Friday, July 11, 2008

Animal, vegetable, guilt trip

Does this ever happen to you? You read a book that makes you want to radically change your life? It happens to me all the time. Some fantastic author presents a convincing argument for a new way to raise kids, or persuades me that sugar is the worst thing I could put into my body, or tells me how I can become a thinner, happier, or more Zen me and I’m caught up in a wave of agreement. I can’t wait to get started on my new course. I’m going to change the world. Or at least my family. Or maybe just myself. But it’s going to be a change for the better. I’m sure of it.

Then the momentum wears off and reality sinks in and I usually fall back into old habits and not much changes. Except that I feel guilty on yet another level because I’m more aware of something else I should be doing differently.

I’m reading an amazing book right now: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. There’s no doubt she’s a fantastic writer. But did you also know she and her family chose to live a year on a farm in the Appalachian mountains eating only food they could get from neighborhood farmers or grow themselves? I already lean towards the tree-hugger side of the environmental awareness scale, so I knew I’d love this book, but now I find myself wishing we could really do this—that we could give up our dependence on food that has crossed several state lines or maybe entire oceans to get to us (and used limited fuel resources and contributed to global warming on the way), that we could eat only food that is in season (not strawberries in January and synthetic tomatoes in March and imported bananas every single day of the year), that we could know where everything on our plate actually came from. Her arguments are very convincing because she’s right. I was converted by page 5. When she started talking about how food is a spiritually loaded commodity, that everything we eat (and how it gets to us) represents an ethical decision, she had me singing “Amen sister!”

The trouble is, I’m not sure I could really change my life so drastically (and the lives of my husband and children, let’s not forget them and their love of all things packaged processed and out of season). Am I prepared to deprive my family of bananas? Or artificially-large-breasted-but-darn-juicy chicken? Or canned everything? I have a hard enough time cooking meals when I can choose from every single item in the supermarket for ingredients. What makes me think I could be the home-canning queen? I looked into locally grown food this week and guess what? It’s more expensive than the stuff in the grocery store. We’re already feeling the pinch of higher food costs lately. How can we afford to spend more?

We have a healthy garden with 6 different kinds of peppers and tomatoes and squash and some zucchini plants that are already producing like there’s no tomorrow (anybody want some free zucchini? please? anyone?). But now Barbara has me thinking we should be planting heirloom seeds and starting a poultry farm. She has me feeling great pangs of guilt because my fridge and pantry cupboards are full of fossil fuel. She has simultaneously won me over and depressed the heck out of me. I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish the book. Do I really need to keep reading to find out how it ends? I assume they all survive the winter. She couldn’t have written the book if they starved to death, right?

I’m not sure what to do. Any suggestions? While I’m waiting for answers, I’m going to go numb my conscience with a really tasty—and unethical on many levels not the least of which is cinnamon that had to be flown several thousand miles to my house—batch of snickerdoodles.

11 comments:

Annette Lyon said...

You must convinced me of what I suspected when I first heard of that book--that I'd better not read it, or I'd get majorly depressed. Because yes, she's a great writers, and yes, I'd agree with her, but no, I can't live like that, although wouldn't it be cool if I could? Maybe the lesson is to take a few lessons from it here and there and incorporate them into our lives. Keep us updated on this one; I've love to see what you do.

Kimberly said...

And I'll say amen to that post.

Know how silly I am? I know it'll make me feel guilty and whatnot, but I'm so going to read it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I read that book and loved it. I have just tried to make small changes in what I buy and cook. I pay more attention to the seasons, but I don't feel guilty. I'm sure that she doesn't want people to think its impossible to make any changes, and she does make some exceptions. We don't all have a farm to live on, after all.

Karlene said...

I didn't realize she'd written a book like this. I loved her Poisonwood Bible.

But to the point. I have this idea that I'm a real earth mother and would just thrive in this type of lifestyle, but whenever I express that to anyone, they double over in hysterical laughter. Maybe they're trying to tell me something.

But I really would LOVE to live like that.

kyouell said...

I'm one of those people that's afraid to read that book. I've been trying to buy from the farmer's market. There are tons around here to choose from. But the dollars, when things are crazy-tight budget-wise, oh that's hard.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Pick and choose. Maybe try to make half your diet local - that is still an improvement, and not as expensive. What bugs me about all the "eat naturally" writers is the way they disregard the fact that most of us cannot afford to feed large families that way.

Pale Bear said...

Start a local produce trade. We had one in our subdivision a few years back. If you have extra of something, drop it off. If you need something, take it. People were instructed to donate food every day or every other day at 6 p.m. or something like that. Yes, some people took advantage of it and never donated, but then that produce didn't go to waste either.

Jen Rouse said...

Hey, not even Barbara gave up cinnamon, or chocolate chips, or coffee. They allowed themselves a few non-local things, and spices/seasonings/pantry items were among them. I just finished that book too, and while I have no intention of ever going as drastic as she did, I'm trying to eat just a bit more locally, and being mindful of where I put my food dollars. I may not be changing the world, but at least I'm teaching my kids that fresh produce is the way to go, and that it comes from actual farmers, not just grocery store bins. (And yes, she does survive the winter, thanks to her copious amounts of canning in the fall).

Meg said...

If you leave zucchini on your porch, I will be so happy to come and get it Thursday on the way to the Library, and then I will be eating locally at least! (And of course we'd love to visit with you if you have the time or inclination.)

I like Barbara Kingsolver's books and ideas, but she does kind of stand on a pedestal. It scares me how dependent we are on foreign countries for our food. We live in a very productive country, with so many different climates and different opportunities to grow what we need (apples in Washington, oranges in California, corn in Iowa--I'm neither an economist nor an agriculturist) that I think we could eat nationally, at least, but we don't. Wheat from Austrailia, apples from Chile....Being aware of the problem is the first step. And while we can't all live like Barbara, we can be more aware of what we eat and when we eat.

Another great (and less intimidating) book on eating is "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan.

Ann Kroeker said...

My parents own two farms: the one I grew up on, and another that supposedly was to be our getaway.

We never did a lot of farming, though. Dad was a journalist and kept cows, renting out the fields to "real" farmers.

Because farming is a LOT of work.

We've toyed with the idea of buying a piece of their land and doing the organic thing (though we'd be farming next to pesticide-dependent farmers), but it's so much work. I mean, bye-bye-blogging, for sure.

So we shop at the farmer's market as much as possible to support locals.

Simple changes and baby steps. It's better than plugging my ears and humming to tune out the truth.

Antique Mommy said...

I've seen the book, but not read it. Looks interesting. In theory eating local sounds great! It sounds less great when I'm standing in front of a deli case full of imported yummy things. And I'm hungry.