23 July 2016

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver, with contributions from her husband Steven L. Hopp, and daughter Camille Kingsolver, tells the story of how her family lived for a year eating--almost--only locally grown food. A large part of their diet came from their own farm, the rest from farmer's markets and other local sources.

The book is one of the most readable pieces of non-fiction I've picked up in a long time. I will admit that I didn't read every recipe in there, but I did glance through a few of them, and actually read one or two.

Much information is imparted to the reader of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. I learned that sweet potatoes and potatoes are not actually related. Another potato fact: those who eat the entire potato, skin and all (me), are probably consuming a lot of chemicals left over from insecticides and pesticides that have long been illegal to use, but are still residing in the soil.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of vegetables, fruits, and--perhaps the greatest surprise--livestock (chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, sheep, and more), that are threatened by extinction because large-scale agribusiness corporate farms use only a very few--and large corporations like Monsanto and ADM produce genetically modified seeds that are patented, and may not be gathered and re-used, further reducing the varieties of corn, tomatoes, beans, beets, peas, apples, oranges, pears--you name it.

There is not a little controversy about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the current news and literature, but not until reading this book have I felt that I understand much better what exactly is at stake. Certainly we are risking our health by eating these products whose effects are unknown except for some limited laboratory testing. But there are further, more complicated dangers, not the least of which is that our food supply is becoming dependent on the production of these Frankenstein's Monsters, which puts humanity itself at the mercy of a few enormous corporations.

Having said all this, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is not a shrieking revolutionary diatribe. It is, rather, a pleasant and positive story of how a family could relate to food, meals, and eating. It provides a vision of health and a way of life that is very attractive in our modern world. Not a little of the discussion is about how we spend our time, for those who would grow their own food, even some of it, will spend a lot of time raising, harvesting, and preparing it. This may be seen as brutal, hard work --and no doubt, it is--but it is also, according to Kingsolver, satisfying, and rewarding, not only to the body but to the soul.

We cannot and will not all become small farmers, but we can move in the direction of eating food produced in our local environment, supporting small farmers, and being aware of where our food comes from and how it affects our health, our lives, and the health and lives of our neighbors.


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