Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Mom's Bumper Sticker

"Support your local farmer, or watch the houses grow."

Barbara Kingsolver, not unsurprisingly, is an Earth Mother. And Animal Vegetable Miracle is a great read. While I am almost entirely as far as you can get from being a gardener without actually being forced by a bizarre illness to live in an antiseptic bubble, I love stories about the satisfaction of living with the land and nature--my inability to deal with dirt makes me the odd one out by miles in my family.

There's a thread of end-of-the-world anxiety in a book like this; America's relationship with food is so dysfunctional, and it's hard to imagine all the needed anti-corporate, structural changes to the nature of eating even having a small chance of happening. So I start to feel that shrill sense of despair when I really think about what I'm learning in this book, what I eat every day.

There's also an issue of absolutism here; the experiment in the book is of a family eating ONLY local food for a full year. They actually raise a lot of their own food, shop only at farmer's markets and from local farmers. They bake all their own bread, make almost everything from scratch. I'm pretty sure their only exception to the rule is olive oil.

To her credit, there is no level on which she expects you to grow your own food. She's pushing farmer's markets, seasonal eating of local foods, less or no processed foods. I don't think she is claiming her lifestyle is sustainable for just anyone. But there is a level on which she believes that this is not only her own ideal life, but everyone's. Even if, in a practical sense, you can't grown your own asparagus, you should long to.

As I was reading along, though, my big concern was the elitism involve in the amount of work this lifestyle entails. Her point that fresh local veggies are not actually (usually) prohibitively expensive is mostly true; farmer's market veggies are not more expensive than what you'd buy at the grocery store. It's true that the middle class can probably afford it, and that if the argument is between takeout and eating fresh, there's no cost contest.

But the time differential seems to be a big issue to me. Baking your own bread takes a lot of time. Most farmer's markets are only open during work hours. Cooking from serious scratch involves turning food into other kinds of food, and then using them to make meals. You bake bread, and then you grill vegetables, and then you press them into a sandwich. You make pasta from scratch, then cook it, and do the same with your sauce. If you want meatballs, you have to put a steak in the meat-grinder. Clearly there are plenty of frittatas and roasted chickens on the menu, but a lot of things that are simple for a lot of us are not simple anymore.

But the no time argument holds no water for her. "It's easy for any of us to claim no time for cooking; harder to look at what we're doing instead, and why every bit of it is presumed more worthy." And, "Some people really do work double shifts with overtime and pursue no recreational activities, ever....But most of us are lucky enough to do some things for fun, or for self-improvement or family entertainment." And there's an implication that spending hours every day cooking really should take the place of whatever those pastimes are.

I'm not going to defend my TV-watching. Instead, I'm going to end this with an example of why this book is so damned charming. When the baby turkeys arrived, "I filled a shallow water container and showed them how to drink, which they aren't born knowing how to do. They are born, in fact, knowing a good deal of the nothing a turkey brain will ever really grasp, but at this stage their witlessness is lovable....It's a good thing they don't stay this lovable forever."

Baby turkeys are apparently the cutest thing ever. I would never have known this without this book. It's pretty fabulous, and, more than a lot of books about what's wrong with the world, my panic is mostly overwhelmed by charm and beauty and hope.

No comments: