Sunday, October 05, 2008


I’m only halfway through Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and already I am guilted into altering my faltering ways. The author and her family uprooted themselves from their home in Tuscon, Arizona, to try an experiment. Their goal was to live a year sustaining themselves only on food grown locally—and they decided to do it on her husband’s land in the Southern Appalachians. (Don’t we all own a small farm in the Appalachians to use when we want to conduct a social experiment?)

The reason I am trying to change my own faltering ways after reading half of the book is because the author makes a good point. We try to eat healthy at our house, loading up the grocery cart each week with fresh fruits and vegetables. We try to eat lean meat and non-meat sources of protein. We try to limit our fats, sugars, and calories in general. I thought we were doing pretty well for a couple of old farts who were raised on lard-fried donuts and ground beef.

But Barbara Kingsolver wants us all to take it a step further. She wants us to question where our food is coming from.

Our generation of Americans has been conditioned to assume that we can have any food we want any time of the year we want. We expect to go to the grocery store and be able to buy strawberries in January and asparagus in November. We don’t stop to think that strawberries in Minnesota ripen in June and asparagus plants peep their tiny heads in May. To get strawberries to Minnesota for Christmas or asparagus in time for Thanksgiving means transportation. And transporting food from Southern California or Chile or Honduras or Australia means oil consumption and higher prices.

So here’s what Kingsolver suggests: eat locally produced food only in the seasons it is readily available. Obviously, if you live in Minnesota, there is a period of several months where the only foods in season are snowballs and icicles. So we need to rely on canning, freezing, and otherwise preserving food during the times when it is available. She advocates gardens and farmers markets and locally produced meat.
So yesterday for the first time (I am embarrassed to say), I went to Alexandria’s farmers’ market. What an eye-opener. Beautiful fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, bags of apples. True, I did have to make another stop at the grocery store when I got done. But even at the grocery store, I started checking labels. Dannon Yogurt came from New York; Old Home Yogurt came from St. Paul. This bag of carrots came from California; that bag came from Anoka, Minnesota. These sunflower seeds came from Texas; the other sunflower seeds were processed in North Dakota. The choices were made for me, just based on fossil fuels consumed to bring the food to the store.

Okay, so Kingsolver is a little preachy (don’t even get her started on processed foods!). And okay, so my little bit won’t probably help very much. But I felt kind of good about my choices yesterday at the farmers’ market. The little boy who helped me pick out a squash, some red onions, and peppers looked as pleased as punch with the $8.25 I counted out into his hand. And the man who put an extra apple on top of my bag of Honeycrisps because “it looks a little empty there” won my undying loyalty.

My refrigerator looks different to me now when I open it. Okay, it’s the same bowls of fruits and vegetables, but I’m proud that most of them are locally grown or shipped within the state. I might have gotten on the bandwagon a little late for this growing season, but I think this will be a habit I will try to stick to.

Like Barbara Kingsolver says, we might as well drink a quart of oil than eat Chilean grapes in February, because that’s how much oil it took to transport that plastic bag full of grapes to a grocery store in Alexandria, Minnesota.


Anonymous said...

Awesome, Mom. You inspire me! s.

j9 said...

Me, too!!