May 23, 2008

A Miracle Book

It's always a pleasure to come across a book that is utterly satisfying, but also has the potential to change your life. The last time I had that happen was Yes Man. This time around it's Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

The book was actually a gift from Em to ScottE this past October. He has in turn shared it with a number of friends, and I finally got around to reading it myself. If the greatest gift in a book I have given to Scott and our friends was The Pillars of the Earth, then this has been my reward - a true gift in return.

The thrust of the book is that Barbara and her family decided to pick up and move their lives to a farm in southwestern Virginia. For one year they would try to (with but a few minor exceptions) eat only food that was grown within about 100 miles of their home, and only from reputable farmers that could be relied upon for organic and sustainable methods. This meant really embracing the annual cycle of food growth in the area - leafy greens and asparagus in spring, endless apples and pumpkins in the fall. And it wasn't just the fruits and vegetables - that meant meat, dairy and bread as well. Could they do it? Could they survive? And would they hate it?

It turns out they did do it, and it became a way of life. The family developed a deep connection to their food because they made it. And along the way they learned a lot about how the government of this country is stacked against the small local farmer, and how changes can be made.

For me, it was an eye-opening, potentially life-altering book. Having grown up my whole life as a city boy, my only real experience with locally-grown food were the berries and tomatoes my parents grew in the back yard, or stopping by a roadside stand on the way to my grandmother's cottage in summer. Now I really get it - I understand why an apple on the east coast is rather absurd in April, and why there are so many varieties of gourds (they're to get you through the cold winter). But mostly I have this craving, this need to seek out opportunities to buy from small local farms (which I'll be doing tomorrow at the Cheverly Community Market), and to think more about eating what's in season.

I really encourage everyone to read this book, but to realize it's not there as a condemnation of how we eat, or how so many farmers are trapped into large industrial systems for corn and soybeans. I truly believe that Kingsolver wrote this to make us open our eyes, be aware and think. The simple awareness of your food choices can slowly shift simply by having all this in your subconscious. The tides of change in this country have almost always been slow and subtle.

Today I was walking through our back yard, checking on the progress of all our little growing things and stopping to smell the gentle sweetness of a yellow iris. I looked on admiringly as birds from cardinals to blue jays stopped by for a visit (a purple finch is our latest find). I was reminded looking around that this was what makes that hour-long commute every day worth it. And as I hunched over the "Early Girl" tomato plant that Scott had planted in our modest little plot, I cooed over six little budding fruits that will provide us with a delicious bounty by mid-summer. We did that. We grew that. And it didn't ride on a truck cross-country to get here.

Read. Eat. Start a revolution.


ScottE. said...

Yippee! I'm thrilled you embraced this book as much as I did. To those who haven't read it yet, please do. If for no other reason than to experience what the Kingsolver family did and to understand how Mother Earth works to take care of us, as long as we do our best to take care of her.

The Kara said...

You already know how I feel about this book - in the immortal words of Sally O'Malley - I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT. Our farmer's market does not open for another week or so and I can't wait. I've already tried staying as local as possible (though I do admit I feel the need to have a banana coming on!). Overall this book really opened my eyes to investing in a local sustainable economy.