Animal, Vetgable, Miracle

On a lark, I checked out the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver during a hurried trip to the Boston Public Library on my lunch break last Wednesday. I count the proximity of this storied and august institution one of the best perks of my job. At a fast clip, and luck with traffic lights, I can get there in 10-12 minutes. That leaves me a luxurious 30-35 minutes to pick up a few books, ponder frescoes, and eat lunch in what I am convinced is Boston’s best kept secret. But before I give away that secret and bring the flocks of my many (read: one) (Hi Rhea!) Boston readers, let me get back to this book I checked out.

Like I said, a lark. I have never read one of her books, though my sister and the woman who is essentially my surrogate mother both like her. The cover caught my eye for two reasons. First, because it was green- green in a sea of non-fiction somberness. And not just any green- it was the green that I am craving. The green of fresh trees and the first precious blades of long-awaited grass that are so beautiful it is all I can do not to fall to my knees and cuddle it to my weary bosom. Second, because of the beans on the front cover that are enormous and beautiful. They struck me. See:

I vaguely remember my sister and the surrogate mom talking about this book the last time that I was in Alabama, but uncharacteristically, I didn’t pay attention (Oh! Shiny!). I caught something about food on the cover so I figured it was a cookbook of sorts. I was right, but only barely.

I’m not exaggerating when I was this book changed my life. And I don’t mean in the way the 90 BBC television series The Vicar of Dibley changed my life (But sweet baby Jesus you all need to be watching this show. It is a RIOT) and I don’t me the way the South American grain Quinoa is changing my life (but also ditto- the life-changing part not the riot part). I mean it truly changed my life.

You all know I’m haphazardly green. I try, but I’m not nearly as committed as I could or should be. I’ve sworn off plastic bags and petroleum-based laundry detergent (that 7th Generation lavender detergent is changing my life– whoops!), I’ve put a bucket in my bathroom to catch the water when the shower is heating up to water my house plants, and whenever Pete wants to drive the truck somewhere the car could be driven, I give him the stare. Like I say, I’m trying.

One of the things Pete and I have recently done is joined a local community supported farm. This is a wonderful (and not new) idea where you essentially invest in a local farm. Instead of getting a money return, you get it in goods- in this case farm fresh produce for the entire growing season. It’s an expensive initial investment- $450 in our case- which isn’t insignificant for us (and by “isn’t insignificant” what I actually mean is “someone get me a damn paper bag! I’ma gonna faint!”). They do let you pay in installments and that combined with a hefty tax return allowed us to do it. The pay off is a large box of produce and eggs every week from June 1st to October 1st, which works out to somewhere around $25/week- totally reasonable, right?

I am desperately in love with this idea for several reasons. They encourage members of the farm to come by and actually help with the work- planting, harvesting, weeding, building fences. I think I must be weird that that sounds so appealing to me, but I am DYING to get in there and help out. I love agricultural manual labor and I miss being able to do it (I worked in the garden and the yard a lot with my parents as I was growing up), so this is like a super extra wicked awesome bonus for me. Add that to the fact that I am getting plant-ripened local produce (and if you haven’t ever had a tomato that was picked off the vine and eaten 20 minutes later, you are missing one of the greatest moments you can possibly have- and I hate tomatoes!) that is 100% organic and that I am helping to keep a beautiful piece of 200 year old farm land out of the hands of developers and I can’t find a good reason not to do it.

So how does this relate to the book, you ask? Well, it was highly coincidental that we joined this farm and the 5 days later I picked up this book, because it’s about the importance of eating locally and supporting community-based agriculture. Barbara Kingsolver and her family took the dedicated step of moving from Arizona to a farm in Virginia and took a vow to only eat foods that were grown locally (like, literally from their yard or their neighbors yards) for an entire year. It seems completely impossible, especially when you consider that there is no such thing as fresh produce in Virginia in December so everything they were eating in the fall and winter was grown, harvested, and preserved in the summer. And it is so inspiring. They manage it and they manage it without a ridiculous amount of strain or hardship and with an abundance of hilarity.

Seriously, read this book. If you think you are making a difference by living in Boston and eating organic produce, just keep in mind that the tomato you are eating in January, regardless of how it was grown and what chemicals weren’t used, came from somewhere very far away. How much energy is used to drive a refrigerated truck from southern California to Massachusetts? Do you really think that organic sticker makes it worth it?


5 responses to this post.

  1. Hi! I do the CSA farm thing, too. Luckily there are many that deliver to Boston. I will have to look at this book. I loved The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


  2. although i have mixed feelings about the organics (especially after living with a plant scientist who believed that we will never be able to feed all the people in the world without using plant technologies including herbicides and pesticides and that it is more marketing than anything), i love the idea of eating locally grown produce! what a great idea. and luckily for me, locally grown produce is passion fruit and mangoes!

    if you have not read The Poisonwood Bible, i must recommend it as another one of Kinsolver’s fantastic books, that i can say in some ways changed my life (or at least helped me along this african path of mine). The Beans Trees? not as enjoyable.

    enjoy your fruit and veg (and the digging in the dirt when you get a chance)


  3. Posted by daddums on May 8, 2008 at 7:47 am

    “worked in the garden” (my ass).


  4. Posted by sandrita on May 11, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Taylor, your description of “working in the yard” reminded me of your now (amongst family and friends) famous gardening story…since it is Mother’s Day, I feel I have the right to share it with your blog readers…

    So…. Taylor ( who was around 6 years old) and I were planting daffodils and other miscellaneous bulbs in a newly dug flower bed in front of the house her dad and I were buiding…Taylor stepped back and took a long slow look at the house, the garden, the beautiful woods and the flowers we had planted…

    “You know, Mommy…someday this will all be mine, right?”

    “Well Taylor…you never know…when your dad and I get old we might have to sell this place to have enough money to take care of ourselves in our old age.”

    Taylor looked up to me with her big, beautiful blue eyes and said in her wonderful little Smurfett voice…”Mommy, you don’t have to worry about that. By the time you get old I will be a rich and famous scientist” (she had not discovered history yet).

    My heart swelled with pride…what a precious, innocent, unselfish child…in my mind I finished Taylor’s sentence…”and I wil take care of you…”

    And as I was gazing down on her with the adoring look that only a mother can give to her child she said:

    …”And I will put you in the finest nursing home money can buy!”


  5. I know what you mean about this book. I’m about halfway through it and I’ve ordered a cheesemaking kit. I can’t wait to get it and try it. I am inspired to grow some tomatoes next year.


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