Wednesday, August 29, 2012


There is so much information available today on food production and my decision to read about it in book form wasn't easy.  One can become depressed, angered, feel powerless, and all sorts of other emotions that are unpleasant when reading about what has been happening in the food sector.  In deciding to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver I was influenced by the fact that the technical information would be couched in a casual narrative of this family's year of eating "local" and growing their own food.

Kingsolver presents a plethora of information on all aspects of the food industry.  Here are a few passages from the book:
*  Modern U.S. consumers now get to taste less than 1 percent of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a century ago.
*  Six companies - Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis, and Dow - now control 98 percent of the world's seed sales.
*  An estimated 67 million birds die each year from pesticide exposure on U.S. farms.

Kingsolver's family took a vow to eat only foods grown and produced locally which meant that they needed to radically change their diets. No more bananas, salmon and many other foods that they were used to.  In addition to their other life tasks (work, school, etc.) they now also needed to plant, tend and harvest their food.   They needed to cook their meals rather than to eat at restaurants.  They needed to prepare their produce for long-term storage.  Their trials and rewards are all recorded.

Daughter, Camille, assumes a key role in the book, adding sidebars of her own, and tackling such topics as whether potatoes are good for us (due to high nutritional value) or bad for us (due to their high glycemic index, their ability to make us gain weight, and their contribution to type II diabetes).  She points out that eating potato skins isn't always safe since conventional potatoes are among the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables.  Since this family grows their own, their potatoes are safe.  Camille includes seasonal recipes for potato salad.  Recipes from the book can also be found at

Camille, a vegetarian, experienced difficulties with her friends over her food preferences.  Apparently, they felt that she was becoming too vociferous in her views.  After careful consideration, Camille decides that it is best to be less judgmental of others, to present her views as less of a mandate and more of a "choice" based on full knowledge.

Despite the heaviness of the topic, Kingsolver manages to present the material in a charming, readable manner, occasionally incorporating wit.  One small example - she includes a New York saying:  "A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat."

Two thumbs up for this book.

By the way, you may already be familiar with Barbara Kingsolver.  She has written twelve books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction including the novels "The Poisonwood Bible" and "The Bean Trees."

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