August 31, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that's better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet. (from google books)

So that's the premise of this 352 page book. Sounds interesting doesn't it? It is. Very interesting. And eye opening. But it can also be infuriating. Here's an example of Kingsolver bemoaning the rampant use of canned pumpkin:

"Come on, people. Doesn't anybody remember how to take a big old knife, whack open a pumpkin, scrape out the seeds, and bake it? We can carve a face onto it, but can't draw and quarter it? Are we in actual fact too squeamish to stab a large knife into a pumpkin? Wait till our enemies find out."

According to Kingsolver, if we buy canned pumpkin, we're squeamish. If we buy bananas, we don't care about local farmers. If we're not gardeners, then we're idiots because obviously we're not aware that vegetables are grown in dirt.

There was a book in which she made the list of 100 people who are destroying America. While I hardly think she's doing any damage, I can see where "These are the cultural elites who look down their snobby noses at ordinary Americans" would fit her description.

Yes, she's annoying, alright. But like I said earlier, this book is an eye opener and contains lots of interesting facts and several made-from-scratch recipes that sound pretty good. It has definitely inspired me to make more trips to the farmers market and buy local products when I can. But really, is buying bananas so bad?


Judy said...

No, buying banana's is not so bad!!
Wonderful book review, Ali! :o)
This author is a bit sharp and critical of us ordinary Americans, isn't she! I am glad you are buying more fresh veges from the Farmers market! We have a good little fruit and vegetable place just down the road, and they always have fresh, healthy-looking, fruits and vegetables.

Rochelle said...

Great review Ali. I love that you read it and took her information to heart. A lot of people I know just poo-pooed the idea and wouldn't even give it a try! I don't think you have to have your own garden - just shop at local markets and be aware how far your food travels!

She is my favorite author despite her elitism (?). She is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs - granted, she does have more resources than the average American to seek out alternatives!

Try the book "In Defense of Food" also. Similar ideas and a lot of good data and info.

And, yes, buying bananas is really bad (especially non-organic - villages become uninhabitable due to the pesticides they use on the banana crop and all the villagers are forced to migrate). I think her point was more that 100% of bananas are imported and the transportation contributes a lot to global warming. But I still buy bananas - it is one of the few fruits my oldest son will eat!

ali said...

Judy--We eat a lot of veggies so I wish I would have started going earlier so I could've stocked up. I'll know better next year!

Rochelle--I'd love to read In Defense of Food next-I'm glad you mentioned it because I knew there was a similar book out there but I just couldn't think of the name:) And I was afraid someone was going to tell me the truth about bananas. I think I'll live in denial about that one a little bit longer though, it's 1 of only 2 fruits my son will eat too!

Merrie said...

Let me ask you this? Where in my town do bananas grow? I can't get them at my local market as far as I know. Other fruits, yes, and I have, but not everything is available to me there.
I would totally love to try growing more of my own and buying more locally, but I'm not going to think I'm a bad person if I can't or don't.

We're growing some zucchini out back, and I'm looking forward to trying some other things next year.

Great review!

ali said...

Merrie--The bananas. I know! It would be a shame to miss out on some of the world's great fruit just because it isn't grown locally. When you think of Arkansas, citrus doesn't come to mind. I'd hate to miss out on limes, lemons, and oranges. I agree mostly with what Kingsolver said but I think as long as you're making an effort it's all good:)

Anonymous said...

Good lord. Between the people who come up with lists like "100 evildoers who are destroying America" and Ms. Kingsolver's complaint that we've become squeamish for buying canned pumpkin, are they just trying to out-macho and out-righteous each other? Puh-leeese.

Anyhow, food for thought: When viewed on a global scale, buying only locally-produced food may not be the best solution for reducing our enviromental impact:

Specifically with regard to bananas, or organic ones, Google for "Dan Koeppel organic bananas", go to the Google Books result, and start reading. You might also be interested in his blog:

Anonymous said...

Follow up on Dan Koeppel and bananas: This is interesting (and alarming, to banana lovers):

The comments section includes a number of links (which I have not checked), but does not link to his Fresh Air interview. You can listen to it here:

(Fresh Air is also available as a podcast, I believe, but I haven't bothered to go look for it in that format.)