By: Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (HarperCollins, 370 pp.)
Concerning: The award-winning author and her family resolve to spend a calendar year as “locavores,” i.e., eating only organic, locally grown food from their own Virginia farm or within a roughly 100 mile radius. Her husband Hopp provides informative sidebars about the pernicious effects of industrial farming, while their college-age daughter Camille provides recipes and writes little personal essays that are kind of like tame B+ papers from a high school senior.
Quote: “Heritage livestock favorites are as colorfully named as heirloom vegetables. You can have your Tennessee Fainting goats, your Florida Cracker cattle, your Jersey Giant chickens, your Gloucester Old Spots hogs. Among draft animals, let’s not forget the American Mammoth Jack Ass.” The family orders some Bourbon Red turkeys and the sections about the reproductive and parenting instincts of turkeys – when at least 99% of all turkeys are raised by artificial insemination in this country – are both amusing and affecting.
Verdict: Some of my very best friends have HUGE gardens, but I have pretty much zero interest in gardening, farming and food issues. The book changed my thinking about a lot of things, though. Frequently Kingsolver couches the local/regional food movement in terms that are surprisingly patriotic: we should preserve our country’s native cuisines as a matter of national pride. For the most part, the sections on the horrors of agribusiness go down smoothly: what, you mean massive corporations may not care about human health, food flavor or environmental sustainability? Kingsolver writes with a very lively and charming prose style. I can’t say I expect to make major changes in my eating habits, but I feel extra lucky that goudabonbon is such a dedicated farmer’s market-shopper and anti-food additive cop.
Also: There’s a very funny early section in which Kingsolver suggests that her young daughter, who deeply loves chickens, can apply her nascent egg business to buy her own horse one day. The daughter very quickly decides to sell eggs AND chicken meat, but “We only kill the mean ones.” In a late chapter, though, when the daughter’s egg business is getting off the ground, Kingsolver informs the daughter that she has to pay back her parents for the start-up investment of the original eggs and feed. From the way it’s presented, it reads like Kingsolver completely sandbags her daughter, changing the terms of the deal they struck earlier in the year. Also, if anything bugs the family, it seems to be the amount of gasoline used to transport food over long distances. Boy, do they harp on this – it’s the only point at which they become naggingly polemical. Look, if my daughter wants a banana, I’m going to give her a fucking banana.
For further reading: Pigs in Heaven is my favorite Kingsolver novel. There’s also an Animal, Vegetable, Miracle web site with more resources.