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