Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Yes, despite my busy-ness, I said “yes” when my neighbor started a book club. We only meet every two months, so even I can fit that into my schedule. The first book was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Since food has been the defining political/personal issue of my adult/mother life and since I rank Poisonwood Bible in my top 10 favorite novels, I was thrilled to read AVM, the chronicle of Kingsolver and her family’s foray into eating only food they grew themselves or could obtain locally. Overall, an inspiring, well-crafted ode to good food and being connected to each other and the land that sustains us. Quibbles: I would have appreciated more acknowledgment of the fact that choosing to live and eat the way they did was enabled by a certain amount of financial security and inheritance; I would’ve liked to see a more comprehensive debate about vegetarianism; the references to feminism were similarly incomplete.

Although most people may be able to grow a bit of food, a spread of land and the time to cultivate it isn’t the norm for the average American – even in Humboldt County, where we can at least buy local with greater regularity than the majority of grocery shoppers. The idea of planting dozens of anything only resonated so much. Although I aspire to similar ideals, comparing the Kingsolver family’s farm to a small patch of sand doesn’t quite work.

Then again, our former neighbor grew everything from eggplants to basil to raspberries and tomatoes in his backyard, so perhaps I’m simply wimping out.

Kingsolver describes the moment when her family opted out of the factory-farming food chain, but they opt back into meat-eating once quality local meat is available. While I admire the willingness to raise and butcher one’s own meat – and certainly get the hypocrisy in eating trucked-in soy as opposed to local chickens – the inclusion of the tired argument that humans have canines (read John Robbins for the complete story, but those “sharp” teeth bear little resemblance to true canines – just go out to the field and try to bite into a cow and you’ll see what I mean) and the failure to address those of us who are still not enamored of the idea of eating critters, no matter how compassionately raised and slaughtered, disappointed me.

Further, while I understand her premise put forth that in fighting for the right for women to work outside the home, feminism inadvertently devalued the work done in the home – and what could be more important than taking responsibility for the family’s sustenance? – Kingsolver’s point of view seems to blame the women who attempted to make the world a more equal place for women without addressing the circumstances that led to the revolution. The drudgery and solitude of housework are not mentioned. I understand that her family worked in unison and supported each other, but for many women, choosing to grow food, shop locally and cook from scratch mean an immense undertaking of work that is largely unsupported and unvalued, no matter how noble it truly is.

None of this should discourage anyone from reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Again, I embrace the ideals set forth. But in imagining applying them to my life, I notice what’s left out and what differs from my own reality.

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2 thoughts on “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”

  1. I’d like to read this one. I keep striving to grow and buy more local but I’ve got a long way to go.

    As a stay at home mom, I’d like to see her attempts to revalue the work of the home but I don’t want to see her devalue women who work at outside jobs either.

  2. Home work (as opposed to homework) is about the most valuable kind of work that can be done; taking care of family is the core of everything else that matters.

    The problem was/is that kind of work isn’t valued in society outside of the occasional lip service. People still don’t consider it “working,” you don’t get the satisfaction of a paycheck, social supports for stay-at-home parents are so minimal as to be nonexistent – if you don’t work outside the home, you’re treated as if you’re somehow indulged. Lucky you.

    Food especially, plays such a powerful role in our economic and personal health, you’d think a person who spends her time raising, cooking and otherwise working to provide for her family that way would be widely respected. But again, not so much. If you work outside the home and spend your paychecks on frozen pizzas and ready-made salads, you’re more likely to be treated as an equal. No wonder women tired of the endless, mostly thankless work of homemaking – but I wish the women’s movement had sparked a concurrent emphasis on the importance of the work done in service to family and earth.

    When women gained more opportunities to provide financially for their families and seek personal fulfillment through career goals, I wish as dramatic a movement to involve men in the care of the home and children had taken place. I wish the importance of what happens in the home hadn’t initially been settled on the shoulders of women, making it “women’s work” and hence somehow lesser, further enforcing the belief that what matters takes place in the job market, not the grocery store.

    Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course. Many women would love to escape the bonds of home and work elsewhere; many women would love to spend their days baking bread and pulling weeds from between the kale shoots. But the inherent value of the second doesn’t erase the sometimes desperate need of the first.

    That’s what I feel Kingsolver glossed over.

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