June 1, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Helping June to bust out all over again

Cynthia Dewes“June is bustin’ out all over.” “O, what is so rare as a day in June?” “Summertime, when the livin’ is easy.” And so on. Despite whatever may be going on outdoors, it’s finally officially summer, or will be after the solstice on the 21st.

Which brings me to an interesting book by Barbara Kingsolver that I read recently: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. With her husband, Stephen L. Hopp, and daughter, Camille E. Kingsolver, the popular novelist has produced a non-fiction book chronicling a year’s experiment in eating foods produced near their home.

After moving from Arizona to their farm in Virginia, the family decided to devote one year to eating only what they could grow or raise themselves, plus locally produced vegetables, fruits and meat. The only foods they bought were organically-grown staples they could not grow themselves, such as rice or grains.

I was relieved to learn that their reasons for doing this were not based on what I consider wooly-brained idealism and bad science, the kind that often appears in earnest “green” propaganda.

Instead, they cited things like the long distances required to bring everyone out-of-season foods by air and truck. This creates huge expenditures of petroleum that cost money and add to our national dependency upon foreign oil.

Other determining factors are nutrition and taste. The tomato we pluck from our garden and eat today can be grown without a need for preservatives during shipping or chemicals added to the soil for quick production. This leads not only to better nutrients in our food, but also to fresher, more delicious taste.

The book’s argument also sounds sensible to me in its discussions of the food chain and the eating of meat. In nature, one animal eats another to survive and thrive, and so on up the chain to humans, who domesticate animals just for that purpose. It is not cruel or unnecessary, but a natural way to gain protein.

In relation to this, Kingsolver noted that many people today have no knowledge of where food comes from, and are ignorant of the most common biological facts. One animal rights person even told her that he thought milking cows in order to produce milk products for humans to eat was cruel. She said, having been a nursing mom herself a couple of times, she definitely knew it would be cruel not to milk the cows!

In addition to vegetables and fruits, the family raised turkeys and chickens. They used what are called “heritage breeds” rather than the commercially popular varieties which are bred for white meat production and fast growth. The results were delicious and challenging, including allowing the birds to mate naturally. This instinct is bred out of commercial poultry, among other strange procedures which ensure greater profits.

Stephen Hopp’s contributions to the book include information on the economic and political ramifications of local food production. Camille Kingsolver contributes amusing essays and mouthwatering recipes for cooking local foods, including meats and mushrooms. Also included in the book are the adventures of another daughter, 9-year-old Lily, who established a successful business raising chickens for egg profits.

Rachel Carson’s memory has been honored recently for her book Silent Spring, which warned early on of the dangers of pesticides and other unnatural agricultural practices.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle may serve a similar moral purpose, with its good-humored encouragement of local food production.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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