Sunday, March 16, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Last Thursday, I attended a book discussion in Northern New Jersey as an informal "guest speaker" on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, being as how I live this life every day. My sister-in-law asked if we could arrange our winter visit around her book club, and I was pleased to be able to do so and serve as an ambassador of sorts for local eating.

There I sat in a room full of women who live a far fancier lifestyle than I, most of whom, I'm willing to bet, spent more on their hair and nails in the past month than I've spent in the past 5 years or so. Of course, that's not hard to do, considering Jim doesn't charge me for the infrequent trims, and the occasional henna doesn't cost very much. Nails... fuhget about it (said with my best Brooklyn accent). Several have au pairs and fancy jobs in New York City.

Yes, I was out of my element, but having a blast nonetheless.

There was far more eating and drinking of wine than discussion of the book, but I think we had some meaningful moments looking at the possibilities of local eating as well as small, but simple changes folks could make in their purchasing. We talked about CSA's, which most had never heard of, and I told them about, a great place to find local farms and products. We talked a bit about buying meat by the side, which can easily be split among several people to share costs and minimize storage, allowing for custom butchering and lower prices for premium cuts. We talked about purchasing in bulk through buying clubs like United Natural and Organic Foods, which again can be split among members co-op style if folks don't want 50 lbs. of sugar at one time, for instance.

What we didn't talk about are the advantages to having bulk food storage in case of emergency, something Kingsolver gets around to by the end of the book. In fact, we didn't have a chance to talk at all about the global warming/ peak oil implications of the book or why Kingsolver feels such urgency about producing her own food and buying locally. I would have liked to hear whether folks in the book club were aware of the concept of peak oil and what they thought about it.

Several of these women were directly impacted by 9/11, so I wondered what their thoughts were on emergency preparedness and whether having a well-stocked pantry and local food sources would feel more practically reassuring than the plastic wrap and duct tape solutions that circulated shortly after 9/11 (never mind the woefully inadequate 3 days of food—remember Katrina?). I wondered, specifically, whether these women had thought much about feeding their families during an emergency and how that might look if the impending economic crisis looming over Wall Street were to result in bread and grocery lines reminiscent of the Great Depression.

JP Morgan's weekend buy-out of Bear Stearns ushers in governmental economic strategy unseen since those dark days, as that looming shadow grows larger and more menacing every day. I wondered, for instance, whether these women felt this menace even more acutely than I in some ways because of their proximity to Wall Street and a lifestyle driven by credit and big business. Eliot Spitzer may be the great scapegoat of the day, as persecution arises out of a much needed distraction as much as sweet revenge. Nothing quite like a juicy scandal to keep folks' minds off failing credit.

But I digress....

Much of our time early on was spent discussing my family's lifestyle choices, ranging from farming to homeschooling. Folks seemed fascinated by the idea that we grow most of our own food and wondered how we'd gotten to this place and why I linked farming and homeschooling in my mind. I talked a bit about wanting to eat well and touched on the idea of self-sufficiency and becoming more independent of larger cultural systems like schools and grocery stores. We also delved a bit into GMO foods, and I recommended the book Seeds of Deception or the documentary The Future of Food for folks interested in learning more about the issue.

Most folks in the room that evening had never heard of Monsanto or GMOs or the problems with "good" companies like Horizon, so I think if nothing else Kingsolver and I planted some seeds that night that may cause several of those readers to consider more carefully and critically the sources of their food as well as what goes in it. They've already circulated several links amongst themselves and researched the possibility of joining a local CSA. Hooray for little ripples!

Food for the evening featured deviled eggs from our farm and chicken salad sandwiches made from one of our free-range broilers in addition to several other local delights such as Italian bread and fresh mozzarella cheese. One touch everyone seemed to appreciate were the half-dozen eggs I brought for each member to take home, giving them a taste of free-range, heritage eggs that are both aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing. Hopefully that'll hook 'em for good!


El said...

Hi Danielle
I reread AVM a couple of weeks ago just to benchmark where we were now compared to when the book first came out last spring. I will say I am a lot less hopeful for the lives of others (or rather, for others' lifestyles) than Kingsolver is. And it makes me so sad! I mean, I know our little family is okay, as we have made radical changes and actually embraced them. But I don't think everyone will be so fortunate, and they'll look back at their days of standing nail and hair appointments with some wistfulness.

I just am glad there are selfless people like yourself out there willing to at least get a few families in touch with better eating. So keep up the great work!

nita said...

Danielle, it is so important to keep spreading the word. Sometimes, it does take the reality of a farmer, such as yourself to speak out with words and lovingly prepared food to make a difference. Sometimes, though it's like a bad dream and no one is listening, and you wonder why no one can "see" that the path you have chosen is the right way to go.
I read these types of books, even though I'm part of the choir, I want to recommend them to our customers. Having well known authors to convey the message reaches the masses, but does not compare to the one-on-one attention you were able to give at the book club. Bravo!

cat said...

thank you for putting yourself out there! it is so important to spread this "community" and people like you and your family are such inspirations! i love kingslover's book, it was a huge influence on our lifestyle choices. i've been reading your blog for awhile and want to thank you so much!!

Danielle said...

El, that's the second time you've referred to me as "selfless," but I don't think that's it, really. More just a passionate advocate willing and happy to share with others. But I always appreciate a compliment nonetheless!

Nita, I do enjoy sharing our food with others—it's just so darned good that it's hard to argue with!

I don't think our path is the "right" way per se. Rather, I think we've made some necessary and difficult choices, and I'm hopeful that others can find ways to make similar choices that fit into their families and lifestyles. I think there can be such a thing as "urban sustainability" or even "suburban sustainability," and I'm hopeful that others will forge examples in those paths.

There are folks on my Homesteadin' Unschoolers blogring, for instance, doing just that. Or families like the Dervaes at Path to Freedom offering different examples of similarly important choices. I'm grateful for the diversity of the blogosphere and internet that puts such examples at the fingertips of millions every day. I think that's the nature of grassroots change, and it always amazes me to see it in action.

Thank you all for the kind comments!

Hayden said...

Sounds like a great afternoon's work! It's amazing to me how remote this all is to most folks. Given that I am currently urban - it's perplexing. I keep dragging friends off to the farmers' market, encouraging them to grow herbs at their back door (hey, it's a tiny step, but if they can do that, they can begin to think about veggies!), trying to get them to split my latest haul of meat with me.

They listen, they taste, they love the difference: but change is so slow!

Madeline said...

I wish that you were as aware as you now are back when we were starting and I wanted to be more of an advocate. I just didn't have the smarts and guts that you do (or the time, I was actually farming f/t then). I am so glad that you are using your passion and intelligence in this so important cause and thank you. As it has in unschooling, your voice as an organic farmer and peak oil expert has huge influence.

Danielle said...

Ahhh, phooey, Madeline....

Seriously, I'd no more call myself a peak oil expert than an organic farmer—both sorely overstate the case. I'm a homesteader who plays farmer on Mondays, and I'm only now throwing energy at the whole peak oil thing. Jenny and linda are two of my big influences; they're just not nearly as vocal. *bwg*

Passionate and intelligent I'll own though. ;)

Most days.

Here, here Hayden. Baby steps are steps nonetheless, and there's not much choice but to meet people where they're at. To plant seeds, as I said. And to be able to do non-dogmatically is a gift—one for which I strive but often fall short.

linda said...

Danielle wrote:
<"...Yes, I was out of my element, but having a blast nonetheless...">

Shucks, i can't imagine you are ever out of your element... although, i suppose you could perhaps be just a little out of practice.

It's great that these ladies were able to spend the afternoon with such an effective speaker, and one who is passionate enough about her lifestyle choices to be a real *hands on, here's how it looks in the day to day* resource for them. Especially when providing them with a window into another world.

Hope you had time to enjoy the big city.

Woody said...

Danielle...there sure is a bunch of mushy accolade's being tossed your way. Much deserved. Ya'll have helped us look at so much of our way of living. Changing the way we live is a sometimes uncomfortable journey but you are always willing to share what you learn in your victories and failures.

Thanks for sharing what you're doing with us.


*i'm sure that the same women that noticed you didn't have a manicure are the same ones that we will hear screaming the loudest when their lights go

Wendy said...

I think it's awesome that you were able to be at that book club. It sounds like you had an even bigger impact than Kingsolver's book (which I totally LOVED!). I think it's important that people who actually live the way Kingsolver describes are able to get out in the world and show people a tangible example. While I completely admire what Kingsolver accomplished with her book, until people see the "real deal" it's all just theory, and there will be this sense of "I can't possibly accomplish what she did!" until people can actually touch someone who has and think, "maybe ...."

Bravo to you for being the "real deal." Maybe there'll be one less manicured hand, but no fewer people, in the group next month.

Colleen Nyman said...

As others are saying: Good for you for making the effort and trying to spread the word.
I'm new to your blog and look forward to reading more and getting more into the head space that you so clearly live unconsciously (or consciously, depending on how you look at it. :)

karl said...

your recall of the evening brought memories of similar gatherings--that was a few incarnations ago. i can't imagine bring such a wholesome agenda to such an event. kudos to you. i hope you made a difference.

Christy said...

My family and many of my friends are like those women. They've given no thought to GMOs or antibiotics etc. They don't believe in peak oil and think I'm paranoid. They have no food stores and have given no thought to how they might eat if things get bad because they don't believe things will ever change.

Good for you to opening a few eyes and making an impact.

K said...

Foods, textiles, tech, etc., that are not tied into the corporate regime here in America would be a refreshing freedom and happiness that no superficial bitch on the streets can ever understand.

If yall know of such deities, entities, and individuals who have created and have access to such resources and are in no way tied to the idol bashing regime of the bible or any of the regimes in America that are imposing their stranglehold on our lives then you are welcome to let me know.