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Monday, October 22, 2007

RevGalBookPals - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

CATHY: It all began in the spring, as I was looking for interesting new books to read. Perhaps I should say it all began, because I had been dabbling in eating healthier and being more intentional in my eating habits. Our local community had decided to go on a weight loss program which produced a total weight loss of almost 10 tons, and being slow on the draw, I don’t participate in the community’s program but my own diet, with the help with an online weight loss program.

However, I tried to think back as to when I had the earliest recollection of buying locally. I remember the vehicle well - it was a mint green Rambler Station Wagon and the man came to our neighborhood with his vegetables and eggs. I remember that he looked OLD to me and he had glasses that made his eyes look really big to me. (Funny how you remember such things in childhood). He would open up the back of the station wagon to show off the vegetables and eggs that he was selling). Then as I was shaking the cobwebs out of gray matter, I remember the milk being delivered in glass containers with a paper lift lid on the top and being delivered to our front door. Sometimes we had to go to the dairy to buy our milk and it was less than a mile away from our home. Wow, I guess we really did buy locally back then.

I don't know when that all stopped, but convenience became a big deal -- tv trays and frozen dinners were magical back then -- as we would watch the evening news for dinner (well we didn't watch it because we only had one TV and it wasn't facing the dining room table and well, tv trays were only for special occasions). And no fighting on what channel to watch, because only one channel came in good then. Anyway, I digress...

Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life takes us through a journey of a year in the life of their family as they "go local" - growing their own food, as well as buying local foods from the folks that lived in their community. The discuss the trials and tribulations of living life without bananas (they don't grow in the southern Appalachians), eating foods only while in season, and sex (yes sex! but it's not what you think so read the book if you're interested). And they had their exceptions to the rules (ahhh coffee!). (Note that you can check out their web site here to find local resources in your area).

Our church book club just finished discussing this book and I will say it brought some very interesting thoughts about what we could do and what we were not able to do as consumers in today's world. So, in light of the book, these are some questions I pose to you readers of the book. If you have not read the book, you may want to listen to the interview here.

1. Two churches in our diocese whose book group has read this book for a book study. How might this book be used in terms of personal stewardship? How might it affect ministry in the church if they took on a ministry in this area?

2. In listening to a radio interview, Kingsolver states that it is a peculiar habit we have in today’s world to begin our daily quest for food with the question "What do we want?" instead of "What do we have?" How might that apply to other parts of our lives? How does it apply to our spiritual lives?

3. One of the ways that the book has influenced me was to encourage me to search for alternative options for obtaining our vegetables. Our family subscribed to a gardening subscription service (community sustained agriculture) in which we receive our vegetables from a organic gardener. It’s one step that we have taken that we found works for us. How has this book changed how you are eating or purchasing food? What alternatives are available in your area?

Now for fun... what is a local food that is unique to your area? For example, grits is a main staple where I live (YOU SHOULD SEE THOSE GRITS FIELDS). For some of you, you may have never eaten it. So.... suppose I came to your place and visited. What would you want me to have that would be a part of your world?

I have a pitcher of iced tea (sweetened for those of you who want to have the local experience), a bowl of boiled peanuts, as we are in the height of pulling peanuts here. I would offer apple pie, but we can't grow apples here. How about some fried sucker fish and swamp gravy (in our fair city)?

Mary Beth will come in to cover the day shift here and will add her assortment of local foods. Please join in to the party and discuss your thoughts on the book. I'll be around after work.

MARY BETH: Thanks, Cathy! for the great kickoff! I must say that I have never eaten any sucker fish but I am certainly intrigued. And, grits...ummmm.....sign me up.

Cathy's the one who turned me on to this book. I was already a HUGE Kingsolver fan from way back. I went out and BOUGHT it (a big step for me) and it was not a mistake). I spent a sleepless night finishing it, and arose changed! I wrote about it on my blog here.

I am extremely fortunate to have grown up with North Florida grandparents who had huge gardens at both their town and beach houses. They grew (let me see if I can get it all): Vidalia onions, garlic, pimientos, bell peppers, cream peas, green beans, blackeye peas, squash, zucchini, figs, MILLIONS OF TOMATOES (there was a separate patch just for tomatoes) and I don't mean a little bit of each one! They canned and canned and canned and canned...they also dragged a net for mullet in front of the beach house, set crab traps, went fishing and scalloping...made jam and jelly. I don't think 'eating locally' was their impetus. They had lived through the Depression, so saving money was, and using what the land and the sea gave us. Memamma was a farm girl (who cooked for field hands all her life, even when WE were her audience!) and Bigdaddy was a chemist who loved experimenting with soil amendments.

The upshot was, though I grew up in a suburb of Houston, I knew where a lot of my food came from, from my grandparents and from my mom doing the same things. I remember watching a 50's movie in 8th grade science where Dick and Jane were watching Mother can jelly. The voice-over said, "You've probably seen your mother pour the jelly into jars before the canning process..." all around me kids were laughing, shaking their heads, saying, "nope...never saw her do THAT!" It was as if the movie mom were Wilma Flintstone, cleaning a pterodactyl.

Back to this summer and the book. I LOVED going to the local grower's market each Saturday. I delighted in it.'s over until June. What to do!? teh Internets!

To find out what's in season in YOUR neck of the woods, I suggest a Google search such as "produce in season 'texas'" This, for example, brought me to the Texas Department of Agriculture's Produce Guide, listed by month. To find a local or organic foods co-op, try a search like "north texas organic food coop" (you'll substitute your locale, of course!) The one at GreenPeople is a good starter. Also, if you have a local natural food store, you can buy there - they are usually pretty good about labeling local produce as such.

I am struggling a bit with keeping up with my local eating resolve. It was so much easier this summer...when the bounty was spread before me in the courthouse parking lot, and my neighbors were the sellers. But I'm determined to keep working on it!

Oh, and what's my local delicacy right now? Umm, corny dogs and fried Oreos at the State Fair of Texas? No?...well, I'm loving fall greens like kales and turnips cooked into soups. Sweet potatoes. Butternut squash. Gotta go make a grocery list!


  1. Mmmm... grits and boiled peanuts. Sounds like MY hometown!

    How about some pan-fried turnip greens, Hoppin' John and cornbread?

    I'm looking forward to the discussion!

  2. Rev Mommy - that does sound good. Remember those of you from who only eat the turnip roots, the green parts... are good too -- take that cornbread (not sweet) and crumble it over the greens OR get the pot "likker" and pour it over the bread. Now that's some good eatin'

    Ok...on with the discussion!

  3. I'm early, I'll be back later in the day!

    in the meantime, I'll ponder your questions.

  4. As a working single mother, I am constantly torn between being a responsibile consumer (i.e. buying locally grown foods, avoiding Walmart and big box stores, etc.) and convenience that allows me to get food on the table more quickly and cheaply. Sometimes those two things are mutually exclusive. It's an ongoing battle for me.

    I was surprised that I enjoyed a book about food so much! I learned a lot. It inspired me to grow my own garden this summer - an adventure like no other! I can't say it was a complete success because I couldn't spend time daily (or at least every other day) to do it right. It was not a complete loss, however. Just last night my family enjoyed corn that I grew and put up in the freezer. Yum!

    I REALLY like the "What do we want?" vs the "What do we have?" questions. I plan to spend some time mulling over that - for the church, too!

  5. Maybe its because I've lived all my life in urban areas close to the valley in Texas and Mexico which produce a significant portion of the food for the US, so I don't share the author's family history of growing my own food.

    Or maybe its because of my notorious black thumb.

    Or maybe because when the price of transporting produce long distances to areas where the product is out of season makes it expensive, I think the market for its sale becomes very small thus addressing many of the issues Kingsolver raises.

    For these and other reasons, I was not persuaded by Animal Vegetable Mineral to run out and plant a little truck garden in the backyard.

    In some ways, I found it an interesting read. It's always instructive to see how utopian experiments pan out in real life. Kingsolver did a good job of showing how she tried to balance her idealistic plan with the "wants" of herself and her family and the real problems she encountered in carrying it out. Some of the recipes were interesting and some of them didn't sound very potable to me.

    By the end of the book, I was exhausted just reading about all the hard work and extra hours she and her family put in raising their own food.

    It made me appreciate the wonders of the modern agricultural industy and its outlets in my town: HEB, Central Market, Whole Foods and Kroger. Thanks y'all, for sparing me many hours of work on the back 40 in order to put food on the table. Or in my case, given my complete lack of gardening aptitude, not putting food on the table despite hours of back-breaking grubby effort.

  6. I love grits.

    May I have permission to read all the post and comments and NOT read this book? My to-be-read stack is looks like a tower.

  7. just back from Ireland - and you know what -it's so depressing that Mcdonalds, Burger King and yeah we ended up in Subway are THE outlets that you find most easily in Dublin.

    local franchises and industries really struggle don't they.

    Local foods? In Finland! erm ... salmon is great but mostly fish-farmed nowadays,and Finns eat even more potatoes (mostly boiled) than the Irish.

  8. PS I haven't read (or got) the book. But I have got the December one (M. D'engle) already so am excited about that!

  9. I beg to differ w/ Quotidian Grace but the price of shipping produce across the country (somehow) doesn't raise the price enough to discourage purchasers and limit supply. The bags of California-grown lettuce that fly off the shelves of my mid-west grocery in October (and year round) are evidence.

  10. I never ate turnip roots until I was grown. Isn't that funny? Did we throw away the turnips? Or I guess just buy greens...

    I'm intrigued by the question of "what I want" vs. "what I have." I'm very guilty of having a pantry full of food and buying more. I think that for me, the ultimate "eat locally" needs to START with inventorying what is in the pantry and freezer and eating THAT up.

    It's hard...I have food issues and derive a lot of security from having lots of food handy. Time to look at those.

  11. One of the reasons I think Kingsolver was successful in the venture was years of preplanning. In addition, she made her gardening, chicken and turkey raising, etc. a major priority and project of her life. As a writer I know she was VERY busy, but she didn't have to go to an 8-5 (or other shift) job every day!

    It's not practical for most of us to do what she did. The question is...what CAN we do? For instance, the bagged salad is ever so seductive to me (even with the salmonella scares!)...but I do try to resist!

  12. :O fried oreos! Who knew there was such! but I'll take the greens and cornbread too.

  13. Is there any better food than that which comes from the State Fair of Texas? Now that reminds me of home and good times.

  14. HMMM. We have gotten to be foodies this past week with the friday five. Now this. I am trying NOT to think about food. Can anyone help me?

  15. jumping in again ... I'm always struck with culture shop when I come back to Finland from abroad - because in the UK (and Ireland) and also in the USA /Canada the stores are so much bigger and there's so much choice - but the sad thing is that the choice is limited to the same products in every store.

    You don't see much local produce at all - and I really fail how NewZealand lamb and apples can be cheaper than local produce but it is!

    Finland is deluged with cheaper vegetables and other products from mainland EU - so we are heading the same way.

    On a different note though I've never heard of eating turnip greens - we always eat the roots here (in stews and soups for example), or as a vegetable usually boiled and then mashed. Sometimes though it's even raw in salads :)

  16. Our household is "green" to a point -- obviously in the Upper Midwest there's a point in the year when we have to put aside our "locally grown" principles and purchase fresh produce from other places; my work schedule and my partner's mobility issues (she has rheumatoid arthritis) limit our ability to garden on a large enough scale to support a household, even on a seasonal basis; and our location, in a non-foodie/non-health-oriented rural area, means traveling over a half hour to get to the nearest food coop...which gets you into the irony of using excessive amounts of fossil fuel in order to be a good organic do-bee and shop at a food coop. But, despite all this, we do what we from the local farm growers and our Amish neighbors and try to buy products made by more environmentally and socially responsible companies.

    One thing we have found: Local tastes better. Skeptics don't believe it, but it is true. Our Amish neighbors' knobby, visally unlovely Irish Cobbler potatoes have such a wonderful flavor -- supermarket potatoes can't compare. Ditto our buddy Farmer Ken's eggs and roasters.

  17. Chaos and Entropy (my girls) discovered farm fresh eggs last year -- their grandfather and Aunt Susie raise chickens and gather the eggs every morning.

    They had them scrambled and poached and fried and boiled everyday until Chaos caught a chicken in the midst of laying an egg...

    Then it was just a chorus of "Ewwww..." for a day.

    The next day they were back to eating the fresh eggs because there really IS a difference in taste!

  18. "What I want vs. what I have" is an intensely spiritual question, indeed. Our culture seems to be all about want, and I swear that is the reason many of our relationships end or our jobs leave us dissatisfied. Chain stores of all kinds have begun to erase regional differences, and to idealize our expectations. It feels revolutionary to walk away from that as Kingsolver did.
    We're not situated such that a garden would be possible, much less practical, but we are blessed to have the weekly farmer's market within walking distance. However, our growing season is short, short, short. To have green vegetables all winter would require an enormous amount of canning and would leave you with a limited repertoire, sort of like living out a chapter of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. I believe I would miss my daily banana, and so would my dog, Sam, who get the end of it every morning!

  19. I think Kingsolver is not promoting doing a garden or farm on such a grand scale as her own. What she's pointing out is that even a few veggies grown in a yard, or even in a container on the porch, can cut down on costs, cut down on fossil fuel usage, and by golly, they just plain taste better!
    She talks about getting locally grown food as well. Not only does it cut down on shipping and fuel costs, but you know the people who have handled your food, you're supporting the local economy, and, again, it just plain tastes better when it's fresh!
    I'm with preacher mom that I struggle with responsibility versus convenience. I do intend to have a small garden next spring, since I didn't get to have one in our rental place this year, if for no other reason than the taste.
    American consumers have gotten so used to being able have any kind of produce at any time of year, that they don't think twice about its origins. And they don't realize how little taste these items have compared to something local and fresh.
    It takes a new way of thinking about food and how and where we get it. We're a pretty environmentally responsible family, but I'd never thought about the way we buy food as making a difference, now I do, and want to incorporate it, at least in part, to the things we try to do to be responsible.
    BTW, the pcusa website has a curriculum on food that would be a great follow up to a church book club study. Go to and look up "Just Eating?"

  20. Wow - I have gotten home and lo and behold, lots of great discussion.

    One of the things I have found in the garden subscription service is getting to know the person who has grown the food - hearing the rejoicing of a crop that has done well and then.... when the insects get to a part of the garden and it's famine time if you want a certain vegetable.
    Right now, the hens have decided to slow down production, so we get fewer eggs, however, our cup runneth over with the pears.

    Ok, all you turnip folks - please don't throw away the greens part of the turnip - do they sell just the root? Surely not!

    BTW, don't you find it interesting that is costs more to buy an apple than a twinkie?

  21. Oh, I did want to share that one of our churches in the diocese is looking into sponsoring a farmer's market at their church since there is not a market in their local community.

    Who and what all is impacted with a church taking that on as a part of their ministry to the community?

  22. i'm another one who wants to post something without having read the book (i'd fully intended to buy or borrow it, but was way behind in too many other things). the memories and today's realities of locally grown make such an intriguing topic; i'll be back later today or early tomorrow, after a huge helping of grits, greens, cornbread (1 cup of cornmeal, 1 tbsp of flour...)etc.

  23. It occurs to me that most of us would have trouble pulling this off even on a much more limited and modest scale working on our own as individual families--but it might work out if several households worked on it together. For example one household drives to the farmers market and gets veggies for everyone. One family plants the garden. Another family takes on the job of researching where local eggs, milk, meat etc. can be found while yet another household goes out and does the procuring of such. A retired couple with more free time does the canning. etc. etc.

  24. This afternoon I made a wonderful pot of lentil soup with our beautiful organic kale from the co-op. Joining a co-op (conveniently, the pickup point is right in my neighborhood) has certainly helped us eat more veggies. I've learned to cook all kinds of things that I have never cooked before. (Beet greens! Who knew?) And I love our local eggs--naturally green, blue, or brown, from free-range hens, they really do taste better (as do the hens themselves!).

    It does bother me that not a lot of our co-op veggies and fruits are local. The person who runs our co-op found that the largest organic farm in our region sells much of its produce to Whole Foods, and doesn't have much left over for little co-ops and farmers' markets. There are two weekly farmers' markets in our county, but each is 15 miles or so from my home, and at some point I have to weigh whether going all the way out there is worth the gasoline (and its emissions). Since some of those farmers do provide produce to the co-op, indirectly I'm already supporting their efforts anyway.

    I have grown tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, and squash in the past, and have made jam from strawberries and from wild dewberries that we picked in the country. (And my mom made awesome plum jelly, Mary Beth!) Those are things that have been crowded out of my life in recent years. Not even a tomato plant. I miss that. We do still enjoy the harvest from our backyard trees (pecan and peach). I can't imagine growing my own food to the extent that Kingsolver's family did, though.

    "What do we have" instead of "what do we want" is a valid and important question, not only in being good stewards of our food, but of other things too. (How many pairs of shoes do we really need?)

    As far as ministry ideas, there is a Methodist church in my community that does have its own vegetable garden. I am sure that the members who are involved enjoy working together in the garden. They donate the food to our local food bank. A couple of times, I have had the pleasure of volunteering there on days when the Methodists brought in a load of their beautiful vegetables for distribution!

    A good website to look for CSA's and other sources of local food in your area is

  25. I've really enjoyed this book -- at least April through August :). Kingsolver takes on the local food experiment on a grand scale that none of us suburbanites could do. For her and her family, though, it wasn't really such a huge step. They spent years preparing their garden and getting to know their land. Even what they did in Tuscon was a precursor. She also doesn't expect everyone to follow her.

    I'm with purechristian that a community could do more of this than an individual family.

    My intended small response is to start a small garden and the compost pile to enrich it. I may also go in on a CSA with another family at church. Oh, yeah, and talk about the idea of supporting local agriculture as much as I can.

    Great read! Great comments!

  26. I'm just responding to Cathy's ideas, so please remember I've yet to read the book.

    Alternatives in my area include a Saturday Farmer's Market a few streets over; a couple of sort of chain (meaning more than once of each) food stores that both have great produce, but their "natural" brands of packaged and scoop-out-of-the-bin cereals and other grains, etc., are about on a par with the no-name stuff at the 99¢ Only store, which, by the way, is a fabulous source for fresh, inexpensive produce, often in extensive variety. During the berry season I shop there 2x or 3x a week.

    Some of my own culinary history includes growing up eating lots of Southern and Midwestern food, and I still love those Americana basics, though nowadays I cook and eat very little of either aside from what someone may bring to a church potluck. As a young undergrad shopping on my own for the first time, I used to be ecstatic whenever I found my favorite fruits and berries in the market out-of-season, but it took me forever to discover they'd been engineered to be long-keepers that could be hauled long distances without spoiling, and I still haven't quite learned flavors and textures from faraway lands usually aren't as irresistible as those locally grown. Pretty much forever I've eaten low on the food chain and can be very happy with lunches of rice and beans; virtually every day I enjoy a basic (rice, beans, pico de gallo and sometimes potato) burrito for lunch or supper. At an informal sit-down restaurant I'll often order a burger, and make a point of announcing it's "my annual burger," though that's just for effect, since I eat more like 2 or 3 per year than just 1, because you can't eat just one.

    When you visit this part of the world, I want you to enjoy the avocados that abound in these here parts--I'll make guacamole and a bowl of last Friday 5's 7-layer dip; how about some cheese from Happy Cows and several glasses of inexpensive varietal California wines (white is my preference, though you're welcome to red)?! Mexican culinary influences run high in the Southwest, especially styles and flavors from the northwestern states of Baja California and Sonora, and I'd love for you to feast on a well-stuffed fajita burrito, either on this side or that side of the international border. I really like carne asada, but will be happy to fix vegetarian or pollo instead.

    Regarding food and ministry, the church I served on the East Coast had a backyard field, and a couple of apartment-dweller members planted their own gardens. I'd like to see that happening elsewhere, though both that neighborhood and one in High Desert City had community gardens where you could rent a plot for a nominal charge. In terms of current ministry, of course there are potlucks (though not at Presbyterian Gal's church), and one of my current churches hosts a monthly First Saturday Lunch, which often includes offerings from member's own gardens. In spite of a relatively short season, Nick, my East Coast friend, grows flowers, veggies and berries, and he's the only person I know of who consistently maintains a compost, something my grandmother always did. My Tucson friend, Carla, who lives in a fairly dense residential area, has at least a dozen, very productive citrus trees and on another note, has a National Wildlife Certified Wildlife Habitat. Thanks, Cathy and MB--now to read the book.

  27. When I was growing up in Ohio, we had an orchard that we lived in the middle of with a large variety of fruit trees, a large garden, a chicken coop and a grocery store to sell all of the stuff- the fruit we gave away, the excess.
    Now I have 500 sq. ft. on the 11th fl. in the middle of Manhattan with a pot of basil on the dining room/living room table (won't last long.) But we do go to the farmers market most Saturdays.
    I haven't read the book, yet, but I love those grits.

  28. However, our growing season is short, short, short. Says Songbird

    which makes me laugh ... it's even shorter here in Finland :)

    which is why most of the local veg is rootbased - and why soups are popular (though not with kids) - and yeah why we succumb to buying lento-tomatti (flying tomatoes - flown in from the canary isles) and all kinds of imported fruit and veg.

    Finns are into berries. They spend weekends collecting them (blueberries, raspberries, and all kinds of berries you (and I) have never heard of. Then freeze them and use them throughout the year.

    My Mother in Law also makes home made cordial from them and it's delicious. But it's very time consuming and that's the real problem with all of this isn't it ... we have different priorities. I'm not into gardening (we do grow onions most years ) and I'd rather read a good book that work hard on farming of any kind ... that's the truth.

    I cook from scratch mostly (because conveneience foods aren't readily available here) but most of the stuff is bought from the local supermarket -and if I'm honest I can see me changing my habits - though we do buy fairtrade /organic fruit where we can (again it's rather new here)

    Somedays we're just grateful that the supermarket has some choice ... but thereagain the limited selection makes shopping faster :)

  29. Hee hee, flying tomatoes!

    Lorna says it well...what are our priorities? Do we think they need to change? (no "shoulding" here)

    Maybe, maybe not. But they probably bear some looking at.

    Mine sure do.


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