Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Are *Where* You Eat

My book club recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book changed my life. Oh, you heckle me and jeer at such a hyperbolic statement. I hear you; Web 2.0 is that powerful. Snicker not, dear readers. I mean it. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle changed my life. And my family's. Our newly adopted philosophy is not just "You are what you eat," it is "You are where you eat."

In a nutshell, a nutshell indigenous to Kingsolver's farm in Virgina, natch. Barbara (I've read all her books so I think she'd be cool with the first name basis here.) and her family lived for one year on what they grew or raised on their own farm. Homemade cheese included! They supplemented their fare with what they could purchase from fellow farmers and vowed to only consume what could be purchased from a 50-mile radius. That means giving up peanut M&Ms, Haribo gummi bears, and Malbec. Well, that's what such a commitment would mean for me.

What Barbara did was not unconventional or radical; she simply lived as our ancestors did not all that long ago. Tomatoes do not grow in most places in November. So why do we settle for mealy, waxy ones during winter months? How many times have you chewed that iceberg, tomato, and stale crouton salad drenched in ranch dressing with absolutely no orgasmic sounds brewing from your tastebuds? Exactly how fresh is that kiwi that flew for two days to get to your local market? No telling how many days you can add to account for those little green gems to be picked, packed, trucked. Fresh? Nah!

Now compare those mealy flavorless tomatoes to the ruby red ones handpicked from your own summer plot of soil. No. Comparison. Ditto for the cukes, squash, okra (what, you don't grow okra, much less eat it?! You are missing out on a Southern and Indian delicacy!), chard (Don't tell me you don't eat chard either.), spinach, and even basil and dill.

The beauty of Barbara's book was not just how it enlightened me to try to eat locally. I gained a fresh new perspective of farming and farmers. Some neighbors invited the neighborhood younguns to come pick carrots and potatoes from their vast garden. What a joy to see the kids hand pluck carrots, brush off the pesticide free dirt, and chomp away! What a teaching moment to bring to life where our vegetables really come from. Something we all take for granted. We have become inured to the balnd flavor and have come to expect uniform perfection. God forbid the apples have blemishes. We treat our produce the way we treat women in our society; they must look perfect to be desirable.

The Dirt & Noise family joined a CSA this year. Farmer Tom has surpassed our tastebud expectations week after week. His little tomatoes were candy. His basil divine. Snap peas went like candy corn, with both Bird and Deal clamoring for handful after handful. Mac Daddy didn't even get a taste. And the lettuce and turnip salad we enjoyed tonight was spectacular. Truly. Who knew that lettuce had its own flavor that need not be masked with bottled dressing (a condiment we do not own...why buy when I can make my own concoction without high fructose corn syrup?). The turnip is an oft overlooked root vegetable. They are delicious raw or roasted. The most divine food is also the simplest and the freshest.

Our salad was simply hand torn curly leaf lettuce, sliced raw turnips (not even peeled because the real deal have no freaking wax !), freshly ground black pepper (never the pre-ground powdery stuff in my kitchen), and a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar. I'm telling you, Bird was eating the turnips as quickly as I could cut them. It's a wonder we had enough for the salad.

We have not adopted Barbara's full regime but we are doing what we can. Local veggies, meat, and some cheese. Local wine frankly sucks so we still get that imported from outside our fine state. Organic for the most part, especially for dairy products and meat. We live a nitrite free and high fructose corn syrup free life. I'm not over-the-top since we still eat out (fast food even, Gasp!), but I am vigilant when it comes to my grocery list.

We take our food for granted. We take our growers for granted. We are a country of entitled consumers. We must have instant gratification. We think that if we can afford it we must have it. We indulge in crap and don't give our children the benefit and joy of a diversified palate. We squash our children's gastronomic curiosity. No 15-year old suddenly wants to eat habanero corn chowder and sweet potato biscuits with cilantro butter. Oh man, the shit kids eat and the shit their parents feed them is a whole other post.

We never, ever, ever think about the political ramifications of our food choices. Yes, political. Food consumption requires food creation. That means consolidated big business farming, chemical fertilizer lobbyists, astronomical fuel consumption, packaging waste, and a bevy of other issues. Michael Pollan's article is a must-read.

I urge you to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and do your own homework on the food choices you make. To steal a line from Loreal, you and your family are worth it.
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Anonymous said...

I will definitely get this book and read it. Another great read is a book by Wendy Johnson called Gardening at the Dragon's Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World


Anonymous said...

I listened to this book on tape and loved it!

Anonymous said...

Powerful post. I'll be checking into that book.

Anonymous said...

Barbara Kingsolver = one of the best writers ever. Haven't read this one but have read almost all of her fiction. (I am sure you wouldn't be shocked to hear how much I connected with Poisonwood Bible.) Amazing ideas here, truly life changing.

Deb Rox said...

I love her writing and seriously need to bump this one up my list.

Amy in Ohio said...

I love this pic - I've always wanted something like that for the fridge.

I'm going to check out the book.

San Diego Momma said...

I've heqrd so many awesome things about this book.

And you just reminded me to call my local organic farm. I used to have fruits and vegetables delivered from a place up the road a ways, but let my CSA membership lapse.


Cocktail Maven said...

Wow. I'm impressed. I will definitely be adding this to my reading list. Thank you!

tinsenpup said...

Thanks for this. In small ways, we've been working towards growing our own and buying more locally, but you've reminded me, that it would be great to do more. The book sounds great.

I imagine I'd find buying locally much easier if I happened to live in Hershey, Pennsylvania, though. :)