I originally intended to post this review on the ecojustice blog but Emily, Stefanie, and Mandarine have all recently posted beautiful, insightful posts over there so instead I urge you to go read their posts – I will write there in a few days on a different topic.
I’ve really struggled with how to write this review, and I think that is because, like all good nonfiction, reading it made me think not just about the material on the page but the larger implications of my lifestyle. I’ve couched this review a hundred different ways in my head and never settled on one satisfactorily enough to sit down and actually write it. I still haven’t, but I’m going to have stab at it anyway. Here it goes.
I am not a “foodie,” but I spend the majority of my Saturdays in Pittsburgh’s strip district, shopping at the local farmers’ market and then the local Italian, Greek and Mexican shops. You will never see me in a William Sonoma, arguing over the various quality of Kitchen Aid mixers or asparagus peelers, and you certainly won’t see me hovering over my kitchen sink, groaning as I stuff my face with fresh strawberries and swearing I will never, ever buy non-seasonal strawberries again! Don’t get me wrong – I never will buy non-seasonal strawberries again, but not because I am so obsessed with the food itself…I won’t do it because I believe buying locally, from farmers, and buying seasonally, is the right thing to do, for the environment, for the economy, for my community, and for our health. And I also believe those of us willing to make the sacrifice, to skip the big grocery stories and plan meals around the seasons and buy organic, local meat make up a fairly small contingent in this country.
How can I put this differently? Okay, let’s try this: I believe buying locally grown food, and walking as much as possible instead of driving, and carrying clothe grocery bags instead of plastic, and recycling everything possible, and having a job that is in service to something, and using energy efficient light bulbs, and watching our water consumption…I believe all of that is incredibly important. I believe my health, and the health of S., is important. Beyond that, I believe the health of my community, my family, Americans, the world – is important. But I also believe only some of us have the financial wherewithal and ability to make the effort to do what is right. I can afford to spend my time pondering what to do with my fresh asparagus because both S. and I have lucrative jobs, health insurance and the ability to argue early each Saturday morning, between the luxury of sleeping in, and the luxury of buying food – whatever food we want – from wherever we want, regardless. Most people don’t have this choice.
I finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle feeling obligated to do more for the world I am so blessed to inhabit, and also overwhelmed with how do do this. Regardless of the easy tips Steven Hopp provides the reader so you, too, can enjoy tomatoes grown by grit and God’s love, Kingsolver could do what she did because, let’s face it, she works from home and has the time to commit a year of her life to growing her own food. When I first finished the book I had to squash the compulsion to immediately start container gardening and learning how to can. One thing at a time, I told myself. It’s enough, this year, to learn to eat mostly locally.
Oh, damnit. I’m really not returning to the text, am I? I’m all reaction, no analyzing. Let me just say this – Kingsolver’s book is stellar. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in food and/or the environment. Her passages about when she’s cooking she can feel her female ancestors around her make me want to run out and buy the ingredients to make chicken and dumplings, if only to return the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen to me for a couple of hours. She made me feel okay about how much I love to cook (even though I don’t like the food network), and sometimes I do feel self-conscious about my love for my kitchen (even though I don’t own anything special, utensil-wise), and preparing meals. She taught me how to properly cook vegetables, and provided a wonderful recipe for strawberry/rhubarb crumble, which I made and took to a cookout recently. Kingsolver has long been one of my favorite writers and being welcomed into her house and kitchen, as she does in this book, was a wonderful reading treat. But she also stressed me out a bit, as well. No high fructose corn syrup, ever? It’s all fine and good not eating candy bars or cola, but WHAT ABOUT TONIC WATER? Could I go a whole summer without the tang of a vodka tonic hitting the back of my throat, all because a system I don’t fully understand screwed up farming in American and now corn is a commodity? Let me tell you, I’ve already had several. And packing a cooler full of fresh, local foods for road trips? The only time I allow myself to eat McDonald’s is on road trips….maybe three times a year? But oh, how I love it then! A balance must be struck.
Here is what we are doing, in our little household of two, for now. We are waking up early on Saturday mornings and supporting local farmers and local shop owners. The only meat we eat is hormone and antiobiotic free, and mostly local. We do not keep junk or snack foods in the house, and moreover, with the food crisis currently happening, we do not waste food if we can at all help it. The all-natural hot dogs I bought for S. that he hates will be grilled up and cut into baked beans, for and we will dine like children. Rotten bananas will always be turned into banana muffins. But, for the time being, at least, we will eat in local restaurants without questioning where the food comes from, and when friends have us over we will gratefully share whatever they prepare for us. When we head up to the cabin in September, we will eat cheeseburgers. But we will keep trying, and trying, and trying – this whole eating thing – my – it has grown so tricky.
Hmm. What an odd-ball review. I’d meant to do better by one of my favorite writers. I think I’m still muddling through what I’ve learned. But I have managed to complete the first challenge from the ecojustice challenge….I read one book on the topic, and we are easily eating more than two meals a week locally. I can’t wait for next quarter!
Oh, and the part that stressed me out a bit, from the book? Bananas! Do I really have to give them up?