May 28, 2012

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver)

I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life with my friend Kelly back in February, and it has taken us (well, mainly me) this long to get our act together and finish our discussion of the book. Barbara Kingsolver’s account of her family’s attempt to eat only local (and mostly home grown) food for a year is popular enough that it probably needs no introducing. I really enjoyed the book, especially for Kingsolver’s smart, warm, down-to-earth and occasionally humorous voice, and I learned a lot about food politics and the American food industry as I read it.

As you’ll no doubt notice, my discussion with Kelly veered away from the book itself and became more about our own countries’ food industries, our respective cultures’ relationship with food, and the intersection of the local food and ethical consumerism movements with complicating factors such as class and the intricacies of local economies. Part of me feels bad that I didn’t focus more on Animal, Vegetable Miracle; but then again, serving as points of departure for conversations is part of what good books are for. I hope you’ll enjoy my discussion with Kelly – you can read part one over at her blog, and part two is below.

Ana: I love your answer to this, Kelly, as it actually helps me illustrate my point. I have a similar perspective: my paternal grandfather was a farmer too; although my father moved to a large city, he grew up in a farm, and this has shaped his attitude towards things like food. My maternal grandfather never farmed for a living, but he was still tending his vegetables in his backyard when he was in his 80s. He planted food until he no longer could, simply because that’s what he had always done - he lived in a rural area where people made ends meet by planting food, even if they had another job on the side (which most did). This was certainly no high-class hobby, but merely something that was necessary to life. So yes, the idea of associating this kind of thing with an economic elite makes little sense to me too.

Now comes the “but”: Like I said, in my country local produce is still pretty common. However, “organic” and “health food” are concepts that have lately started being imported, repackaged, and sold back to well-off people as stylish, luxury products. Something that was not associated with elites to begin with is being marketed in ways that make anyone but reasonably wealthy urban people look at it as prohibitive; as something that is not for them. I’ve seen this happen all around me, and it can be a bit frustrating to try to explain it and have people who are unfamiliar with my particular cultural context dismiss me for bringing up class issues in the ethical food movement.

To give you a concrete example, you mentioned farmer’s markets. We don’t really have them here, or at least not by that name, but we do have the good old tradition of spring and summertime roadside produce stands. What I worry about, though, is people catching on to the idea of farmer’s markets as something that is essential to a certain type of luxurious urban living, and exporting it without these status symbol associations being challenged. It’s happening already with organic and local food aisles in certain supermarkets: they sell the exact same produce you used to find for much cheaper in those aforementioned roadside produce stands, and sometimes even produce you used to find in the general section of the very same supermarket; but they’re now repackaged as luxury products. And how do I explain to people that the minimum wage here is €500 a month; that sometimes entire families subsist on not much more than that; that a new graduate can’t expect to make more than €600 a month; that unemployment levels are ridiculously high; that food budgets work entirely differently than they do in the US; that buying from that particular supermarket aisle is not just a matter of making a few sacrifices, of caring enough about the environment, or of getting your priorities straight?

Again, this just further proves Kingsolver’s point about how food politics are very closely tied with local factors. This book helped me see that not buying local organic produce from the farmer’s market but rather from a major supermarket has very different meaning in the US and in Portugal. Like I said, sometimes it’s the exactly same produce, only people don’t think of it as anything out of the ordinary because it’s what they’re used to. In the past I’ve had people shame me for saying I couldn’t afford to buy from the organic/local food aisle, but now I understand that they simply had no idea what the implications of this choice were for me. They assumed my context was the exact same as America’s, when in fact it’s very different.

What I worry about is the idea of eating local, healthy food is being exported to the rest of the world in a way that is definitely loaded in terms of class. It shouldn’t happen, but nevertheless it does - and I’m not sure that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle doesn’t unwittingly contribute to this. Again, let me give you an example. Kingsolver’s husband, Steven L. Hopp, writes in a section titled “How to Impress Your Wife, Using a Machine”:
I know you’ve got one around somewhere; maybe in the closet. Or on the kitchen counter, so dusty nobody remembers it’s there. A bread machine. You can actually use that thing to make some gourmet bread for about 50 cents a loaf, also becoming a hero to your loved ones.
I realise his tone here is meant to be humorous, but this opening paragraph still speaks volumes about who he assumes his audience to be. Unfortunately, not everybody already owns a bread machine. I have no idea what they cost in the US, but in Portugal they’re expensive, especially in proportion to the minimum wage. So even if the investment makes plenty of economic sense in the long run, the idea of buying one can be very daunting for a family on a tight budget. But that’s not even what bothered me about this passage — what bothered me was the implicit assumption that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will be read by people who already own bread machines; by people who can afford to buy kitchen appliances they forget that they own and which are left to gather dust for years and years. Not everyone is in that position, and assuming otherwise can create huge barriers.

There was a paragraph in an essay by Camille Kingsolver, “Growing up in the Kitchen”, that equally gave me pause:
Maybe I feel this way because my make-it-yourself upbringing drummed into me this ethic of working for the things I want. I’ve been involved in growing and cooking the food that feeds me since I was a little kid, and it has definitely given me a certain confidence about relying on myself. Just as meals don’t materialize in the grocery store, I realize a new car and a good education won’t just spring into my life on their own, but hopefully I will get there. If everything my heart desired was handed to me on a plate, I’d probably just want something else
I confess I cringed a little bit when I read this. I don’t doubt that’s not how Camille Kingsolver meant it at all, but her whole essay - and this paragraph in particular - is full of echoes of the kind of rhetoric people use to justify economic inequality: “I’ve learned how to work hard for the things I want! I’m not lazy! I’m a very ethical person!”. Mind, I’m not saying that she isn’t, but there are so many other infinitely more complex factors involved in her being in the position to make the food choices she makes. Framing it solely in terms of personal ethics and hard work sounds too smug and self-congratulatory for my taste. Especially because the implication is that all those other people not growing their own food are just not ethical and hard-working enough, which ignores all the social and global factors I mentioned above.

To sum up my very long answer, I believe that making deliberate food choices is important both from a health perspective and an environmental one; I believe that it shouldn’t be perceived as an elite thing; and I believe that we shouldn’t give up on raising awareness about food politics. However, I also think we need to think very carefully about the kind of rhetoric being used to do that, especially to make sure it doesn’t communicate that only a certain type of privileged person is being addressed. For more on this, I highly recommend the excellent Racialicious post Sustainable Food and Privilege: Why is Green Always White (and Male and Upper-Class). An excerpt:
Still, what could be better than a return to family farms and home-cooking, which many of these gurus champion? The images are powerfully nostalgic and idyllic: cows grazing on sweet alfalfa, kids’ mouths stained red with fresh heirloom tomato juice, and mom in the kitchen rolling out dough for homegrown-apple pie. But this is not an equal-access trip down memory lane. While we would like to think the American dream of social communion around food is a universal one, this assumption glosses over the very real differentials in gender, class, race, ethnicity, and nationality that were enabled and exacerbated by specific communities (white plantation owners, for example) through the use of food.

This is not to say that activists in the sustainable food movement are unconcerned with issues of identity, but that their rhetoric tends to disallow discussions on race, history, and food in a number of ways.
I could have just quoted this at the beginning and spared you the 1000 words above ;)

Kelly: Well, how do I even follow that... First of all, in Canada supermarkets are almost always cheaper than Farmers Markets. Except, like you said, for organic food. I have a friend that went organic a few years ago and is constantly showing me her new finds. We were at the grocery store with her and her husband one time and I was glancing at the prices as she bought things... I was horrified. I try to shop responsibly, but I am not rich. I understand that organic living is better for you and such, but it is also outside most people’s budget. That’s the big problem in this world, actually. If you are on a very limited budget, it is easier to buy unhealthy foods than healthy because of the prices. When there is a sale on soft drinks you look down an aisle and it is basically empty. You see carts going filled to the brim with bottles or cases. The sales on healthier foods would never be good enough to justify such a shopping spree, but people need to drink fluids and this is the cheaper option. It’s no different than fast food restaurants and things like ‘Dollar Menus’. The food on those menus are never exactly good for you.

One thing I never expressed before is how my community is going hard core on the whole ‘Buy Local’. There are signs in people’s yards and bumper stickers on people’s cars. We are a farming community, so if people choose to shop for only the ‘cheap’ products, they are usually shipped from outside and only available at grocery stores. I keep those signs in the back of my mind always. For example, right now you can buy blueberries and strawberries shipped in from the U.S. We are still eating frozen ones from last year because I refuse to buy them until they are from the farms around here. It’s wonderful that they are having these great sales, but in a very short time people will be selling strawberries on the side of the road. Or, you can even go pick your own. The money that I spend will go back into my community, so I will be patient until that moment.

It bothers me that those signs are even necessary. We are a farming community after all. When the local stores are closed for the winter and we are using the grocery store more, I will take a few extra moments to read where things come from. The milk that I buy comes from farms near here. We buy coffee that is Fair Trade and processed locally. There was a discussion on Facebook the other day amongst some people that live near to me about milk. While the two major milk companies grocery stores sell around here are local, the farms are scattered everywhere. These people were saying they were going to boycott one of the grocery stores because the store was being taken over by one kind over the other kind and there were no actual farms for the milk in their area. Yes, there were in other parts of the province, but it bothered them they were not buying from the farms that were handy. I choose to mention this because it brought something up I have never thought about. I know my milk comes from farms in this province, but are their local farms around here that benefit from the sales? I had no idea. I think this illustrates a point about how you think you are doing good, but really there are other people taking it one step further.

Anyway, I should point out that I found the information you shared about what it was like in your country interesting, Ana. I know that people typically look at the world through the eyes and standards of their own country, but that does not mean it is anywhere near the same. Breadmakers are cheap in Canada because of Wal-Mart and their need for world domination... And cheaper prices. That is an entirely different discussion. I actually bought a breadmaker because when I was little my grandfather was obsessed with his. He used to make wonderful bread and I wanted to retrace my roots a bit. I have had fresh from the oven bread, too, but the weather has to be just right and that rarely happens here. I was obsessed with it for a while, but it sort of fell out of use. As much as I enjoy homemade bread, we are just not big bread eaters overall.

Ana: Excellent points, Kelly. I feel like we should perhaps end on a more positive note - I spent most of this discussion talking about my own experiences with food politics rather than the book itself, and while I think (hope) that makes for an interesting post, I don’t want to give anyone the impression I didn’t enjoy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Despite the aforementioned culture shock, I really did; it made me want to read more by Kingsolver and more about food politics in general.

So to wrap things up, a fun question: Have you tried any of the recipes in the book, or do you plan to? Do you have a favourite? Mine is the recipe for Zucchini chocolate chip cookies, which I actually tried before reading the book thanks to Amy. When she visited me in Manchester she spotted my copy of the book on the shelf and immediately said, "this book has the best cookie recipe ever!". How could I resist such an enthusiastic plug? I’d never have imagined that courgettes would work in cookies, but they really are delicious.

Kelly: Yes, I liked this book, too. I have read Kingsolver’s fiction in the past, but this was my first time reading her non-fiction. I also want to read more by her and about food in general. I have a couple on my TBR pile now thanks to people like Amanda from Ramblings that I am looking forward to exploring at a later date. I wonder if there is anything recommendable that is about Canada’s take on it all. I should look into that, too.

As to the recipes, nope, I haven’t tried any of them. I am horrendous at actually using recipe books. I am more a buy ingredients and throw something together person. I always plan to branch out, and there were some interesting recipes in this book, but I haven’t done so yet. The book is worth checking out for the recipes, though. I believe they can all be found online.

Thanks for reading this book with me, Ana! It took a while to write the review up, but I think it all came together in the end. I look forward to our next buddy read!

Ana: Likewise!

They read it too: Booklust, Fyrefly's Book Blog, Shelf Love, Lost in Books, Musings, Book Addiction, Capricious Reader, Stuff as Dreams are Made On

(Yours?)

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through one of my affiliates links I will get 5%.

26 comments:

  1. I thought this book was fantastic and love the discussion. Virginia Tech actually read this as their Common Book last year (I think it was last year) and when Kingsolver came to speak to the students they served a meal of locally grown food - much of it grown by the school itself.

    A memoir you might be interested in is The Orchard by Theresa Weir - it's very different from this book but will make you think about where you food comes from too.

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  2. Nom nom nom I'm glad you tried the cookies!!! Aren't they AMAZING?!?! Also, very interesting discussion, which I loved following. I think the book is good for that - for getting people talking about food politics and their own local economies.

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  3. Hi Ana! I left a long comment on Kelly's blog. You guys made me hungry!

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  4. I love this! Yes, I'm happy you guys FINALLY read Chris and my favorite book, but I'm even more happy to get your perspectives. I wasn't kidding; I want to reread it now to try to see things from outside America. I'm glad you two finally wrote your reviews!

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  5. Sorry this book wasn't the book you lovely ladies wanted it to be. I haven't read it, so I can't really comment on the actual content of the book. But I can say without even reading it that I'm so glad she wrote it because I've seen what a difference she's made in the lives of individual people here and there in this country.

    I'm not surprised that you found this to be a bit of culture shock. I'm probably going to piss a lot of people off by saying this, but the U.S. is so goddam fucking spoiled it's not even funny!!! (And of course, you know I mean that as a massive generalization, and not directed at individuals.) But it was the overall strategy set up in this country after WWII, and it still plays hard, probably harder, today--consume, consume, consume. And it plays just as hard in the food industry as it does in any other industry here. You both mentioned how your grandfather's grew up on farms--well, as far as that goes, it's not so different here. My dad grew up on a small farm and Rich's dad grew up on a big farm. And yet in the seemingly short period of time since then, this country's whole food industry has *completely* changed!!! You know, "progress." *gag* Small local farmers have a VERY tough time making it because the big conglomerations make sure of it!!!

    I understand your point about class. I don't think it's something that should be dismissed at all. And yet the "farmers market movement" or whatever you want to call it is a start in fighting back what has become of the whole food system in this country. It definitely doesn't addresses every single problem that the food industry has. It's a small way of helping support the local farmers that are having such a hard time surviving themselves. It's sad the way even this is marketed though--another ploy to sell. Packaged as "the in thing."

    You can argue that organic foods, etc. are too expensive. That's not an accident. Monsanto and other greedy multinationals bent on owning the entire food industry not just of this country, but increasingly of the world food supply as well, make sure of it.

    Anyway, like I said, I'm sorry this wasn't the book you wanted it to be. But I think Kingsolver and others like her really are trying to do something good. Trying to open the eyes of so many many millions of people in this very spoiled country to facts that have become buried. If you want a look at what has happened to the food industry in this country in the last 50-ish years, I highly, highly, highly recommend you watch Food, Inc. (There's actually a handful of great documentaries, but I think this is probably the best one I've seen.) It will definitely give you an idea of the enormous battle there is to fight if this country wants to bring food in this country back to something meant to sustain and nourish.

    Okay Debi, time to shut up now. :/

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  6. I enjoyed this book too, but I had some of the same reservations about it that you did, Ana. There were times when I felt the authors really couldn't see very far outside their own experience to recognize why others aren't as able to eat locally or cook from scratch. There was a whole bit, for example, about how everyone could grow something, even a city dweller. And I couldn't help but wonder if it occurred to them that some city dwellers have tiny apartments with no balconies. The best I could manage is a pot of herbs, which is not worth the trouble since I don't use a lot of herbs anyway.

    Even buying local from the farmer's market when not all markets require that the food be local! One of the most popular stands at my local market has pretty much the same selection as the grocery store all year long. I grew up on a farm, so I know you that in Virginia you can't grow peaches in January or bananas ever, but people line up and think they're buying local. I've learned to ask or look for signs indicating where the produce comes from, but not everyone knows to do that.

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  7. Kathy: That's so great that she went to speak near you! I'd love to have the chance to hear it. And many thanks for the recommendation.

    Amy: They were great :D Thank you so much for convincing me to try them.

    Chris: I saw your comment, and thanks so much for the recommendation!

    Heather: Thank you! The thought of you and Chris encouraged us to go on even after slacking for months :P

    Debi: No, please don't shut up! I really appreciate the documentary recommendation and will definitely see if I can find it. Also, I feel terrible that I came across as someone who thinks that Kingsolver has done more harm than good, since that's the exact opposite of what I feel. I thought her passion and commitment were inspiring. It's just that... let me try to give you an example from something I know a little bit more about. Libraries are good things and should be promoted and fought for - that's something pretty much everyone can agree on. But sometimes I feel that some of the people who promote libraries forget that their just being there won't necessarily result in someone who never walked into one before, or never had any contact with books, actually using the resources that are available to them. Making sure those resources are there is the first step, but then you need other people making a continuous effort to address and reduce all those perceived social barriers that cause people to see libraries as not really for them. And it's very easy for people who mean well and who do very valuable work to unwittingly promote books in ways that increase that class-based sense of alienation. So that's why you have outreach services - it's not that the first group of people are doing more harm than good; it's just that addressing all those potential barriers can be another full-time job and nobody can be expected to tackle it all. This is a really clumsy analogy, but hopefully it makes some sense. And yes, you're right that there are greedy companies profiting from the way the food industry currently works, and that we have to dismantle the whole system before true justice can be achieve. That's a huge task, of course, and you do have to start somewhere. (BTW, I thought "local food movement" and "ethical food movement" were just neutral descriptors because I've seen them used in article online and etc, but by your tone I'm guessing they're sometimes used as slurs, or at least slightly pejoratively? If so I'm really sorry :( It was really just my being ignorant that made me use them, rather than try to be deliberately dismissive.) Also, I should clarify that the book's US focus didn't disappoint me and that I didn't see it as a flaw - Kingsolver makes it clear what her approach will be from the beginning, and that's fair enough. It wasn't that this wasn't the book I wanted it to be; it's that it made me want to read other books with a more global focus to complement Kingsolver's perspective. And that can't be a bad thing, right?

    Teresa: I really wonder how many sellers are taking advantage of people's growing interest in local food to mislead them. I've seen similar things happen here - sellers/companies know that packaging something as an ethical choice is becoming more and more of an asset, but also that there are consumers who won't look too closely or ask too many questions :\

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  8. Brilliant discussion.

    I'm reminded of a horrible moment I had when Janisse Ray, the conservationist, came in to speak in my Environmental Studies class, so I thought I'd share…

    We had all prepared questions, and I was curious about an access gap in "being green" in terms of class, which I wrote a short paper on the class for. Anyway, my question was what low-income folk in an urban environment (I ended up writing on urban and rural environments, but I wanted a starting place) could do. I assumed she would say low-income households could refrain from certain polluting/unhealthy behaviors. I asked the question, and she asked me to repeat it; I can mumble and my voice can get nasal, so I assumed it had just come out weird. I asked it again, and, I swear to God, she looked and me and said, "Oh, educated impoverished."

    What.

    And then she told us plastic is the the cause of all the "gender ambiguity" she's seeing nowadays.

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  9. OOPS!!! I think my comment must have come out sounding different than I meant it to sound. :( (The problem I so often have, and the problem which tends to make me keep my mouth shut. :p ) But Ana, I *totally* loved this conversation! And I didn't feel *at all* that you were dismissing what Kingsolver was trying to do! I so appreciated the points you were making, and sort of like you said at the beginning of your review, one of the most awesome things about books is the way they can lead us into deeper and broader conversations about things. Things beyond the scope of any particular book. Honestly, I was just trying to make the point (and not doing it very well!) that I really do get why you felt such a culture shock. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that most people in this country have such a vast disconnect from their food and where it comes from. Not just location-wise, but the type of places that grow it/produce it. I don't for one minute think that all people can or even that they should grow everything they eat themselves or even buy it all locally. (I'd have a mighty hard time giving up coffee, and it sure as hell isn't grown locally! We're lucky enough to be able to afford to buy organically grown, fair trade coffee, but so many people aren't--and I'm sure not going to deny anyone their morning cup of coffee.) Point being, that buying locally isn't the whole answer to a problem that lies with the whole way this food system is set up in this country. You're absolutely right--there will *never* be food equity until the whole system is dismantled and rethought. But there is definitely a need to educate, to make people see what has become of the food system in the U.S.

    Did I make any more sense this time around? Probably not. But I hope I at least clarified that I did not take away from your conversation that you thought Kingsolver was doing more harm than good. Not in the slightest!

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  10. Oh, I HATED Camille in this book. You are much nicer about her than I am, but I thought all of her sections had such a "holier-than-thou" attitude, that just because she helps out on the farm that her super-successful parents bought and used all their previous farming knowledge to succeed at, that she is somehow better than everyone else. She really bothered me.

    I think a fact is that many of us now have multiple generations of family that grew up in urban environments- on both sides of my family, through my grandparents, my family has lived in a fully urban environment. Not everyone can return to farms and "live off the land" in the way Kingsolver says, but we can do our part. And like Debi above, I think that the farmers markets are a way for Americans to really fight back and make clear that they DO want local produce and DO want to know their farmers. And it has had an impact, too- many more grocery stores now say that foods are "made in Michigan!" or have signs for "buying local," which is awesome. And which also makes sure you buy stuff that is in season. So it's changing slowly, but we still have a HUGE way to go, mostly because of the way subsidies here work (all for corn and soybeans) and the way some massive companies work their patents...

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  11. This discussion is fascinating to me, because I am so squarely in Kingsolvers' target audience, as an American academic. The recipe I want to try from her book is to make the lactose-free cheese, as my first pregnancy made me lactose intolerant, but there's no way I'm going to spend the time and energy it would take to make my own cheese when I can go to Kroger and buy some Kraft brand cheese, which is made without lactose.
    So many of the things the Kingsolvers describe take a lot of time. I think I'm like most Americans in that we eat a lot, but we don't really think about what we eat, or trouble ourselves much about what it will be until we get hungry. I even see this as a generational thing--my mother used to plan meals weekly. I plan meals every couple of days. My (younger)sister-in-law plans meals about an hour ahead of time.

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  12. Nymeth, I think you brought up some great points. Class and income has a lot to do with what we buy and how we eat. I doubt I can afford a breadmaker too.

    I wonder if we can find a book that deals with class as well as food politics?

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  14. I've heard a lot about Kingsolver's book, and reading your review just bumped it up near the top of my reading list!

    I agree with Jeanne, though, that the way I live now it feels like an immense barrier to spend the kind of time necessary to do the things she describes. I wonder if that's one of the benefits of being a successful best-selling author...that you can just be flexible with your time.

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  15. I think Amy's right on track with the importance of discussing food politics and books that stimulate us to do just that! :) I think it would be impossible for anyone to write a book like Kingsolver's and take into consideration "local" politics everywhere. That's for the rest of us to do, hopefully encouraged by Kingsolver and her family's experiment. I wrote way too much over on Kelly's blog :/ but this has been a fabulous conversation! My favorite recipes so far have been the pizza crust recipe with the ideas for weekly pizza variations and the tomato based sauces...the summer I read Kingsolver's book I grew and canned enough tomatoes that my family ate fresh tomato based dishes through February!!

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  16. I'm sure that some people take advantage of people's ignorance to get them to pay a premium for organic. Michael Pollan writes a bit about that in The Omnivore's Dilemma--about how organic isn't necessarily as organic as we think and free-range eggs (at least in the U.S.) aren't necessarily from chickens that get to roam outdoors.

    And I totally agree with Jeanne that time is a huge factor, and that's another aspect of the class issues. Although I cook most of my meals, I incorporate convenience items like pre-grated cheese or canned beans and even precooked meals sometimes because if I cooked everything from scratch I wouldn't have time to do anything else. I can't imagine how hard it would be if I had to work two jobs to pay my bills!

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  17. I'll hopefully be able to reply to comments properly this evening, but I just wanted to quickly say that yes, I really appreciated Debi's comments and didn't mean this to be a fight, so I really hope I didn't sound like I was picking one! We're all on the same side here here and these things are always worth talking about. I'm really sorry if anything I said was in any way inappropriate or upsetting. Hugs to you both!

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  18. I really enjoyed reading all the commentary (from both of you) and the comments as well. It seems fitting, really, that this conversation between you was more about the different experiences/relationships that each of you has with food and was less about the book itself, because I think that was the author's intent, that each of us, as readers, look at things we can/cannot change about how we interact with our food and food sources, at the things we do/do not want to change. It's really a very personal subject!

    Count me among the group of readers who found the contributions of her husband and daughter less affecting than the rest of the book; I understand the publisher probably wanted to present their perspectives, as they clearly do share BK's journey in so many ways, but I remember being irked by various aspects of their narratives (perhaps only because they were too short to give a broader understanding of them as individuals).

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  19. I'm so glad to read this discussion about the class issues in this book, because that made a huge impact on me. While I really loved the information I learned from the book and the charming stories of living on a farm, I didn't really glean much advice from the book on how to change myself, except that this takes a lot of time, and if you try it, you'll like it.

    I think the time issue is actually a big part of the class issue. If you're working a 10 hour day and raising children and commuting (by bus, with a walk) and budgeting every penny, then you don't have the hours to, say, put up local food for the winter. And you know, the discipline needed to spend all your free time on what is essentially a chore (yes, for some it's a hobby, but not for everyone--I don't love cooking and I don't hate it), you need to have some emotional resources left over, which a lot of struggling people just don't have at the end of the day.

    I come at this from the same perspective as you do--I grew up on a working farm--but I feel like what I get from that is knowing how much work it is to produce food. My parents run their own farmstand, but they don't produce enough to sell to grocery stores (which do all their buying as chains and don't deal with anyone who can't produce volume consistently over time). Also, it's New England--the growing season is relatively short.

    In essence, I felt like Kingsolver's book was charming and educational as a memoir, but I did want it to be more functional, something I could relate to more. Loved your discussion!

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  20. This is seriously one of the best reviews I've read in a long time!! I wrote a whole lot on Kelly's post and forgive me if I write a lot here too :p

    As for food politics and organic being marketed as a privileged thing, I think you're so right, and I think that's so f*cked up that's it's gotten to be that. That food without pesticides or other harmful chemcials has now become "designer food." Here in my little region, you can still find places where that is not the case. When I go to my farmers market, not all of my farmers there are "certified" organic, but they all produce their produce without the use of chemicals And it tastes amazing! And it's so much cheaper than what you find in the supermarket because you're buying it directly from the manufacturer with no middle man, no shipping, etc. The other thing I love about my farmers market is that they accept food stamps. So people who can't normally even afford healthy food can go to the farmer's market and get really healthy stuff at a great price and I'll often see farmers throwing extras in to people for free. I know not all farmers markets work like this and I'm lucky mine does. I know many probably mark up their prices, don't sell to those who have food stamps, and make it a more middle class type affair…but ours don't. They're a great place to socialize, meet people and see where your food comes from.

    But the whole country needs a lot of restructuring. When organic starts to equal designer, that's just ridiculous!!! Eating healthy food should in no way be a sign of class or who you are! Shit like that just pisses me of so much and angers me so much.

    Like I said on Kelly's blog, I really would like to see Kingsolver do a book similar to this that looked at food politics of the world rather than just the US. I think she did a decent job of capturing the sad state of the US but would like to hear more aobut the world as a whole and OMG MATT JUST WALKED IN THE DOOR I HAVE TO GO :P Yes…I will always remember talking to you Ana when Matt walked into the door to stay for good :) *hugs* *runs off to smother Matt with kisses*

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  21. Like so many of your commenters, I'm glad Kingslver wrote this book, and I do believe it did a lot of good. BUT you pinpointed the exact things that seriously irritated me about the book, and about the whole attitude of so many people in the locally grown, organic movement: they assume that laziness, lack of ethics, or ignorance is at the root of people's food-buying habits, when the reality is so very complex. The bread machine quote just sent a bzzzzzpt! into my brain!

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  22. I love the points y'all make in this post, and the Racialicious post is wonderful! It's great to see these issues unpacked. Living in New York, a very very lot of people are extra-obsessed with having the correct kinds of local, organic food, and it's often forgotten that these are issues of class and privilege too. I think it's very easy to get into a feedback loop where everyone is talking about how virtuous they all are, and everyone you talk to can afford to buy organic if they want, and then people lose sight of how insular they're being.

    (This is not super relevant (only because the Coop is all about the organic foods and self-righteousness) but it's so great I'm sharing it anyway. http://www.theawl.com/2012/02/the-epic-live-tweeting-of-last-nights-park-slope-coop-meeting)

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  23. I read this book about 5 or 6 years ago, and loved it. My husband and I had bought a buisness that was failing terribly and we were spending all day every day making food from processed items that were shipped to us in bulk containers, usually from the mainland (to Hawaii) (the business we had was a franchise, so we didn't get a say in the products we used). Reading Kingsolver's book, I YEARNED for the type of life she was describing-wide open spaces, working on the land, planting something and watching it grow, harvesting fresh, ripe, bountiful fruits and vegetables...*sigh*

    So, it sounds like my focus on the book at the time was different than yours! :)

    It's very interesting to hear the perspectives of two non-U.S. residents on this book. I noticed one or two other people recommended The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food, Inc. If you're interested in seeing how the U.S. got to where it is today, I would second those recommendations and also recommend The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan as a good companion read. It's about the Dust Bowl that hit the U.S. in the '30s, but it helps explain how we went from a fruitful productive country to one dependent on chemicals and monoculture (and should serve as a good warning to other countries about what can happen to your food supply).

    I think your points about class are right on. Yes, fresh, healthy, ethically-produced food *should* be available to everyone, but the reality is that it's not. Not really. Yes, OK, technically, everyone could probably commit to finding a local farmer's market or something similar once a week and shopping there, but if you're a single parent, living in a low-rent area, working several jobs and trying to raise one or more children, what are the odds that you're really going to hit that market, or that you're going to buy the super-fresh organic head of lettuce over the sale-priced cans of tuna at the grocery store?

    In Hawaii, there are tons of raodside stands where you can buy fresh local fruit, but I've heard that a lot of these vendors just go to the local wholesale clubs, buy a bunch of pineapple, mangoes, etc., and then set up on the side of the road. Tourists stop and pay top dollar for this fresh produce (that was probably flown in from Mexico), thinking that they are "shopping locally," and, in a sense, I guess they are-the vendors are taking that money home to their families-but it totally speaks to the elite nature of buying fresh and buying local.

    I do see things changing though. Just in the last several years there have been a lot of farmers' markets that have popped up within a 20-mile radius of where I live, and I do see more and more local produce in our grocery stores. In Hawaii, that's a big deal because about 80%-90% of our food is imported, which leaves us hugely vulnerable to supply disruptions, so the more local food that is being produced the better!

    Thanks to you and Kelly for the discussion and for sharing your perspectives!

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  24. I hate that food has become a political and social issue. That poorer people are forced to buy the cheaper unhealthy stuff and only some kind of elite can get the organic stuff grown locally from a farmers' market or vegetable box scheme. Shouldn't someone find a way to provide healthy food to all? It gets me so angry!

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  25. I just finished this book a few weeks ago and I loved finding your joint review and great discussion! I had a few issues with this book. I think what they're doing is wonderful and I learned quite a bit from it, but at the same time I thought that quite a bit of it came across as condescending. Not everyone has the time/money/land to do what the Kingsolvers did. I do think it was still a very valuable book to read, but I wish it had a slightly different tone.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.