Friday, 23 May 2008

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (and family)

This entry is going to be a bit more than a book review. Mainly because it's a topic which is so important to me that I can't help but sprinkling it with personalisms. First off, I'd like to dedicate this entry on my blog to my good friend Steve, and people like him who have known about the struggle to keep the "locavore" movement alive a lot longer than people like me. I've always felt that healthy eating was important, but lately, learning more about myself, and what makes me tick has made me even more focused on this important issue; so, I've been learning as much as I possibly could. Jodi (at work) told me about this Barbara Kingsolver event coming up and told me I should go to it because - in her book - she makes cheese. She really does make cheese in her book, but the book is about much more than just cheese. (Jodi knew that, just wanted to share a portion of it that she thought would be important to me - being a cheesemaker and all) Anyway, so, I was all - yeah maybe, ok. Then, one day a couple of weeks back, I was just chillin' like a villin' at my favorite book store - McNally Robinson (about to close locally, which makes me sad) There was this Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book sitting there, so I picked it up; and lo and behold - in the description - I learned that Barbara and her family were living my dream. Living off the land, self reliant, supporting local farmers. When I was a little girl, (in Calgary - no joke) we had a garden. This was the late '70's, early '80's you understand of course, so the seasons were reasonably - normalish, and we could probably grow more than you could now. We had lovely Zucchini, Peas, Raspberries, Carrots, Potatoes, Chives, Rhubarb, Strawberries, probably lots of other things too, but I can't remember them all now. I do remember however - eating peas and chives until I was sick and stinky. We loved that garden, and the fruits of our labors.

Dad, Deb, Rich and I with some of the fruits of our labors. Note that my head is down and I am seriously focused on eating peas.

Dad, Rich and I in the Raspberry patch - harvesting Raspberries.

Ah, those were the days. I often say that, but life was really much, much simpler in the '80's. What has happened to us? Why are we so driven to keep going and going, and our lives fly by. Months seem to go faster, and days seem to flee as soon as they arrive. There's a movement called "Slow Food International" started in 1986 - Italy that is trying to restore some of those simpler, slower, more appreciated practices that are involved in keeping the food we eat - healthy and flavorful. There is a direct correlation between freshness of food, and flavor. The fresher our food is - (straight from the ground, or free-range fed), the more flavor, the more nutrition we are going to get from it. That is the message of Barbara's book. That and much more actually. There are so many different aspects of this issue that it affects us nutritionally, socially, economically, politically - we literally ARE what we eat. I honestly (and am ashamed to say) have never thought of this until reading the book, but the truth is that we are contributing a massive amount of emissions to the atmosphere due to food transport. There's a portion of the book - written by her husband - Steven L. Hopp which can explain this issue better than I can...

"Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen - about 17 percent of our nations energy use - for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, but so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in their manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers. But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion's share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical US meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging warehousing, and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food. A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it. More palatable options are available. If every US 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."

So there you have it - your solution to reducing your personal emissions may just start with becoming a locavore, and eating only foods grown locally and organically. As I said, I had never thought of that, but I'm so glad that I know it now. My friend Steve, also made another good point - all of that travel of the food, also contributes to the cost of it. As gas prices go up, so does the price of our food. We all know that the price of food is becoming astronomical. This is something we ought to think about.

As I grew older, my parents eventually gave up the vegetable gardening, opting for flowers, and making my patch of grass to mow larger. Alas, we all have had the wool pulled over our eyes - believing that it is easier, and less costly to eat processed food from the grocery store. That - I believe, was one of the many factors that contributed to my life-long battle with the bulge. No longer, I mean - yes, I will still fight - always, but I now know where the origin of the problem is, and exactly how to conquer it. When I was a teenager, I remember watching "Gone With The Wind" with Scarlett O'Hara - and her famous line "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again". One thing that stood out in that movie, and stuck with me I believe throughout my life is something that her father - Gerald O'Hara said to her. It was something to the effect of "Land - Katie Scarlett - land is the only thing in the world worth having, it's the only thing worth fighting for". I really think, something struck a chord with me when he said that, and somehow, that and other factors influenced me to want to grow green things, and off I went to college - Olds College to study Horticulture. I decided - this was the life for me - I would grow things, and live off the land, and I would make a difference in the world. Well, being 19 years old, and away for the first time ever, as well as many other dramatic things that seem to always happen to 19 year olds unfortunately put the Kibosh on my plans to become a great Organic producer. Though, the dream is still in the back of my head. I even remember making a business plan for my plans. This was forever ago, and plans that were written down have been lost; though it is still in the back of my mind, creeping up ever so much to the forefront. One day - I will get to live that dream - I will grow things, and eat them, I will be self reliant, I will raise my children to know where their food comes from, and what went into bringing that food to their table. My brother-in-law's Dad wrote him an email a couple of weeks back. (he lives in Victoria, and it was during our spring snowfall), he wrote to him... "I'm eating Lettuce and Radishes that I grew in my garden, what are you doing - shovelling snow? We all found it very amusing, but the truth is that his Dad lives in a nursing home, and he has a small patch of land there where he grows his garden, so I figure - if he can do it, then, none of us have an excuse. We can grow a garden anywhere, and frankly, should grow them everywhere. There's an excess of space wasting that goes on in our urban lives. I'm not a purist, and I'm not perfect, but my passion for these things has been renewed, and it has me thinking about what I can do to improve my life in the future. Thanks Barbara for helping me get that passion back. Oh, and as for the book - seriously - entertaining, witty, educational, fantastic. Barbara is an amazing writer, and her family are just as great. I loved hearing stories about Zucchini Larceny, and Turkey sex (which believe it or not - is entirely non-existent in our current food system). She makes everything so interesting. I'm looking forward to meeting her next Wednesday and getting her to sign my book. On a side note, yes, Barbara and her family are American, but what they have to say applies worldwide. They often refer to statistics within their own country, but the truth is, this is a problem in all of the countries of the world (including mine) Other books, and links to similar projects and ideas can be found here... (the Canadian version - yay!) (for my local friends)

Become a Locavore today!!!


atlas too said...

as always something to ruminate... perhaps this is your passion ms. Becky ... writing...

Jodi said...

Was just reading the description for the event on the Wordfest website and noticed that it was sponsored by the Calgary Health Region. Interesting... See you there.