Quotable Kingsolver

November 16, 2007 at 10:37 am 15 comments

Farmer Dave reaches for some carrots 

With winter sweeping in like a wolf on the hunt, I’m going to be changing the format of the blog (just a teeny eeny bit) to include some posts that aren’t focused on a particular locally grown vegetable and how to cook it.   That’s not to say I won’t find a way to keep cooking local between my own preserves and those of friends and family, as well as with some produce from local farmers that are lucky enough to have greenhouses.

In any case, since my winter months are often imbued with reading (and knitting), I’d like to showcase a couple books over the next several weeks that I feel have powerful messages, as well as the occasional aside of comic relief.   Together, we’ll hopefully get a little more educated about what’s being written on the subject of eating local and supporting small farms, including urban agriculture.

There’s no better place to start than the poignant volume, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which my coworker Carol was gracious enough to loan me.  Thanks to an elaborate sticky-note system, I’ve managed to curtail my impulse to underline important points and scribble my comments in the margins.   There’s a tremendous amount of discussion-worthy material in this book though.

Already a prolific writer, Kingsolver has now tackled an immensely broad subject (the value and purpose of eating local seasonal food) through her own personal journey.  Full of pause-worthy quotes and a tremendous amount of research disguised as jaunty dialogue, I can’t put this book down.  

Bunches of rainbow swiss chard

Quotes from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

“What the fad diets don’t offer, though, is any sense of national or biological integrity.  A food culture is not something that gets sold [in advertisements] to people.  It arises out of a place, a soil, a climate, a history, a temperament, a collective sense of belonging… A sturdy food tradition even calls to outsiders; plenty of red-blooded Americans will happily eat Italian, French, Thai, Chinese, you name it.  But try the reverse: hand the Atkins menu to a French person, and run for your life.”

“The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving away from manual labor, and dirt — two undeniable ingredients of farming… When we walked as a nation away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial.”

“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.  That’s not gallons, but barrels.  Small changes in buying habits can make big differences.  Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.”

~ .~.~ 

Each quote makes a tremendous amount of sense to me, but then again I’m closely tied to farming.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about them.  What, in your mind, constitutes a food culture/tradition?  And how do you rebuild one that’s apparently as defunct as America’s?   Or isn’t ours defunct?   At one point Kingsolver goes so far as to suggest American school kids take an entire course on agriculture.  Is this too drastic a measure?  Has our society become too removed from “dirty” work?   Knowing that it will reduce our nation’s oil consumption by so much, are you now going to eat one “local” meal a week?   Let’s get some chatter going here, people! 



Entry filed under: Cookbook Reviews.

Not Your Momma’s Veggies Don’t Be Fooled!

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Taryn  |  November 16, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I read this book over the summer in a couple days. It was inspiring to say the least.

    I hate to say that kids need a whole course in agriculture, because there are A LOT of
    subjects kids need and we can’t just keep piling on to their already overloaded
    curriculum (I remember the teachers always being behind schedule and scrambling to
    teach us everything they were required by law to on time when I was a kid!). I already
    wish schools taught spanish to elementary age children and focus more on countries other
    than the ones in Europe (there’s a SOUTH America??).

    I think in a perfect world, parents, not teachers, should be the ones exposing their children
    to subjects such as growing food. For peet’s sake, take your kids out to the farms and
    farmer’s markets! Let them grow a garden. Show them what a rutabaga looks like!

  • 2. Jennie  |  November 16, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Good point, Taryn! Even just growing some herb pots in the windowsill would help kids understand the general seed-sprout-bloom-harvest-die cycle of edible plant life. Teaching spanish to elementary school kids is something I also believe should be done. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!!

  • 3. Rachel  |  November 16, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Guess what? I read a review on this book in a magazine the other day and had a sticky note on the page with a note Jennie (as possible Christmas gift idea). Seriously!! Well, I guess it WAS a good idea… 🙂
    It did look so intriguing, thanks for more “peeks” inside.

    Just the idea the impact of changing just 1 meal is astonishing. Our food culture is so processed/prepared/convience we have a long way to go. Teaching things in schools is helpful, but if it isn’t modeled at home, then nothing is going to change. The kids can be taught it, but the parents are the ones buying and preparing food. Maybe some education (and modeling, again) would get kids begging to go to the farmer’s markets instead of McD’s. ?? They don’t give samples at McD’s, but they usually do at farmer’s markets 🙂

  • 4. taylor  |  November 16, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    Yes, our society is removed from “dirty work,” and the reality and knowledge of where food comes from. I’ve had people (smart people) ask me if green beans grow on trees. If most people had to actually grow their meat, they would not eat meat – a lot of shit (literally) and work is involved. Work is also involved in growing vegetables, I know, but vegetables are less detrimental to the environment. I think eating a vegetarian diet would conserve oil more so than eating locally, although that can’t hurt either.

    The quote above about food culture is, I think, accurate…arises out of a place, a soil, a climate, a history, a temperament, a collective sense of belonging. Is America’s food culture defunct? I don’t think so. It’s just evolving and constantly changing – that’s the nature of our country. We have distinct regional food cultures that are rooted in the settlers of the region, whether it be the early European settlers, the African-American slaves they brought over, or the myriad of immigrants from nations all over the world.

    As far as children taking classes in agriculture…it’s called 4H, or at least it used to be called that; I think they have some other name for it now. Is that class relevant to most children? No. It’s about as relevant to most children as my French classes in elementary school were for me. But wouldn’t it be great if every parent (and school) was well rounded in their knowledge and experiences, and shared it with their kids – or at least exposed them to all the “culture” that is out there! Raising kids is a tough job…for many socio-economic reasons…

  • 5. Jennie  |  November 19, 2007 at 8:05 am

    Rachel – Too funny! I was thinking of buying *you* this book for Christmas. 🙂 I love the point that you make about parents needing to model a better connection to food for their kids. And it is very true that farmers markets typically have all kinds of samples whereas McD’s has none. I think you’re on to something there! Maybe farmers/markets can start marketing to kids in particular with kid-friendly activities and freebies. Hmmm….

  • 6. Jennie  |  November 19, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Taylor – Wow, people have really asked you if beans grown on trees? Huh.

    Yeah, America’s food culture is so diverse, which is great. But I think it also takes its toll when we try to identify ourselves as a cultural whole. I’ve noticed how different your food traditions are from mine and I wish that I’d known about the great stuff you grew up with before now. That being said, I don’t think that’s what Kingsolver is lamenting. I think she’s more upset about fad dieting when we could just be focusing on eating fresh seasonal produce instead of denying ourselves carbs. I’d get on that soapbox. 😉

    Now, about 4-H. We had it as a club outside of school. Did you actually have it connected with school in some way? That’s intriguing if you did. I think you’re right that farming and french might both be useless subjects to many kids. But maybe there could be just a little more education about how plants produce our food? My problem is that I’m so removed from the current curiculum in schools that I don’t know what they teach anymore, besides in D’s first grade class where he occasionally gets around to having them plant peas that inevitably die because D’s got no clue how to grow plants either. 🙂

  • 7. marimann  |  November 19, 2007 at 10:29 am

    I’m with you here on two points- I’m transitioning my garden blog from “all garden, all the time” to recipes, books, etc., and I just started reading Kingsolver’s book on last Saturday and have hardly been able to put it down! It’s going on my Christmas list. I’ve had so many experiences that Kingsolver and your other commenters have shared, like people telling me they got an egg from the grocery store that has a chick in it and could I put it under one of my hens to hatch, to taking my family out to my corn and bean garden and having them express surprise over food that’s actually growing from the ground. I guess they thought it grows in those cellophane grocery packages. I would give this book and Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to my family for Christmas except I know they wouldn’t read it!

  • 8. Jennie  |  November 19, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Marimann – People have really asked you to hatch an egg from the store for them?? Wow. I agree with you though that these books, while powerful for us who are so invested in growing our food, are likely to miss the target with your everyday reader. Do you know of any books that bridge that gap? I’d love to read them if you do. Same goes for anyone else who has a good book recommendation. 🙂

  • 9. marimann  |  November 19, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    I wish I did know of a book, and if anyone tells you of any, I’d like to know of them too. Maybe we’ll have to write it ourselves? 🙂

  • 10. Jennie  |  November 20, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I’ll keep you posted, Marimann. 🙂 And if there isn’t one, we might indeed just have to write it ourselves. I think it’d make for an interesting project. Perhaps a collective effort between farm-types and non-farm types. A good idea to mull over this winter while we’re reading. 🙂

  • 11. Pann  |  November 20, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Maybe my kids just go to super-crunchy schools and pre-schools, but how things grow has been continuously covered for each of them, from pre-school to 2nd grade (and that’s what grade we are up to so far).

    Communities that are tuned in to food choices will probably have more food production related education for their children.

  • 12. Jennie  |  November 21, 2007 at 7:25 am

    Pann – I bet I can guess which school they attend… 🙂 You’re absolutely right though about whole communities having a huge impact on the general temperment for passing along horticulture and food history to kids. Where I grew up, a small farming community, every kid knew exactly why the school year was from Sept to May because we all spent our summers working on the farm (the reason why the school year is as it is). And there were “ag” classes available to every high school kid. I’m not saying that every school needs ag classes but if whole communities place value on sustainable food choices, it will definitely trickle down into the curiculumn. Mt. Airy’s the perfect example of a community determined to create a sustainable food chain and I’m excited to be part of that. 🙂

  • 13. Stuff and Stuffed « Straight from the Farm  |  December 6, 2007 at 10:59 am

    […] I was one of the very few lucky kids that got to grow up on a farm.  I read an interesting fact in Kingsolver’s book.  According to her and her husband’s research, in the past 10 years, the United States has […]

  • 14. Spicing Up Stale « Straight from the Farm  |  March 22, 2008 at 9:32 am

    […] Barbara Kingsolver noted in her Animal Vegetable Miracle memoirs, March is the leanest of months for those of us interested in eating seasonally and […]

  • 15. Pete Loans  |  November 10, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    The vegetables on your pictures really look so delicious!


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