Yes, we have no bananas.
After talking about making a change in their lives for years, Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from the desert of Tucson, Arizona to live and farm in rural southwest Virginia. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver tells the story of what it is like to live entirely off the land for one year, deriving all sustenance from the family farm. However, this isn’t just a down-home country tale, but a wake-up call along the lines of The Omnivore’s Dilemma about how we live as Americans in regard to our food.
The idea for the family move is to get closer to their food source, thereby becoming less dependent on industrial food and lowering their carbon footprint. Almost overnight, the family goes from a lifestyle where everything they need, water included, has to be shipped in from other places, to buying locally and, eventually, growing and raising everything they eat. They go from eating supermarket bananas, kiwis and cantaloupe whenever it strikes their fancy to a menu completely dependent on the locale and season.
The chapters follow the months of the year, and in each month, Kingsolver describes what kind of activity goes on at the farm. (You know the song: a time to plant, a time to reap.)They seek out varieties, fighting the loss of genetic diversity brought about by big farming, and plant 8 kinds of potatoes (um, we only have two kinds at my grocery store) and 14 types of tomatoes, for starters. They reap 350-plus pounds of tomatoes and infinite zucchini and harvest their cherry trees. They raise their own heirloom turkeys and chickens. They make their own cheese, can tomatoes, pickle cucumbers, and bake their own bread. Added bonus: They eat without the all the fun additives, such as the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup in every bite.
We’re a nation with an eating disorder, and we know it. The multiple maladies caused by bad eating are taking a dire toll on our health—most tragically for our kids, who are predicted to be this country’s first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. That alone is a stunning enough fact to give us pause. So is a government policy that advised us to eat more fruit and vegetables, while doling out subsidies not to fruit and vegetable farmers, but to commodity crops destined to become soda pop and cheap burgers.
Okay, they aren’t totally perfect – they still drink coffee (fair-trade), bring in wheat flour from out-of-state, have a crate of oranges shipped in, and enjoy wine, their goal is to get the items they cannot grow or raise themselves from the most local source possible, whether it is from a neighboring farm, nearest organic wheat mill, or in the case of the oranges, a splurge from a few states away. This still beats burning fossil fuels to ship food clear across the globe.
While moving to a farm is completely out of the question for most of us (as bucolic as it sounds), let alone giving up bananas (best default kid snack ever), Kingsolver nudges us to think more of how we eat and what we eat. She urges a return of the family meal, making the kitchen a center once again for deliberate eating and discussion, with friends and family. She suggests a backyard garden — even container gardening, buying local, and going organic. Sounds good to me – in the end, the logic and rationale of this lifestyle choice make this an appealing read.