Monday, October 10, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Soapbox?

Just give me a second while I hoist myself onto my soapbox. Ok, good! Are you ready?

I recently read the nonfiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (thanks Tom!), which is the true story of author Barbara Kingsolver and her family's one year pledge to eat only what they were able to grow themselves or purchase from other farmers in their community. At the beginning of the book, the family moves from Tuscon, AZ to a restored farm house in Appalachia, VA, where they farm everything from fruit and veggies to poultry and eggs. Through the family's story, you begin to see how far removed we are from the production of our food. As a nation and as consumers, we remain rather detached from knowing where our food actually comes from. When was the last time you thought about where your avocado came from, who grew them, and how did they get to your supermarket?

Inter-spliced with the families' stories of how they managed this venture are also essays on the state of agricultural affairs in the US and around the world. Basically, what these essays show the reader is that the business of agricultural is a mess. Large corporations are under-cutting and eliminating smaller local farmers while slowly poisoning our food with pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified mutations, etc. while ruining the environment and our health. Obviously, it was a light read.

While this book has definitely changed the way I view food and increased my awareness of the social and environmental impact of how I shop, there were times when I found myself getting defensive while reading. This defensiveness primarily occurred when Barbara Kingsolver suggests that eating organic, local produce is within most people's means, but we make the excuse not to out of convenience.

As a broke-ass social worker, I took a bit of offense to it. If I have to provide myself with food for a week and I can get 5 conventional, not locally grown apples as opposed to the 2 organic, local apples, guess which one my limited budget is buying? Not because I don't appreciate the health benefits, the environmental benefits, and the benefits to local farmers, but because I need to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What are you suggesting, Barb? That I'm cheap? Lazy? Entitled?

I realized the answer to all those questions are yes, yes, and yes. I was feeling defensive because she was right. I would love to live the way the Kingsolvers do, but get overwhelmed by the amount of time, money, energy, and sacrifice it would take. It's much easier to buy produce that has been shipped across the country (or world) because it's cheaper and I want it NOW! But if I considered the amount of money I waste in vegetables gone bad at the bottom of my fridge, it's hard to claim that I can't afford to support my local farmers.

While I don't have the means to pick up, move to Appalachia, and live off the land, I am able to be more conscious of my buying and eating patterns. I may not have the opportunity to "get to know my farmers," but I can definitely be more mindful of local and seasonal buying. I am making a resolution to utilize farmer's markets more for my produce, share recipes using locally farmed ingredients, and even consider having a container garden for my own veggies next spring. You saw how well the peppers worked out!

I'm putting it in writing. I hope you hold me to it.

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