, housecleaning, gardening--know the value of the occasional closed door. We need our moments of declared truce.

pg. 287

Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing.

pg. 288

Planning complex, beautiful meals and investing one's heart and time in their preparation is the opposite of self-indulgence. Kitchen-based family gatherings are process-oriented, cooperative, and in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful. A lot of calories get used up before anyone sits down to consume. But more importantly, a lot of talk happens first, news exchanged, secrets revealed across generations, paths cleared with a touch on the arm. I have given and received some of my life's most important hugs with those big oven-mitt potholders on both hands.
If you want another view on the subject, check out Jen's reviews here and here.

At the conclusion of the book, Kingsolver states that they used approximately one acre of land to meet her whole family's nutritional consumption (including purchased food items such as grains) in contrast to the average 1.2 cultivated acres for each individual citizen in the U.S. I'm glad she included this information, as I had wondered what land area it would require to sustain a family.

Should we choose to grow and raise our own food, we would likely be able to do so on our own property. I've started making a list (because we all know I love a list) of all the things we could grow here on our land. The Willamette Valley is an excellent place to grow a tremendous variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as raise livestock.

I will admit that I didn't add one single animal to my list. Luckily our neighbor raises animals (organic, grass-fed) and we will be buying beef and pork from him this year! That is about as local as we can get without doing the work ourselves. I should find a source for chicken and additional ground beef...

What are you growing in your gardens this year? What would you like to grow in the future?

Do you shop at your local farmer's market or produce stand?


Bella Art Girl said...

you liked this you might like the Omnivore's Dillema...

Jenny said...

I would love to be self sufficient, growing all my own food stuffs, but there just isn't enough hours in the day.
I am growing brocoli (sp?), artichoke and peas at the moment.

Unknown said...

A little off topic...I was visiting with my mom's aunt and uncle and they always spend a month in Provence. I just loved that part of my trip, and would love to spend a year there! (If I spoke french, which would mean I'd have to pull up my boot straps and brush up big time!)

Unknown said...

Ok, I didn't make sense...

...I was visiting with my mom's aunt and uncle LAST NIGHT and WE WERE TALKING ABOUT MY TRIP and we were talking about Provence last night.

Sheesh...I JUST woke up and your site is the first I checked when I went on the computer. That'll teach me!

Christi said...

I've had this book on my "to read" list for quite some time now, but haven't gotten to it yet. Sounds as interesting as I thought it would be.

We have grown (quite large) gardens in the past, but haven't this year. Fortunately we have family that keeps in vegetables all summer long!

Barb said...

I would love to have an acre to grow, learn to live off the land, see the food I consume from birth to the table but it's not an option right now.
I know the rewards of growing food. I do have containers birthing tomatoes and herbs. There is nothing so tastey as home-grown tomatoes. Can't compare to even the expensive organic stuff in stores.
I should read this book but I was turned off of Kingsolver when I read the Poisonwood Bible. Shouldn't through the baby out with the bath water, I suppose.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

I was raised to grow my own vegetables. It took my years before I could buy fruit in the supermarket. But Tennessee soil is just plain HARD to grow stuff in!! This year we have strawberries, green beans, okra, tomatoes, cukes, and herbs. The zucchini died. The carrots are struggling. The strawberries yielded about a bowl's worth, as did the beans. But I sure have enjoyed making pesto with all the basil! I have not yet figure out how to garden in Tennessee...but I am working on it!

Jen Rouse said...

My first tomatoes of the year are just about ripe, and I've got a patch of herbs that is flourishing. Oh, and a bell pepper plant with a single pepper growing on it. That's it! I've been making an effort to go to the farmer's Market though and really enjoyed all the tasty produce.

I always dream of growing a big garden, but I'm not sure I'm really up for the work it would be. I too came away from that book certain that I would never raise turkeys.

I also love that quote from the book about the oven-mitt hugs. So true! Kingsolver is such an excellent writer.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love the passages you shared, sounds like an inspiring read indeed! I've pondered the very same thing that Kingsolver described on page 127 - I love the way she said it. Much of what you've shared from the book are my own convictions, it is inspiring to hear them from another angle.
How wonderful for you to have such resources nearby- your own neighbors raising beef and pork!
We grow a vegetable garden, canning greenbeans, pickles, and pumpkin, freezing brussel sprouts. I dry culinary herbs that we've grown. I can plum jam from my parents tree, we freeze blueberries and raspberries from a farm down the road. We also purchase tuna fish from a boat in the local harbor, and then can a years supply of it. My husband plans to purchase a calf to raise for beef. We raise hens which supply us with fresh eggs.
We are no where near self-sufficient, it'll be baby step by baby step for us. But the more self-sufficient things we do, the more we find ourselves wanting to do!
Happy list making to you! As you've quoted on page nine, we've found that the more informed choices we've made about our food, the more inspired we've become to educate ourselves of our food choices. Before you know it, you'll have your property all plotted out...a fruit orchard here, a compost pile there... a berry patch in back... have fun!

Jen - Balancing Beauty and Bedlam said...

We are attempting to grow more, but wow, this NC red clay is hard. We do go in with friends and buy a cow together, have had chickens for the last 12 years...until this month. Now we have lots of feather..sigh, and I have lots of grain if anyone needs any. It will take me another 10 years to use this all up. Just not baking bread as much as I used to, but definitely need to prioritize that:)

Renee said...

We too loved this book. We are growing corn, lettuce, cantaloupe, watermellon, tomatoes, beans, carrots and berries. We have not had a garden every year, but have enjoyed it and plan to continue.

Unknown said...

We are working away at gardening again. Zucchini, cukes, kohlrabi, bush beans, cilantro, lettuce, radishes, beets, pumpkins, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, peppers, apples, pears and plums! I would so love to be able to have chickens and a goat. I checked the Kingsolver book out but didn't manage to read it...I shall try again. I LOVED "A Year in Provence". Have you read "Crunchy Cons". Take a look...would love to hear your take on that one.

Heidi said...

Bella Art Girl~ I've heard of that one, but haven't taken a look at it yet. I'll add it to the list...

Jenny~ Oh, I hear ya on the limited hours in a day. :) That is partly why our garden is so tiny this year! I think you just have to do what you can. Thanks for chiming in.

Caralyn~ I sure wish we could have made it to Provence when we went to France years ago. It is still on the 'to visit' list. I'm still tinged green with envy over your awesome vacation!!

Christi~ Hey, that's the way to do it! Now I just need to convince my *sisters* to grow enough that they can share with me. :)

I Was Just Thinking~ I think growing veggies in containers is a great way to do it! That's the way we'd go if we didn't have so much land to work with. I think it would be more my speed. :) I'm glad that I didn't read The Poisonwood Bible. I'm guessing it would have turned me off to her as well. Maybe just knowing her background is what made me take so long to get to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It really was worth the read, though.

SmallWorld~ I know we are really lucky to have such a great area for growing. Sounds like you are really trying, though. I'm impressed with your list! Have you tried raised beds or square foot gardening?

Jen~ I enjoyed reading your review the other day just as I was finishing up the book! I grew up with a large veggie garden, and I think I was really not interested in going to all that work when I finally moved out of the house. I'm so inspired for a large garden, but I, too, am not sure I'm ready to return to that kind of work!

Candidreflections~ Wow! I loved your list. Thank you so much for sharing. Maybe we'll make it there someday... Baby steps!

Balancing Jen :)~ Oh, no! You lost your chickens? That would be sooo frustrating! I think that chickens might be an animal project we'd be willing to contemplate in the next couple years. Neither myself nor my husband are big animal (or pet) people, so we'll see. I have bread baking on my list of things to incorporate into our daily living.

The Good...~ Glad to hear you enjoyed the book also! Sounds like you have a wonderful garden going!

toomanyhats~ Great list. I think we might go for chickens, but no goat. I've been there done that in my childhood and it wasn't a pleasant memory, LOL. I was certain that a Heidi needed goats. :) Wasn't A Year in Provence hilarious!? Crunchy Cons is another book on my long list. Oh, for more hours in a day. :)

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