Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Fair warning - I'm about to rant and wax philosophical about food politics. I will not be offended if you want to skip what will surely be a highly nerdy blog post.

*Edited to add: I have been working on this post for a day and a half now, and it's become incredibly long-winded, even for me. I just can't seem to edit it down because there is so much I want to say on this topic, sooooo I'm going to publish what I have now and save the rest for later. Again, no pressure. If book reports aren't your thing, go here and look at cute baby animals.*

{U.S Food Administration poster c. 1914-1918}
Apparently, the USDA was more forward thinking a hundred years ago than it is today. Today,  63% of the billions that the USDA spends on farm subsidies goes to support meat and dairy production, 20% goes toward grain production (with much of that grain ending up in the bellies of livestock), and less than 1% goes to support the growing of fruits and vegetables (source and source). Today, the US imports over 80 million dollars worth of food every year (source). Today, we throw away almost 26 tons of food annually; that's over a a quarter of all the food produced for domestic sale and consumption (source). Today, the food we eat has traveled an average of 1,500 miles before it makes it to our plates (source).

Those fun facts just scratch the surface. Our relationship with food -what we eat, when we eat it, and where we get it from-is out of whack. Throw politics and money into the mix and you have what can only be described as a schemozzle. When I watched Food Inc., I started to pay attention. Now that I have finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver, I am fully committed to shopping, cooking, and eating with awareness. I know that my education in this area is just beginning and that I have a lot to earn, but I'm looking forward to the journey.


Thanks to Kindle, I was able to highlight all of the fascinating and infuriating passages that struck me while I was reading, so now (if you're still reading), I'm going to share them with you. First, background -Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Mineral to document the year that she and her family spent eating locally grown foods. With only a few exceptions like coffee and olive oil, Kingsolver and her family eating only foods that they grew (or raised) themselves or purchased from local sources. Interspersed with anecdotes about the challenges of raising turkeys who seemed to have misplaced their maternal instincts and tips for dealing with August's plethora of squash, are astute observations and eye-opening statistics. You know how I love a good quote, but I'll try and limit myself...

First, there's the environmental argument. So much of what we eat comes from halfway around the world - apples from New Zealand, mangoes from Peru, shrimp from Vietnam. Moving and refrigerating all of that food over all of those miles wipes out any dent I think I might be making in my carbon footprint as I sit smugly behind the wheel of my Prius, my trunk full of (reusable!) bags stuffed with a veritable U.N. of produce.

"If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.

Then there's the selfish argument - locally grown, in season food just tastes better than food that is exhausted after having spent days, if not weeks, en route to your table. Plus, when you have to go a few months without an apple, you appreciate it all the more when they return to the farmers markets.

"Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they’re good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move “eating” in the consumer’s mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation. It’s hard to reduce our modern complex of food choices to unifying principles, but this is one that generally works: eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body."

{Farmers Market, August 2010}
Buying locally seems logical, and yet, so much of the world's food practices are not.

"In every country on earth, the most humane scenario for farmers is likely to be feeding those who live nearby—if international markets would allow them to do it. Food transport has become a bizarre and profitable economic equation that’s no longer really about feeding anyone: in our own nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons. If you care about farmers, let the potatoes stay home."

There is, of course, the argument that going out of your way to find locally grown food is time consuming, and it definitely can be. Despite the fact that San Diego boasts an abundance of local avocado farmers, the avocados at the Ralph's down the street are often from Chile, so that means that in order to buy local I have to find a farmer's market or go to Whole Foods. Going to Ralph's where I can also buy toothpaste and toilet paper is easier and faster.  In addition, if you're hardcore as Kingsolver unquestionably is and not fortunate enough to live some place like California where tomatoes only disappear from the "what's in season" list for three months, you will also spend your summer drying, canning, and freezing all the produce you can get your hands in order to survive winter's stinginess.
                                                                                                     Source: via Megan on Pinterest

In addressing the issue of all the time that she spends tending her garden, harvesting her crops, shopping for what she can't grow herself, and then cooking all of it for her family, Kingsolver tells a story about a weekend in college when she discovered a faster route from school to home. When she arrived at home she made sure that her family heard all about the "navigational brilliance" that had shaved thirty-seven minutes off of her drive. She writes that her grandfather paused for a moment before responding, "'Thirty-seven... And here you just used up fifteen of them telling all about it. What's your plan for the other twenty-two?'"

"I'm still stumped for an answer, whenever the religion of time-saving pushes me to zip through a meal or a chore, rushing everybody out the door to the next point on a schedule. All that hurry can blur the truth that life is a zero-sum equation. Every minute I save will get used on something else, possibly no more sublime than staring at the newel post trying to remember what I just ran upstairs for. On the other hand, attending to the task in front of me—even a quotidian chore—might make it into part of a good day, rather than just a rock in the road to someplace else."

                                                                                  Source: via Melanie on Pinterest

Kingsolver also discusses the importance of making time to break bread together. This passage struck me because when I was growing up, we almost always had dinner as a family. I'm sure it would have been much easier for my mother to give in to our repeated requests to eat in front of the TV or for my father to pick up something to eat on his way home from work, but they made eating together as a family a priority. Family dinners are still some of my favorite activities. And I was a National Merit Scholar, just saying.

"If I had to quantify it, I’d say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal. I’m sure I’m not the only parent to think so. A survey of National Merit scholars—exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography, and class—turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table. It’s not just the food making them brilliant. It’s probably the parents—their care, priorities, and culture of support. The words: 'I’ll expect you home for dinner.'"

Ugh, ok. Enough for now, I'm starting to annoy myself.

1 comment:

  1. you go girl! I did not finish reading all of it--I am packing for THE trip, but you have convinced me--we'll talk on the plane


Talk to me, Goose