Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Animal Vegetable Madison

I'm not a lifelong reader but since showing up to Madison and joining a book club, I've trained myself to read for fun. I'm reminded of Olivia's kindergarten classmate, Frankie, who showed up to school not knowing his letters or his numbers. And his mom, after the first parent teacher conference, telling me, "I thought that's what starting school was for. He's been out climbing trees for four years." I think I might have been a Frankie. My mom and dad were readers but it never interested me much beyond Tiger Beat and the occasional smutty book in junior high. When I could get away with it for homework, I read book jackets to do book reports. I was so jealous and baffled by my pleasure reading friends. TV was way more interesting and still is.

I do read quite a lot now but it's still not easy for me. I read slowly. I lose track and have to go back a few pages regularly to find where I started thinking about Lindsay Lohan or the rattle in the car engine or Swedish Fish and stopped paying attention to the story. So listening to Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver on CD, a book whose length daunted me everytime I grabbed for it, was the perfect choice.

I'm about halfway through the book and already I've been moved to write her a letter thanking her... but for what? Getting the attention of a bad reader, maybe? I wouldn't say I've been transformed by this book, because it's almost a work of fiction just to think about living all year on food that's locally grown or made, especially in this climate. That's a lot of moldy potatoes and squash come January. Furthermore, how much Wollersheim Prairie Fume can a woman drink before succumbing to madness? Yes, it's the little crucial things like booze and cigs that will forever keep me addicted to Big Oil. But can I reduce my addiction by just a little bit? I have been enlightened to the fact that eating foods out of region and out of season enables the oil industry to keep itself indispensable to our country and also that trucked-in food makes for a real crapshoot where food flavor is concerned. Every time I eat a tasteless kiwi, I recognize now that there was a truck and an airplane churning out diesel fumes and enlarging my carbon footprint just so I could be exotic for a minute. Not to be preachy because I do hate preachiness more than I hate a tasteless kiwi, but didn't Al Gore and Sesame Street charge us with doing what we can to save the Earth's dwindling resources? And since it's the high growing season in southern Wisconsin, there is no better time to try this little experiment of Barbara's. Is food grown locally and recently for that matter more tasty? Can I reconnect with some tastes of yore like carrots that taste like, well, carrot?

Now Barbara was paid to take her family off the food grid. She wrote a book about it and I assume got a nice juicy advance in order to do so. I still have Kraft Mac and Cheese in the cupboard, Ore Idas in the freezer and I can see the Jif jar from where I'm sitting. (Organic peanut butter eaters are just lonely attention seekers--oh, yes I did just go there) But can I make some small changes that might help my family's tastebuds as well as good old Earth? Being unemployed of course makes this pursuit so much easier and of course if anybody wanted to pay me to keep going with this smashup of Barbara Kingsolver's idea, I might consider giving up everything but the Jif.

Last week we tried swiss chard for the first time... with enough butter, garlic and onion, those leafy greens can really satisfy. This week, I've taken the plunge on the purchase of beets. I have also bought plenty of mint for mojitos in case the beets are yucky.


  1. I'm all for regional seasonal. And organic where feasible and sensible (yes to milk and carrots, no to watermelon and bananas). But this stuff is hugely complicated. For a Brit, eating an apple from New Zealand produces less of a carbon footprint than an apple from their own Kent. It has to do with growing season,trucking v. shipping, etc etc. Plus, I lived for years on regional seasonal in Poland. We got our vitamin C from sour cabbage.

    But, I'm with the concept in principle. I cannot believe they're selling asparagus from Peru right now. (And then I worry about the poor Peruvians...)

    On beets: roast them! Yum!

  2. This may be one of my all-time favorite books ever. And not just cuz, like local organic spinach, it's good for me, but because it was such a joy to read. Kingsolver is simply great.

    (And who you callin' out with the organic P.B., dearie?!)

    One of the real benefits I've found moving to the upper midwest is that I'm usually just a few blocks from a corn field, and at this late stage in life, I'm getting to know the seasons and the life-cycle of our food. Who knew you weren't supposed to eat strawberries year 'round?! (OK, oysters only in months that end in R, I get that.)

    Every little bit helps, and I'm grateful for her inspiration and enlightenment to make some better choices. I really appreciate taking the kid to pick raspberries from Anutie Nancy's garden, then freezing them for winter. And for our north shore excursion, I'll bring the locally-crafted, hormone-free mozzarella and the MN tomatoes for a caprese salad. (The olive oil will still be Italian.) :)

  3. I am currently distributing tubs of "baby food" round the family - a mush made from the blackberries, apples and blackcurrants from the garden, that somehow fight through the weeds each year. Despite my good intentions of proper gardening, neglect tends to win. I sit inside and chuckle over books like "The $64 dollar tomato" about other people trying self-sufficiency. Excellent book by the way. Sure you could get it on CD!

  4. Julie,
    I love that you acknowledge that taking small steps to save the planet is ok. Our book club had a choice of three books last month, including Kingsolver's. I think it would be very hard to change habits overnight...but a little at a time, you bet. I love preserving the local berries in jelly, filling my downstairs frig with squash in late October, picking apples and pumpkins. When I ride my bike through all the beautiful farmland here, I do wonder if it will be here in 20 years. It is such a gift.

  5. Have thoroughly enjoyed your blog, Julie. You write so well and have a wonderful sense of humor; like the pix, too. I have a question about the Community Coffee your dad sends you. Would you please e.m. me at Thanks.

    Jackie (Tom's sister)