From Left to Write February 2012 Book Club: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver | Sugar, Suburbs, and Strawberries

Could you live an entire year eating locally or the food from your garden? Barbara Kingsolver transplanted her family from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of Virginia for their endeavor.

Join From Left to Write on February 21 as we discuss Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life * by Barbara Kingsolver. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a free copy of the book.  As always, all thoughts, opinions, and quirky points of view are 100% my own.


On Saturday, knowing I had a deadline looming for a post inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I tossed the book in the van with me and my youngest as I drove him to a classmate's birthday party. 

After making my hellos, I sat reading off to the side of the parental unit group, while our twenty-odd kindergartners spent an hour getting good and tired out running around in gymnastics room and then refueled with the gonzo sugary snacks standard to kids birthday parties: cupcakes and pop.

The irony of the moment - me reading about Kingsolver's plan to eat clean and local while my six year old and his buddies got hopped up on an array of products loaded with high fructose corn syrup - has stuck with me.  A solid hour of sweaty exercise (a good and needed and disappearing event for many young children) followed by heaping helping of sugar and fat.  It's a mixed message our kids get from the adults who feed them; no wonder the obesity epidemic in the United States includes 1 in 3 adults and a whopping 1 in 6 children as of 2012 data from the CDC

Before you slap your hand through your computer screen to knock me off my high horse, I will come clean: we eat cake and pop on birthdays at our house, too.  There are also boxes of sugared up cereal (Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Honey Nut Cheerios) on the shelves in my pantry.  And yesterday, my house was a major distribution point for Girl Scout cookies, those boxes of overpriced, tasty sugar (and who knows what else) that annually doom even the most stoic of New Year's resolution dieters.

I'm no less guilty of the sins of sugar and preservatives than the next parent raising children in this age of industrialized food.


I'm not yet finished reading the book (I'm about 100 pages into it), but as I read it on Saturday while the kids played and rolled and jumped, I was immediately reminded of another book I read earlier this year: Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land* by Kurt Timmermeister (I highly recommend it).  The books share a similar theme in the wish of the authors to find a way to eat whole, eat clean, eat local, and live off their own land.

I read Timmermeister's book with a sighing wishfulness; I find myself approaching Kingsolver's with the same sort of, "Ahhh....if only...," attitude.

If only we had a few - even just one - acres.  (We have a quarter acre lot in our neighborhood.)

If only I could raise chickens in the backyard.  (A flagrant violation of our neighborhood's home owner's association.)

If only the housing market wasn't scraping the bottom of the recovery trough here in my part of SW Ohio.  (We'd love to move out of town into a more rural area in the county but aren't too keen on taking a financial beat down by selling our house for less than we paid for it.)

If only local free range meats and local produce wasn't far more expensive than the offerings at the grocery stores.  (We are fortunate to live in a county where we have several CSA farms near us and farmers who raise beef and chickens but the cost to go 100% local and natural is prohibitive.)

Our neighborhood is of the suburban-type without truly being suburban; our little town has a rich 200+ year history and an identity of it's own.  We just happen to live in a recently developed area of our town (our neighborhood is about 15 years old) and our home is a typical suburban-type home: high square footage home smacked on top of a tiny lot of land.

I do garden with some success (mostly tomatoes and cukes), but our lot is shady and the soil is poor and in need of amendment every time I dig a new bed.  While I dream of planting fruit trees and have a few blackberry bushes tucked in along the fences, growing an abundance of food from my backyard has yet eluded me.  After reading Timmermeister's book as well as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I am inspired to do more this year, to plant more beds in my yard and to even look into renting a Victory Garden plot at my YMCA for serious veggie production.

But in the end, I can't escape the reality of life in the suburbs.  Suburban neighborhoods like mine were never built to create a means of sustainable living; they were built to give people a place to sleep and to house the symbol of American freedom: the automobile.


We stopped in Kroger on Sunday after Mass and along with our sugar-bomb donuts (delicious but riddled with guilt), I picked up a few boxes of strawberries on sale for $1.50/lb.  

Knowing they aren't in season locally, knowing that these strawberries were likely shipped from the growing grounds of south Florida or the sunny coast of California didn't stop me from buying them.  We like strawberries, the strawberries are on sale; ergo, there are now strawberries in my refrigerator.

I don't know if I would have the strength of conviction to do what Kingsolver and her family did, to eat only what is fresh and locally grown, to turn away from all the rainbow of colors in the produce section of my grocery store.  I doubt my kids would survive a week without grapes or berries or apples during these last days of winter.

But I would like to try.  

As I type this, I've got whole milk in the crockpot, almost ready for me to start another batch of homemade yogurt.  (It's very tasty.)  I cook most of our meals from scratch (using those troublesome long-distance shipped veggies and farm-industrial meats, but still).  Despite our current high inventory of Thin Mints and Tagalongs, I bake cookies for the kids lunches and offer healthy after school snacks (apples, cheese sticks, popcorn) with a tall glass of water.  

I do pretty good on the food front but I could do better.  

It's time to at least try.

*My Amazon affililate link.  Thanks for your support.

**I'll be perusing Seed Savers Exchange later today.  It's time to start planning my garden.  Any of you fellow dirt-lovers have recommendations on varieties?  Many thanks.  ;-)