Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Food for thought

My post title is that of a chapter from Serve God, Save the Planet. This post is a combination of thoughts from Dr. Sleeth, as well as some of what I learned from recently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

After studying the issue of vegetarianism which he had previously deemed too radical, Sleeth discovered that ten times more energy, water and grain is needed to produce a pound of beef or pork than a pound of milk or cheese. As a result, Sleeth's family gradually dropped meat from their daily meals until it was part of only a couple dinners a week.

According to Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp, "each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles." The amount of fossil fuels used to package, transport and refrigerate our food is truly unbelievable! Hopp says that if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of local and organic meat and produce, we would reduce our nation's oil consumption by over a million barrels of oil every week. Small changes=big difference!

Kingsolver writes that "the main barrier between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements," she says, "are patience and a hint of restraint." For the Kingsolver-Hopp family, this restraint includes not eating bananas since they can't be grown locally. They gave up fruit for most months of the year, other than the apples they'd canned for the winter. That certainly takes patience, but I'd call that more than a hint of restraint!

I can relate to and support not buying some produce out of season. Tomatoes, for example. Our garden has absolutely spoiled me, and in the winter, I pass right by that table at the grocery every time. Once you've had the real thing, pink and mushy doesn't cut it. Kingsolver makes a fascinating point on this subject when she says, "you'd think we cared more about the idea of what we're eating than about what we're eating." She says our mantra is '"Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.'" I haven't thought much about planning meals around the seasons, so I'll have to borrow the book I gave my mom for Christmas!

I do want to be more intentional about supporting local farmers, especially since we live in such an agricultural area. I'd particularly like to find a local source for eggs. I do enjoy going to the farmer's market, though last summer, I realized that most of what I'd bought there in the past, was already growing right in our own backyard!

Many people, myself included, conclude that the price of organic food is too high. I wrote a post on this last summer, and Jenn recently asked her readers to share why they buy or organic or not. (Both posts received lots of comments, so check them out!) There's not enough space here for me to share all the compelling things Kingsolver said on this subject, but here's a striking quote: "In our daily fare, even in school lunches, we broadly justify tallow-fried animal pulp on the grounds that it's cheaper than whole grains, fresh vegetables, and hormone-free dairy." Yikes!

I really enjoyed reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Statistics and academic arguments are woven together with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes of farming adventures and family. There are also lots of recipes, which you can find here. I'm looking forward to trying their Friday Night Pizza dough.

For now, I'm not giving up bananas (my son's favorite food!), nor am I suggesting you do the same, unless you feel led to. But reading these two books has certainly given me something to chew on. I hope it gives you some food for thought, too.

"When consumerism becomes the driving ethic, it has only one commandment: Get the most by paying the least. In this system, dignity, ethics, beauty, fairness, and families that live on small farms do not figure. The only line is the bottom line." (Sleeth)

"Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren't trivial. Ultimately, they will, or won't, add up to having been the thing that mattered." (Kingsolver)


Megan said...

One of my favorite blogs has a great post on this:

And she has another on feeding kids healthy food:

I like her philosphy that if we spend more money on our food instead of trying to crunch numbers and get the best deal - we would see benefits (if we spend the money on healthy, organic, fresh foods). Health is one benefit. Generally when you start eating healthier you have fewer colds, less/no headaches, etc. So much can change just by your eating (It happened for me, I was paying $50 a month for presc. meds, now that money goes to my food). Read her posts, they explain it better than me :)

Frances said...

Great post, Carrie! I am absolutely loving Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver's passion for the health and well-being of people and the Earth is magnificently conveyed by her clever, poetic, educational, and inspirational writing.

As an urban apartment-dweller, I can't wait for the Farmer's Market to open again.

PS Last week's joy: my husband consented to drinking organic milk with me.

Ewokgirl said...

I've read an excerpt of Kingsolver's book before, and I read an article in The Dallas Morning News on Sunday about the high cost of energy involved in producing and delivering meat (don't know if the article was the same author you mentioned or not). I'm all for buying local, but not if I have to go to tremendous effort to do so.

Dallas has a fabulous farmer's market. At least, that's what I've heard. But for me to go there, I'd have to drive 30-45 minutes, WAY out of my way. We get a local market once a week in my town, but only during certain months of the year. Buying local winds up being inconvenient. It's a nice concept, but it doesn't necessarily play out well in real life.

I've been cooking a lot more vegetarian around our house. It's for health reasons, as my husband has kidney disease, and animal protein is the hardest protein for the kidneys to process. I'm slowly finding recipes that taste great and satisfy my meat-loving husband.

People who know me are often surprised that I eat meat because I'm an animal freak. Admittedly, I don't allow myself to think about the horrible treatment many meat-producing animals receive because I think I'd make myself sick over it. I just blithely stick my head in the sand and try to convince myself that my meat was never an actual animal, but rather born on the styrofoam tray in the grocery store.

Lisa said...

I am so glad that you had the opportunity to read Barbara's book. I have read all her other books and am looking forward to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In fact, I was just thinking last night that I should get it so it was fun to see your post on it this morning :)

By the way, my favorite pizza dough is actually your recipe that you gave me a few years ago, yum yum yum! I put fresh basil in it this summer and it was divine!!

Do you guys drink soy milk? That would be a great way to support your local farmer as most soy comes from your neck of the woods. I've switched over 100% and love it and vanilla soy is delicious in most baking recipes!

Amy said...

I am going to have to add this to my reading list- what a great review! I so happy to be back on my reading kick so I will definitely add this to my next list. Thanks, Carrie!

Sarah B. B. said...

I need to read this book! Thanks for your thoughts, Carrie. We will probably never stop eating meat, but to think the savings of energy, etc., that could come from skipping just a few meals each week are so immense is a great thing to know.

Anonymous said...

What a thought-provoking post! I must read Barbara Kingsolver's book. I am just beginning to try various recipes from "Simply in Season" (or was before my stay in SC!) ~ thanks again for the gift of that book! I have a long way to go to learn to eat seasonally ~ I like to have tomatoes year-round with my tacos, BLTs, etc! We won't be able to give up bananas either ~ but maybe we can change our attitude from thinking of them as a "staple" to considering them a treat that comes at a cost to the environment.

Thank you for your continued pursuit of good stewardship! I love you, Mom

Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home said...

Great review. I've been hearing so much about this book lately that I have definitely added it to my list of "must reads" for the year.

A few months ago I read a similar book- The 100 mile diet, which was actually written extrememly close to where I live. It was very thought provoking (lots of discussing about the distance food travels, supporting local food and economy, etc.) and was so inspiring to me because I live where the couple lives, and if they can go 100% local, I know that I can up our local eating even more.

We already stretch our budget as far as we possibly can to buy the very best quality organic and/or natural foods, and buy next to nothing processed or packaged. We've also found a local dairy supplier, as well as a great local meat shop, and my produce market carries a lot of local produce, especially between spring and fall.

It's so good to see other families pursuing this as well! Thanks for a great review! (If anyone is interested in the 100 Mile Diet, I reviewed it on my blog:

Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home