Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Must Read: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I am currently reading and enjoying Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It's a nonfiction narrative written by renowned Author and Biologist, Barbara Kingsolver, detailing the year that she and her family moved to their family's farm and committed to eating only produce that they grew themselves or that was grown in their community. Of course, each family member had a luxury item, such as coffee, to ease them into the process. But what they discovered is that they can actually survive! Many of you may recognize the author's name. She has written several novels including The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, Prodigal Summer and others. She has degrees in Biology and Evolutionary Biology which is evident in her storytelling.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she discusses the environmental impact of buying food items out of season such as strawberries in December. Such food choices have a detrimental impact on the environment because most of the items we purchase travel more than 1500 miles from farm to plate which benefits guess who, the oil companies. She also makes an excellent point that we in the USA have lost our food culture. In other countries, they make food choices differently. They use what is grown locally and what's in season. In America, we want whatever we want when we want it. We don't want to wait for tomato season. We want it now and we're willing to settle for the tasteless version.

This book is really a must read for everyone but especially if you are concerned about the environment and making a more positive impact or rather, offsetting your own negative impact. It is one of the best gifts you will give yourself and I guarantee that you will become more impassioned about food and buying locally. I'll admit that there are a lot of veggies that I know nothing about preparing such as kale, acorn squash, leeks, etc. but this book has inspired me to experiment with them and to purchase a wonderful cookbook, Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka. This cookbook itemizes all the different vegetables and gives you a history of the veggie, the different ways to prepare them (steam, microwave, bake) as well as recipes. I use it daily as a reference.

Excerpt Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Called Home
As the U.S. population made a statistical mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us jumped off that ship and headed for the promised land, where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. Our family was about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.

Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel.

In a cinderblock convenience mart we foraged the aisles for road food. Our family’s natural-foods teenager scooped up a pile of energy bars big enough to pass as a retirement plan for a hamster. As long as we were going crazy here, we threw in some 99-cent bottles of what comes for free out of drinking fountains in Perrier, France. In our present location 99 cents was a bargain. Arizona was suffering the worst drought in its history – one inch of rainfall in the last seven months. Living in Arizona on borrowed water had begun to make me nervous. So did importing all our food from elsewhere; the average food item on a U.S. grocery shelf has traveled farther than most families go on their annual vacations. Because of modern industrial farming methods and the jet-traveled foods we buy, Americans put approximately as much gasoline into our diets as into our cars.

As we gathered our loot on the counter, the sky suddenly darkened. After 200 consecutive cloudless days, you forget what it looks like when a cloud crosses the sun. We all blinked. The cashier frowned toward the plate glass window.

"Dang," she said, "if it isn’t going to rain."

"I hope so," Steven said.

She turned her scowl from the window to Steven. This bleached-blonde guardian of gas pumps and snack food was not amused. "It better not, is all I can say."

"But we need it," I pointed out. I am not one to argue with cashiers, but this was my very last minute as a Tucsonan. I hated to jinx it with bad precipitation-karma.

"I know that’s what they’re saying, but I don’t care," she avowed. "Tomorrow’s my first day off in two weeks, and I want to wash my car."

For three hundred miles we drove that day through desperately parched Sonoran badlands, chewing our salty cashews with a peculiar guilt. We had all shared this wish, in some way or another: that it wouldn’t rain on our day off. Thunderheads dissolved ahead of us, as if honoring our compatriot’s desire to wash her car as the final benediction on a dying land. In our desert, we would not see rain again.

At the end of our first full day in our new home, we headed into town for supper. Ten hours of unpacking had left us too tired to cook. We opted for a little diner of the southern type that puts grits on your plate until noon, and biscuits after, whether you ask for them or not. Our waitress was young and chatty, a student at the junior college nearby studying to be a nurse or else, if she doesn’t pass the chemistry, a television broadcaster. She said she was looking forward to the weekend, but smiled broadly nevertheless at the clouds gathering over the hills outside. The pastures of southwestern Virginia looked remarkably green to our desert-scorched eyes, but the forests and fields were suffering here too. Drought had plagued most of the southern U.S. that spring.

A crack of thunder boomed, and the rain let loose just as the waitress came back to clear our plates. "Listen at that," she clucked. "Don’t we need it. Let’s hope it’s a good long one."

For our family, something turned over that evening in the diner: a gas-pump cashier’s curse of drought was lifted by a waitress’s simple, agricultural craving for rain. I thought to myself: there is hope for us.