Friday, October 5, 2007

A Localtarian's Library: Guest Blogger Jamie Thornton on "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (PART 2)

In the second part of a two-part review (read the first part here), guest blogger Jamie Thornton offers some thoughts on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s newest non-fiction book.

My first concept of season directly affecting the way my food tasted didn’t happen until I was 22 years old. (Before this I believed, like I think many Californians do, that everything is in season all the time in the sunshine state). Helping set up for a party at a friend’s house up in the Pasadena Hills of Southern CA, my husband and I noticed a solitary orange tree heavy with fruit at the edge of the friend’s property line.

Knowing my obsession for oranges, my husband asked if we could pick some of those dangling jewels. Our friend gave him a weird look and said go ahead, “but I wouldn’t trust those oranges, planes fly overhead and with all the Pasadena smog - I don’t know what’s in the dirt. Nobody picks them so they just fall and rot. It’s gross.”

I took in the wooded hillside, the nearest house not even visible. We figured we would chance it, whatever ‘it’ might be … I’d never eaten an orange picked straight from the tree and these looked so ripe, picked wasn’t the right word – they just fell into my hands as soon as I touched them. And I thought, were we too late, had the oranges already crossed over to the dark side of rottenness?

My husband and I carried these golden orbs inside, stopping at moments to pick up one that had dropped from our overloaded arms, and stood over the kitchen sink as we peeled. These were the kind of oranges that necessitated a full torso bend with elbows extended to keep the juice from running down our arms. We ate seven of them between the two of us and argued over whether the last one had been split exactly in half. It felt almost sinful, enjoying those oranges together in the kitchen while our friend snacked on the ‘safe and clean’ sodas and chips. Yet even though we gushed and ranted and raved and practically moaned, not one of our friends tried the homegrown oranges – though granted, people were dressed for a party and these were messy good.

Eating local, including eating fruit from a tree grown in your own backyard, needs to become the trendy thing to do, then it needs to become normal. Now I may have just offended some of you by using ‘eating local’ and ‘trendy’ in the same sentence. You might be thinking eating local is not about being trendy, that it should be about our global world and how we treat our fellow man; that it should be a moral choice, made with conviction and sacrifice, in order to be good stewards of mother earth.

But if that is what you believe, if eating local (among many other ethical choices), is your small way of saving the world one day, and one vegetable, at a time, then eating local must become trendy, and at the danger of being diluted, must go mainstream.

Take the “I am not a Plastic Bag” phenomenon at Whole Foods. In July of this year Whole Foods sold a limited edition, reusable grocery bag designed by Anya Hindmarch. They sold out, within hours, for $15 each and some are now being resold on Ebay for over $150 (as of 9pm PST). Is that because all these people realized at the same moment how important reusable grocery bags are to saving the environment?

Some of you may be nodding your heads in agreement and some of you may be cringing, and some of you may be doing both because you understand, but may not like, that this is how the world works sometimes.

American pop culture is about making things cool, and the coolest way to do it is to take something that is so not cool – like growing your own food, in dirt, or buying a hybrid car (does anyone remember when this was the epitome of uncool?) - and find a way to make it a fashionable must-have. As a side effect, make it good for the environment.

This is the brilliance of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She turns the idea of eating local into something that will pamper you and your family. It becomes a matter of prestige, luxury, privilege. By chronicling her year of growing and eating local in this way, she has the potential to reach a much larger audience that just those ‘freak’ liberals who grow their own food and don’t use antiperspirant (no offense to those of you reading this blog who may fit into that special freak liberal category – I’m sending love your way). She makes a point of describing the importance of not just eating locally, but also sustainably, because eating organic is not enough anymore.

Her argument could have gone something like this: if you don’t eat local, what kind of person does that make you? Destroyer of the environment, destroyer of the small farmer, destroyer of yours and your children’s health, etc.

Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

How does Kingsolver do it in her book? Sure, she gives you the dirty facts (though she more often lets her husband say it in sections separate from her own words), but the majority of her writing concentrates on describing the memories of novelty and happiness that her family made together by eating local and sustainable food.
And why wouldn’t you want food to taste better? To know that the orange is at its juiciest, that the tomato is at its reddest (and with no help from food dye)? Why wouldn’t you want to indulge in the richness of ripe and local produce all year long? Don’t you and your family deserve the best?

If you plan to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and also enjoy novels, make sure to pick up Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel about life and ecology in Appalachia – parts of it could be read as a fictionalized version of what she’s written in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. To keep up to date on what is going on around Barbara Kingsolver's farm now that the book is finished, check out her website at Guest blogger Jamie Thornton can be found

No comments: