On the Table: Kingsolver Solves the Conundrum
Locavorism has become part of our food culture, whether practiced or lip service.
The movement took hold in California and New England - both organic hotbeds - during the 1980s, from "crunchy" co-ops to high-end restaurants that contracted with growers for their mache and baby zucchini. For home cooks, CSAs and farmers markets were the way to go.
But, like all good intentions, this one could use a jolt, especially as the growing season winds down.
I found my jolt in a used book store. Don't know how I missed "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life," when it was published in 2007.
Barbara Kingsolver, the author, usually writes best-selling agenda novels like "The Prodigal Summer" and "Poisonwood Bible." Aficionados may remember her as a favorite of Carmella Soprano.
In "Animal..." Kingsolver chronicles the year her family moved from arid Arizona to a farm tract in the Kentucky mountains, where they lived as much as possible off the commercial food grid - a bit extreme, unless you're a famous writer-biologist with an advance from Harper.
Usually, I can't get through these "purpose" books. A magazine piece - maybe. "Animal..." is different because it reads like a diary, an adventure, with portions contributed by Kingsolver's husband, Steven, and daughter, Camille. Interesting recipes too, like eggplant papoutzakia, frijole-mole and Asian vegetable rolls.
The book spouts statistics, for emphasis: "If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally grown and organically raised meat and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels a week."
There is poetry: "Tall, withered pea vines are a sigh from the end of spring; a pause before the beans, squash and tomatoes start rolling."
There is hyperbole: "The president succumbed to weeds. So did the lost dogs, the want ads and our country's Miss America hopeful ... our layers of newspaper mulch were melting down into topsoil."
There is sex: "In summer, a young rooster's fancy turns to ... how can I say this delicately?" Other chapters unravel quirks in animal husbandry that, upon closer inspection, hit close to home.
There is grit: "In the beginning, (our -daughter), who was six that year, lobbied to name the turkeys, which I nixed, but relented when I saw what she had in mind: Mr. Thanksgiving, Mr. Sausage and ... Sushi." Another passage dealing with the -"processing" of farm-grown poultry has the child rationalizing "We'll only kill the mean ones."
Zucchini, or "dirigibles balanced on their heads, our own vegetable Stonehenge," do not escape her sharp pen. "Couldn't they design an automobile that runs on zucchini?"
The book is divided into chapters representing months.
August, of course, means tomatoes: "Drowning in good tomatoes is the exclusive privilege of the gardener and farm-market shopper." Kingsolver harvested a mere 500 pounds. "August is when you walk into the kitchen and see red."
In September, Barbara and Steven visited Italy, his ancestral homeland. "It's my opinion that when Italian (food) genes are present, all others duck and cover. It's a culture that sweeps you in, sits you down in the kitchen and feeds you so well you don't want to leave."
Aha. "The Sopranos" connection.
And so the year passes proving, without a doubt, that a family with firm resolve, sufficient funds and access to fertile land can sustain themselves magnificently - not that the author expects readers to quit their jobs and move to Appalachia.
Sustenance was not her sole purpose: "I don't know what my kids will carry into adulthood, whether they'll grow up attached to homemade pizza on Friday nights ... I do know that flavors work their own ways under the skin, into the heart of longing. Where my kids are concerned, I hope for the simplest things: that if someday they crave orchards where their kids can climb into the branches and steal apples, the world will have trees enough with arms to receive them."
Now, does that sound like some holier-than-thou sermon?
Quick, before you go back to Driscoll, Green Giant and Birds-Eye, read this book.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," by Barbara Kingsolver, is available at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines and through online booksellers.
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