Tuesday, January 19, 2010

book review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver's new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has, quite simply, made me rethink the way I do food. Well written with a sense of down-to-earth good humor, the book describes her family's decision to live for one year eating as locally and sustainably as possible; what they couldn't grow themselves, they tried to buy from people they knew (through farmers' markets), preferably eating things grown within a 100-mile radius of their Virginian farm. Honey took the place of sugar. Exceptions were made for free-trade coffee, olive oil, and spices--I would add chocolate to that list--but for the most part it is a book about abundance rather than "what we gave up." Kingsolver writes lovingly and persuasively about eating in season, and she kindly explains what comes into season when, for those of us who didn't grow up near a farm and are still working that out. Fruits and vegetables that spend a week or more in transport from California and South America (cost of transportation paid for out of tax dollars) have less taste and fewer nutrients than the same items eaten shortly after they were picked--and that alone is worth the wait and work in-season to do a lot of canning and freezing. That, plus the fact that eating locally and organically is better for the long-term life of earth (in both sense of the word). And, buying local stimulates the economy of the area in which you live--less money to the middleman, more to the farmer.

But she says it a lot better than I do, and it doesn't sound so preachy.

It's January in Wisconsin, and we just finished my last jar of homemade tomato sauce, so there isn't that much I can do until things start growing again around here. But it does make me think about where things are from. I live in DairyLand, in the western part of the state. Why on earth should I buy milk from Illinois (one of two options in the grocery store)? Why would I buy Vermont cheese, much as I love it, or eggs from another state? I'm starting to pay attention to this stuff, item by item, thinking about the trip my food took to get to me.

At the winter farmers' market, once a month hosted by local churches, I'm getting to know some of the people who sell there, including one family who specializes in organic heirloom vegetables. (Heirlooms are different strains of the same plant, often that have been developed naturally over time to do well in various areas. Did you know that 4000 kinds of potatoes used to grow in Peru? Did you know there are more than 3 kinds of potato? I didn't.) I bought 5 different kinds of potatoes, including red ones and blue fingerlings, yummy carrots, dried tomatoes, local ground lamb...it's been fun to taste test, fun to explore...

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