The book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver follows Barbara, along with her husband and two daughters with their commitment to become “locavores”-those who eat only locally grown foods. The family moved away from their home in non-food-producing Tucson to a family farm in Virginia, where they got right down to the business of growing and raising their own food and supporting local farmers. While they are living in Virginia and making their way in the economy, they come to the realization that many of the ideas for the food that America consumes comes from outside countries and nations.
One of the central questions raised in this book was the question of North Americans ever having a food culture of their own. As stated in the book, “Food culture in the United States has long been cast as the property of a privileged class. It is nothing of the kind. Culture is the property of a species. Humans don’t do everything we crave to do-that is arguably what makes us human. We’re genetically predisposed toward certain behaviors that we’ve collectively decided are unhelpful” (Kingsolver 16). Generally, over time, we have adapted to whatever has been convenient to us. This review will seek the true answers to the questions of where and how food is made, if local is the best way to go, economy-related issues pertaining to food systems, and the main point of food culture independence.
In class, it was learned that food culture plays a dominant role in society. How we obtain that food is another story. There is much controversy as to where to find the best source of food, whether it is industrial, organic, or local-based systems. Kingsolver seeks to encourage people to question where their food is from and how it was processed. As stated in the book, “We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground” (Kingsolver 3). The mystery question of where food came from was dwelling on the Kingsolver family’s mind, and they sought to change the way they perceived their food system. By supporting only local-based food systems for one year, they learned about how the environment works, and learned to trust the food that they had grown for their own personal use. They saw that though it was hard work, they were rewarded with plentiful crop.
Is local food the answer? In class, benefits and disadvantages were discussed, and also were looked at in the book. The Kingsolver family chose to eat this way for a year because they wanted to assure safeness in their food consumption. They saw local food as more healthy and sensible. Also, they knew their suppliers fairly well, and that may be what helped them the most. class, these ideas were discussed, along with the fact that since you know the suppliers of the food pretty well, there is a trust factor involved; basically assured safety of the food that would be eaten.
Why did the Kingsolver family seek to accomplish this task? “We only knew, when we started, that similar choices made by many families at once were already making a difference: organic growers, farmer’s markets, and small exurban food producers now comprise the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. food economy” (Kingsolver 21). Knowing the state of the economy, they helped by growing more affordable vegetables, and also made profit by selling them to their surrounding neighbors. This could also be seen as hindering the economy, because in class it was discussed that decreasing the amount of goods bought from industrial food systems will have a significant effect on how much money those major industries bring in. If those industries are not making the necessary funds to strive, then they would need to be shut down, weakening the economy even more.
Kingsolver states that “Buying your goods from local businesses rather than national chains generates about three times as much money for your local economy” (Kingsolver 149). This is true because all profit that is made in local systems is pure profit; the middle man is cut out. This logic could negatively affect the industrial food systems because, if everyone local had this mentality, then the industry portion of the food systems would almost be completely cut out. Kingsolver and her family realized this, and made a conscious effort to examine these facts, stating that “This [my] story is pegged, as we were, to a one-year cycle of how and when foods become available in a temperature climate. Because food cultures affect everyone living under the same roof, we undertook this project-both the eating and the writing-as a family” (Kingsolver, 21). Whatever was thrown their way, they were determined to persevere.
Kingsolver also focused a little on a specific part of the economy as well, such as in Chapter 9 when she discusses how American culture is too busy to do anything anymore. Really what she means is that American culture is too busy to cook or anything else essential to daily living. She states in Chapter 9 that women in America have taken on more prominent roles in society, and seek “convenient food” to survive from day to day. This is seen as a problem because eating fast food is unhealthy, and the process is unknown as to how the food was made, or even where the food came from. Quickness and convenience has certainly overtaken all health concern in North America. It can also be seen in this book that gardening is slowly fading as women become more and more busy. Therefore, in society today, “home-grown goodness” isn’t always a reality.
Kingsolver also stresses the point (that was also stressed many times in class) that it isn’t always affordable to eat organically or locally. If you are not a farmer contributing even in the slightest bit to helping out the local economy, then you wouldn’t have much money to purchase the “good stuff”. The topic is addressed best when it is stated that “Not everyone in the nation can afford to eat well though-“In this country, some of our tired and poorest live in neighborhoods where groceries are only sold in gas station mini-marts.” (Kingsolver 129). This seems to be a trend for many societies; the wealthy can always eat healthy, but the lower classes may not be as fortunate. For some less fortunate people in society, gardening and farming is all they have, and when they sell their crop to outside buyers, they get minimal profit, thus creating a seemingly never-ending downward economical spiral.
Another major issue is that North America relies too heavily on other countries for food. Many ideas and food items are shipped from overseas. America needs independence from the shadows of other food societies, and we need to be more original. Many great food ideas came from the U.S, such as New England clam chowder or Louisiana Gumbo, providing example as to how the U.S. can have their own food culture, however many items such as rice, spices, beans and grains are imported in. Many people take for granted what they could easily get at the grocery store; however they often overlook what they have growing right in their area. The idea of local farming was discussed in class, however it was also discussed in class how difficult it may be to grow, and maintain crops. Although it may be convenient to us to have a garden at hand, it can still seem more convenient to shop for everything at the local grocery store.
Kingsolver ultimately feels that food culture independence is attainable in North America. This would take a lot of work because America would have to start growing more crops to cover what we as a society would need to survive. I feel that Kingsolver is correct in this matter and I hold the same view because we are a diverse culture; a culture that seeks continuous change. Kingsolver’s main view is that locally-based food systems may take a ton of work, but they are rewarding overall. Having the knowledge of growing one’s own food means that their chances of survival are great. The hard work that was put in by Kingsolver and her family was evident the entire year they took this missio
n. Kingsolver states that “We set upon a journey. It seemed so ordinary on the face of things, to try to do what nearly all people used to do without a second thought. But the trip surprised us many times, because of all the ways a landscape can enter one’s physical being.” (Kingsolver 335). I feel that the way the family went about achieving this task was a little unrealistic at first, but reading more and more into the book I realized that they were serious. I could not imagine living life without more of a variety of food options. The family still seemed to be content after all was said and done.
I personally feel that local-based food systems can be the way to go. However, convenience does play a key role in this debate, because grabbing something quick and easy to eat is what most Americans do. I do feel that the economy could take a hit if people started to eat more locally, because mega-corporations would be losing sales. The sad reality is that not very many Americans can afford the best food that there is to offer out there. I think that the benefits of eating local outweigh the negative points because the food’s origin would be known. I hold this view because I show some concern of the food I eat and where it is from. If one knows where the product comes from, then chances are no chemicals were involved. The chemicals that are used on vegetables are highly toxic and can cause problems for consumers. Overall, Kingsolver is correct in most of her statements she makes pertaining to the above topics discussed.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in hearing another view on what it is like to live mostly local and organic. This book is worth reading because Kingsolver provides positive insight as to how to successfully live this lifestyle without risk or harm to herself or her family. This book should be read by anyone who cares about reading into the topic of local food systems and how they affect the economy, and also how living that way can be seen as a North American food culture. Kingsolver says it best when she states that “The truth is so horrific: we are marching ourselves to the maw of our own extinction. An audience that doesn’t really get that will amble out of the theater unmoved, go home and change nothing.” (Kingsolver 345). Perhaps North American culture needs an awakening to the world of local food systems, because they can be an easy and convenient way to survive.