Today was the day I began my annual listening of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I bought the audiobook when it was released in 2007, and have listened to it in the late winter or early spring of every year since. I originally was interested in the book due to my increasing desire to examine where the food I ate came from, and what the food choices I was making meant for my health, the environment, and the economy. I was spending a lot of time in my car for my job at the time, so the audiobook was my format of choice for anything I wanted to “read” easily.
On each listening, I have taken different things from the book. The first time through tied together a lot of the things I had been cobbling together from different sources on the importance of eating sustainably, locally, organically, and ethically. It convinced me to join a CSA, and since that summer we have eaten the majority of our produce from local farms during the season when it is available here in the Northeast. I have permanently changed my buying habits for eggs and dairy, and modified our diet to include less meat in order to avoid cheap meat from CAFOs. I took away the idea that the choices I make by purchasing food determines how the world is used in a very direct way, and that has stayed with me through every trip to the grocery store and every contemplated run through the drive-through window of any fast food establishment.
By the second year through, I had evolved my style of planning and cooking meals based on using ingredients that met the SOLE criteria as best as I could manage, and challenged myself by learning to cook from what was available in season or in the least environmentally impactful way possible. What has stayed with me from that change is how much better food that is in season and local tastes. My husband even started to like vegetables, and was won over by the simple preparations of high quality ingredients. We started to save a lot of money on our food expenditures by readjusting our tastes toward meals from scratch instead of processed foods. I felt more connected to the food I was eating, and started to eat each meal more consciously.
The third time around pushed me into buying a chest freezer, looking into canning and preserving, and figuring out how to make my own baby food from ingredients that were in season and local. I wanted my son’s first experiences with vegetables and fruits to be representative of the best specimens I could find, and he seemed to appreciate that:
This year is the big one. I have my seed catalogs in hand, and a plan for my intended garden. I hold no illusions about being able to grow and preserve enough to sustain us through the year, but I am looking forward to the variety and flavor that the things from my own backyard will add to our diet. I am hopeful that I will be able to preserve some things and enjoy them when there is snow blanketing my yard once again. This year’s review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is getting me excited for the challenges I have set out for myself, and I am paying closer attention to the description of the progression of foods throughout the growing season, looking forward to fresh greens (hopefully!) in a few short months.
For those of you who have not read or listened to the book, please do. It’s not sanctimonious, overly scientific, extreme, elitist, preachy, or any of the things that you are thinking it might be. One one level it’s a really great story, on another it’s an accessible account of the state of the American diet and what got us there, and on another it’s a presentation of an alternative plan for how to get yourself fed on a daily basis that costs less, takes less oil, helps to keep your food dollars in your neighborhood, gives you more nutritional bang for your buck, and tastes really good.
So, Fabulous Thing #54: Stalking the Vegetannual.