Tuesday 9 August 2016

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A couple of weeks ago, this book was mentioned on 'A Year Without...' blog
Barbara Kingsolver wrote 'The Poisonwood Bible' - a novel about American Missionaries in Africa. I never read that [I figured that it would irritate me too much] but thought I'd give this one a go.
BK and family decide to become 'locavores' - only eating food produced within a small region around their home - and attempting to produce as much of their food themselves - growing food and raising animals.
This is a very noble aim - BK is concerned to that there is no proper 'American food culture' - the nation has sold out to fast food chains, and packet meals [Mac'n'cheese in a box] and American housewives no longer make family meals from basic ingredients [except possibly at Thanksgiving - and even then, the pumpkin is from a can]
One reviewer- Kathryn Hughes of the Guardian - says "BK talks longingly about the way that European countries, including Britain, have managed to stay closer to their own good earth. To hear her talk, you would think that every French artisan and Italian housewife regularly pull their dinner out of their own backyard before gathering a picturesque extended family around their loving dinner table for a three-hour meal. Even London, apparently, is an Eden of "cosy, packed-in personal gardens" bristling with luscious veg. "How did Europeans, ancestral cultures to most of us," keens Kingsolver rhetorically, "somehow hoard the market share of Beautiful?" At which point it becomes difficult to keep a straight face. "
The book charts their year living on a farm in Appalachia and is full of anecdotes about Farmers' Markets, zucchini gluts, and the sex lives of free range turkeys. They are very creative in finding substitutes. You can read more, and find all the recipes from the book on the AVM website [here]  Her husband, and college-aged daughter also contribute articles between the chapters. But it was all a little too political for me, raging against McDo's and Monsanto and multinationals generally. And rather too preachy...I have good friends who are vegetarians, and vegans. We accept and accommodate each others dietary viewpoints. And I believe we carnivores should consider careful husbandry and animal welfare when we buy our bacon. But this is my first encounter with someone who says nobody is truly vegetarian - because insects and other animals die in the production of crops, and we take the life of a cabbage when we harvest it. 
Some of the book I enjoyed, and will probably try out some recipes later - but it is not a realistic lifestyle for most of us. 
Even if our gardening skills were better, I cannot imagine Bob or myself working an eight hour day, then coming home to do 2 hours of crop maintenance each night [not to mention assisting the love life of turkeys] BK and family could do this because they were able to fit their day jobs [writing and teaching] around the farm, and they inherited the farm in the first place. 
Another reviewerBarbara Lloyd McMichael, in The Seattle Times, says "One feels churlish to complain, but I must. For even as Kingsolver and family argue that this whole effort to go back to local and organically grown foods is not elitist, they are farming their acreage, driving their hybrid car (those aren’t cheap), sending Camille off to college and taking two vacations a year (one of them to Italy). When it comes to tax brackets, they must be a couple of pages further along in the IRS booklet than the families in my neighbourhood."
I shall continue to try and grow more, to buy locally produced food when I can find it at affordable prices, and especially to barter more [I will happily shorten trousers for some homegrown tomatoes or a bag of windfall apples!]
The most interesting comments came from Bob and Liz, when I was talking about the book with them - they both utterly rejected the idea that Americans have no native cuisine.
Bob pointed out that the native Americans did have a cuisine before the Europeans arrived, and that in many parts of the States, those immigrants from Europe brought their traditional dishes and adapted them to the plants and animals they found in the New World. Liz said that too - and added a further comment "The woman is talking Anglo-centric White rubbish! What about the cuisine of the Mexicans? or the Deep South - collard greens, cornbread...The amazing cooking from the African Americans...Of course the USA has its own native cuisine!" 
Liz later texted me to point out an article in this month's free waitrose magazine about the Conquistadors and their influence on American cuisine - the word creole comes from cucina criolla - ' the cooking of this land'
And I think that they're right. BK is a writer and this experiment was a good book opportunity as much as an attempt at a 'better'  lifestyle, but it wouldn't work for  me.  I rate it just ***,  and that's mostly for the descriptions of pumpkin wrangling and the turkey canoodling! 


  1. I read this a few years back and enjoyed it, I think I must have ignored the politics and preaching!
    I remember thinking I wish our farmers markets were like theirs, all we get here are "artisan" extra high priced things.

  2. Interesting post Angela.
    I started out at the beginning of the year full of hope to grow as much veg and fruit as I could. However, the weather and my ever changing attitudes to it have resulted in some very late 'fruition'! Tomatoes=fail (but, a friend came to the rescue with 5 plants) the ones I have got are slowly getting fruit on. Blackcurrants= big harvest + same friend gave me half of his crop! potatoes=very tasty, some bartered, rest eaten and they were good.Rhubarb= small harvests, ongoing. salad leaves good but, flea beetle attacked, too late found that mint helps repel them, so now a pot of mint is in the raised bed with them.
    Suppose I should really do a post on my blog?!

    1. Yes you should- it is always an encouragement to hear how other people have fared - especially 'ordinary' growers not the stars of Gardeners' World!!

  3. Oh I am rubbish with food. But I loved Poisonwood Bible. And last year I read a novel of hers with pigs in the title and it was good. But not as brilliant as PB. I don't think you would be too annoyed by the missionary theme. It isn't antagonistic to Christianity, though it is to the family's father figure.

    1. Mags, I think you would like her 'Prodigal Summer' too!

    2. I love it when a post turns into a conversation like this!

  4. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my fav books! Do give it a go. The only thing that might annoy you about it is the doggedly-determined, bully of a father!!

  5. Thank you Mags and NanaGoGo. I know you two will come to PB from very different perspectives so am interested your comments are so similar. Maybe I shall try it after all!


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