I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kinsolver. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, and I thought about what she said, a lot. It took me a long time to read it, because she gave me so much to think about. If you are unfamiliar with the book, the author and her family lived for a year on locally grown foods, with the exceptions of olive oil, pasta and coffee. They did the mammoth’s share of the growing, but they bought from farmer’s markets as well. They tried to buy only foods grown within 120 miles of their home, and with the exception of wheat, I believe they did.

One of her main points is…eat what is fresh when it is fresh. So, they did not eat lettuce or cucumbers in February. Makes sense, they don’t taste as good out of season anyway. But it is more than just eating what is in season, for example, the town just down the road from my home is famous for their watermelons. Do our local stores carry them, or do they carry Texas watermelons? I don’t know, I usually try to buy melons from the stands, but I am going to ask our locally owned grocery store to clearly label locally grown produce. I know they sell local squash as well. Actually one of the store managers used to work for my husband, I might give him a copy to read…or at least suggest it.

Fossil fuels figured a lot into her thinking as well. I will paraphrase, since I can’t find the exact reference, Isn’t it kind of silly to use fuel to haul food across the country, when the same thing is available locally?

Kingsolver was hugely into organic, or close to it, and avoiding feedlot finished livestock. I cannot fault her for her thinking, but I have been around production agriculture my whole life, and I understand why people choose not to raise organic crops. Livestock is even more difficult to certify organic than field crops. The production phase I am most familiar with is the beginning, so I don’t know much about what goes on at a feedlot. Most of the beef we get was raised in a home feedlot, not a confined animal feeding operation. Kingsolver did concede that organic is not always the best choice, since it might be trucked in from across the country.

As a society, we should not be proud of our factory egg production or the fact that supermarkets only carry one species of turkey, and that one has been bred to have such a large breast that they couldn’t reproduce if they wanted to. Kingsolver claims that fresh eggs and grass finished organic meat have a different composition than factory eggs and corn fed meat… higher omega 3, (which aids in fending off depression) as well as other vitamins and minerals. Our fresh eggs have specks of blood in them from time to time, they aren’t perfect, and I don’t have the technology to tell which ones are prettier inside. They have also been fertilized, so they have a little dot in them as well. I suspect many consumers want perfect eggs.  I sell eggs to three people on a regular basis, they are all farm girls who understand these things.

She had a hugely funny chapter about turkey sex, and subsequent brooding. She had all kinds of problems. If she had asked me, I could have told her some simple solutions, from experience. She writes that most of the breeding and brooding instinct has been bred out of turkeys. She makes it sound that if she wasn’t raising turkeys the world would be down to only the one breed. I would submit that first time mamas of any species are incredibly naive. I would also submit that turkeys didn’t evolve (in the micro sense of the word) in such small quarters as the average poultry house, further confusing the hens. When our chicken hens get broody, they often forget which nest they were sitting on, so we make a little gate to keep them in the right nest, then let them out a couple of times a day.

Some random thoughts about the book.

She is not a fan of corn except as sweet corn and perhaps popcorn. She is speaking mainly of high fructose corn syrup as well as corn-fed beef. As it currently is, the mighty consumer has spoken, and is asking for grain finished meat.

Kingsolver went without bananas, citrus, sugar (they used honey), rice (for the most part) and fish for a whole year. 

She blew me away when she talked of heaving overgrown zucchini over the fence instead of feeding them to her poultry flock. Our chickens eat pretty good on what gets ahead of me in the garden.

I also learned why I don’t like milk. Humans are the only mammal that breastfeeds after age 2 or so. By breast, she actually means udder. Many humans can’t digest milk products as they get older, our bodies change and mature. I don’t get sick, but I won’t feel guilty turning milk down from now on. I eat plenty of cheese (which doesn’t have lactose in it) so my bones should be fine.

She certainly has a better growing season working for her there in Appalachia, although with some work we could grow more here than we do. As you progress west across Nebraska, the variety of foods suited to the climate would be slim indeed, and by the time you got to Wyoming, well…It is important to know how food is grown, and it is even better to be self sufficient, or at least know how to preserve your own food. You never know what kind of event (like Hurricane Katrina) could have us living off our wits for a long time.

I am going to spend more time at our farmer’s markets this summer. I am sure the more we buy from farmer’s markets the more they will grow, and that is a good thing. Have you eaten a grocery store tomato in July? I will also try to spend more time in our garden. That would be good for the kids too. I love to garden, but the heat and humidity here just gets to me. Maybe I will try to garden more in the morning. It is kind of tough with a baby, keeping him out of the heat and bugs.  I am sure Leo will be busy in the garden as well.

I am sure she is right that we as a country should be prepared to live off what we can produce, and not rely on foreign countries for our food supply.  I believe trade is necessary, but dependance is not wise.  Who knows what is up the road for us as a society between wars and climate change?  I don’t have a cache, but if we could not leave the house for two months to purchase food, we could eat a healthy diet with the exception of milk and cheese.  Towards the end it might get a little boring, but it might be boring anyway…

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