Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life. by Barbara Kingsolver, 2007. Published by HarperCollins.
I found this book (and, coincidentally, its author) in the year of its 10th Anniversary – that is, 2017. Barbara Kingsolver, being unknown to me, appeared to be a passionate writer whose voice I did not find to be completely at ease in this tale of non-fiction, chronicling her first year as a Locavore in a small farming community in Virginia, USA. I found the narrative slow in places, obstructed by a few too many by-the-bys and overly wordy lines. Still, she skillfully weaves stories together, linking elements throughout each chapter so that by the end I barely realised that I had walked with her from Spring’s muddy swan song, through Summer’s dripping harvest and on to Winter’s comfortingly generous larder. A whole year of eating well and locally.
It’s a subject I’m keenly interested in as it is exactly what myself and Hendrik have in mind to do in the nearest possible future. As hopeful future farm dwellers I duly note with importance that, generally, it can be quite impossible to live sustainably in a rural setting unless one turns toward subsistence living in a major way (Moriarty 2002, 243). While the term denotes an aspect of just scraping through by the skin of ones teeth, Kingsolver’s testimony is that such a life is full to the brim! Busy and hard work it sure is, but nevertheless also richly rewarding, deeply satisfying and quite (and quietly) attainable.
Her account of “harvesting” her chickens seemed also well within reach. It is, in fact, this moment around which her whole year of living locally hangs because what’s a year of eating without a central protein source? And if it’s not tofu imported from Japan, rice imported from China or beans imported from Mexico or Italy then it either has to be beans from ones own garden or meat. Local meat. And the most local meat is your own. If you have land enough and excess produce enough then raising your own fowl or hoof is almost a no brainer, which is not to say that it does not constitute a good deal of thought.
Thought is what Kingsolver treats us to with this account. Thought about how GMO plants can cause more havoc on living creatures than the local slaughterhouse, about how pesticides dole out their own deal of death to innocent creatures, up through the food chain and about how the industrial food machine does not exactly treat the earth, and therefore its animal inhabitants, kindly, at all. Her issuing of Kahlil Gibran’s ode to the animal at slaughter is perhaps about as profound as we can get around the subject of eating meat ourselves, though some may find this wanting, which I do respect. It’s a tricky subject and I find no perfect solution.
“When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart:
By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed.
For the law that delivers you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.
Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”
I myself am a meat eater, and Kingsolver’s call to Locavory is the most genuine call to eating meat, in respect to the cycle of life, that I can so far imagine.
For someone wanting to know more about the how-on-earth-can-it-be-done of subsistence farming, or self-sufficient farming (which Kingsolver also renders a myth, as much of her ability to subsist depends on a close farming community) then this is a good book to turn to. With a tenth anniversary addition it even seems attainable for the long haul, in fact, much of the thrust of this book is that it is not only attainable, but it is essential and the reset point of much of history seems to be the return to local, family farming communities.
In such a time as this I find that claim the most comforting I have come across recently.
Moriarty, Patrick. 2002. Environmental Sustainability of Large Australian Cities. Urban Policy and Research. 20(3). 233-244.