Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Like many liberal arts undergraduates mildly if not avidly interested in the environment, I read some of Barbara Kingsolver's work in college. I even had the great honor of getting to hear her speak on campus my senior year in support of a ground breaking (no pun intended) organization, Rails to Trails. Little did I know that she and I are actually kindred spirits.

In her hugely popular book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Kingsolver chronicles a year spent growing and finding food for her and her family with one limitation: it must be available  either on their farm or within the county. With few exceptions, they worked on their farm full time, growing all the food they would need for the whole year supplementing with produce and protein purchased from their local farmers market.

The book is literally full of amazing facts, ideas and thoughts on eating locally and how it helps not only your body but your community and the environment. Many of these thoughts and facts I've shared with you before and here are some others that jumped out at me while reading:
  1. Transporting food is invariably the biggest energy-consuming part of the farm to fork process. If every American replaced just one meal on one day with locally-grown and produced ingredients, the US would save millions of barrels of oil.
  2. The average ingredient in a grocery store has traveled further than the average American family does on summer vacation (including flights)
  3. For products grown in third world countries like coffee and bananas, the actual farmers often make less than $1 per day. The rest of the profits go the farming conglomerates and transportation companies that support the practice of monoculture that can strip land of its necessary minerals.
But the book isn't just facts about where food comes from. It's an emotional journey being told by a mom who is trying to feed her family while supporting her local farmers, create minimal impact on the land, and also provide nourishing, wholesome and interesting meals. The book is interspersed with sidebars by her husband regarding the politics and big business aspects of industrial farming and insights and recipes from her teenage daughter on a local living lifestyle.

For anyone wondering about where their food comes from and whether that matters, this is the book for you. You'll come away with a renewed appreciation for the work that goes into our food. I also closed this book emboldened by the sense that I can grow some of my own food (even in my limited space) and that this whole local food mission I've been on for a year and a half really does matter.

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