Monday, March 03, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. Reading her work is kind of a guilty pleasure for me as her world view is polar opposite of mine (Poisonwood Bible is even a critical look at a fictional missionary family), but she has total mastery over her craft, an intuitive look at nature, and sympathetic characters that draw me in. Recently I read the two book series about a single woman who adopted a Native American baby abandoned in her car in The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. So when I saw a recommendation for her book on a conservative Christian blog, I couldn't resist reading what I knew would be delightful prose on a compelling subject. I was not prepared for just how eye opening and potentially life changing her book would be.

For someone who does not believe in God and points to evolution to tell her little daughter how things came into being, Barbara Kingsolver has a deep respect for natural processes, the order of seasons, the symbiosis of birds-insects-plants-minerals in organic growth, and the importance of the family table and nutrition. So even though occasionally, I differed from her opinion 100%, most of the time I found myself learning at the feet of a woman with knowledge and experience that I want to emulate.

This book, co written by Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp, and daughter, Camille Kingsolver, covered a year in which their family ate food grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of their home: a small farm in Virginia's Appalachian Mountains. Although, the Kingsolver-Hopp family members were not strangers to growing, preserving, and cooking their own food from scratch, their decision to eat ONLY local foods was a journey of learning that the book chronicles in delightful detail.

Following the seasons of Spring (greens, mushrooms, asparagus), Summer (zucchini, tomatoes, and a plethora of other veggies), Fall (potatoes, pumpkins, garlic, root crops), and Winter (winter squash, root cellar holdings), the family grows, hatches, butchers, cures, pickles, freezes, dries, and preserves all the food they need to comfortably live for a year. They frequent farmers’ markets and local farms for available fruits, meat, and milk that they themselves don’t grow. They learn to make cheese and yogurt. They travel to different parts of the country to observe organic farming elsewhere. They take a trip to Italy to see a country centered on a food culture of growing and producing local olive oil, vegetables, cheese, pasta, and meats.

They give compelling arguments for supporting local agriculture, cooking from scratch, and “voting with our dollars” to avoid processed foods and foods that have traveled across continents to reach us (apples from New Zealand anyone?). They also talk about foods that cannot be reasonably purchased locally (olive oil, spices, coffee, and chocolate) and, instead of giving up and going down to the local grocery store, buying from small farms elsewhere through free market enterprises to support someone else’s local economy (without supporting big foreign businesses who don’t have as much respect for the land or individuals in that place).

This can be done much more reasonably than I expected. The first part of the book, I wished ruefully that it could be done where I lived. However, a little bit of research (specifically on quickly showed that I can buy fresh local produce through a local farm CSA (for community supported agriculture) which will allow me to “subscribe” to a farm and receive fresh seasonal produce weekly through the growing year. I also have the option of buying into a not so local CSA in Oregon called “Full Circle Farms” which gathers food from small farms locally and farther afield to provide fresh organic produce year round. I also found several local dairies that will allow me to “share” in a cow’s ownership to buy fresh raw milk (which can then become yogurt and cheese). I also found places within 50 miles of me that sell eggs, syrup, beef, and chicken meat. I suddenly remembered the local summer farmer’s markets in Anchorage and Wasilla that I was too busy for. The options are really much more varied that I had ever hoped! I can even start a small window garden in my apartment to grow several salads. The possibilities get more and more exciting.

Although I hope to write more later, I did want to point out that this method of eating and living may not be the most frugal method at first. Buying local produce may cost a little more than buying produce shipped from South America, and buying hormone free, grass fed meat will definitely be costlier, but setting those pennies aside, the gains of making sure that local food producers stay in business (no matter what happens world wide), the local economy stays strong, healthy food is on your table daily, and whole foods are prepared from scratch with the ingredients you choose is really a much healthier alternative over all. This method of eating does not have to be done all or nothing. It could be done by choosing only one or two local items to incorporate, or it may be done to any degree that works for your family. Becoming educated and supporting local food however you can is a big step in itself.

In conclusion, I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in feeding their family naturally to look into this book. It contains a treasure trove of ideas, recipes, resources, and motivation. It comes out in paperback April 29, 2008.


  1. Hey Andrea,
    I absolutely will be reading this book! Thanks for all the good info. I need to stop by here more often because I enjoy reading your blog Love Timbra

  2. Thanks for commenting on my blog! Is your husband a composer too?

    I wish we had CSA options where we live, but there aren't many farms around here - just ranches!

  3. Thanks for the recommendation. I was just given a copy of Poisonwood Bible, but I have to admit was kind of intimated to read it when I saw who wrote it. I have such an admiration for missionaries (my grandfather actually worked with Jim Elliot in Ecaudor before Jim and the other men were killed), and I didn't want that to change. But I'll just take into account her worldview as I read it...

  4. Andrea,

    It's funny that you would mention this book. One of my girl friends was just telling me about this same book LAST WEEK! How crazy is that! Thanks for the review and recommendation!


  5. I love Barbara Kingsolver, too. She is an amazing author. I also am very interested in the local/fresh/organic food movement. We are so removed from our food source in our culture. And so far removed from the consequences that every choice we make affects our planet. I haven't read this one yet, but I definately will from your recommendation.


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