Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

You might not believe it based on my own abysmal failures in the realm of gardening, but I grew up around my grandparents’ garden and cows and spent most of my formative years in a rural community. I forget sometimes the effect that had on me. And then I will want to see the cows at the State Fair or I will talk about picking corn at my grandparents’ house (or I won’t be all that concerned by a worm on the corn) and I will realize that not everyone grew up around farming. I am by no means an expert, but I have been present for a fair amount of canning (and helped a little bit myself, but only a little bit) and remember summer afternoons spent helping with picking/shelling/shucking. Not everyone gets to experience this.

Which, when I remember those afternoons at my grandma’s house, actually seems kind of sad. For a while, I have really wanted to learn to do some of my own canning, even if I have to accept that I may not be canning my own vegetables because it doesn’t seem likely I am going to be able to learn how to grow them (I still have hope . . . after all, when it comes to gardening, there is always next year). I want my kids to know about picking strawberries and corn, about canning, and that there are better options available than just what the grocery stores sell.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a book about the year that Barbara Kingsolver and her family spent trying to produce their own food. I had heard that it was a little too preachy, and . . . it probably is, but I tend to agree with (or at least respect) a lot of her convictions, so it didn’t bother me all that much. The book moved through the year, beginning with the asparagus in April and moving through the summer harvest with zucchini and tomatoes, then on to canning (and turkey slaughtering) and Thanksgiving, and then finally through the winter, when they enjoy the results of all that hard work in the form of cans in the pantry and fruits and vegetables and meat in the freezer.

Mike and I have, separately, started coming to similar conclusions about the decisions we make about food. A lot of these convictions do come from some of our thoughts about the environment and our desire to make choices that are going to make this world a better place for our children (or at least our friends’ children, since we don’t have any to speak of). He doesn’t have time to read this book at this point, but I read this passage to him because it stuck out to me.

The main barrier standing between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint–virtues that are hardly the property of the wealthy. These virtues seem to find precious little shelter, in fact, in any modern quarter of this nation founded by Puritans. Furthermore, we apply them selectively: browbeating our teenagers with the message that they should wait for sex, for example. Only if they wait to experience intercourse under the ideal circumstances (the story goes), will they know its true value. Blah blah blah, hears the teenager: words issuing from a mouth that can’t even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now. We’re raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires.

If there’s religion in this book, it’s the worship of Mother Nature or the Harvest, and I’ll be honest, the book rang a little hollow to me there. As a Christian, I think we should care about these things because we should care about the world that God gave us, and because we should enjoy the world he gave us, eating the best that it has to offer and not any cheap substitutes. I don’t agree that vegetable promiscuity is quite the same thing as sexual promiscuity, but I do think that there’s some value to being considerate about what we put in our bodies and the way the seasons can shape that. I have thought quite a bit this year about food and the process of sharing meals with friends and family as a form of worship, and I believe this is a component of that, too — being mindful of the ingredients is just as important as eating more slowly.

Does that mean that we did not shop at Wal-Mart on Sunday for our groceries? Does that mean that we know exactly where all of our food was produced? No, it does not. At this point, it means we’re trying to eat fewer processed foods and make more things from scratch. It means we’re taking steps to buy from the Farmer’s Market and we are going to do a lot of research this fall and winter so we can finally finally get some of our vegetables to grow (I am voting for a container garden, myself). We’re works in progress, but we want to think about these things, and I’m thankful for a husband who always gives me the space to work these things out for myself and does his best to support any convictions I have.

Sometimes I carry a book around and I wonder what it says about me. I liked what this one said: that I am the kind of person who is thinking about the impact of her actions. I don’t have a whole lot of answers, but I am thinking. I haven’t said anything much about this over the past few months because I am always afraid of being considered “crunchy” (and, I mean, really, could there be anyone who seems less crunchy than me . . . except for that whole tote bag thing), but I’m coming out of the closet. Mike and many of my friends can tell you–food is increasingly important to me these days: the process of planning meals and the idea that we are eating well. I think I am still learning, as Anne Lamott said, “to feed myself,” and this, for me, is part of that. I have read several blog posts about this book in which the author said, “This book changed my life.” I think I even said that to Mike at one point while reading it, but I won’t go quite that far here. What I will say is that I hope it changed my life, that I’ll be able to turn the things I have been thinking and the ways that it challenged me into some actual actions.

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  1. […] in our house. I read a lot, and books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle have helped shape the idea that I should think about what I eat and how I live. We shop regularly at our local farmer’s […]

  2. […] from the farm. June 6, 2010 — Kari Several years ago, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and it changed the way that I approach purchasing my food. We do still buy […]