Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Continued

Below are additional selections from Barbara Kingsolver's book on seasonal eating. If you have not read the first part of this book review, most of this will make absolutely no sense to you whatsoever; I highly encourage you to scroll down and read part 1 first.

"Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they're good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move "eating" in the consumer's mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation."
This is where the instant-gratification culture becomes a problem; why only eat asparagus during the few spring weeks when it's actually at it's peak, when you can buy it at Safeway year round? According to Kingsolver, most Americans don't even know what good asparagus tastes like, because we've transformed it into a fancy side dish available any time in any restaurant. I would argue that one should aim for more balance; ingest all the asparagus you can stomach when it's really good in the spring, and then save it as a special treat a few other dinners during the year.
"Woe is us, we overfed, undernourished U.S. citizens - we are eating poorly for so very many reasons. A profit-driven, mechanized food industry has narrowed down our variety and overproduced corn and soybeans. But we let other vegetables drop from the menu without putting up much of a fight. In our modern Cafe Dysfunctional, "eat your vegetables" has become a battle cry of mothers against presumed unwilling subjects. In my observed experience, boys in high school cafeterias treat salad exactly as it it were a feminine hygeine product, and almost nobody touches the green beans. Broccoli was famously condemned in the 1990s, from the highest office in the land. What's a mother to do? Apparently, she's to shrug and had the kids a gigantic cup of carbonated corn syrup. Corn is a vegetable, right? Good, because on average we're consuming 54.8 gallons of soft drinks, per person, per year."
Yeeeooowza! First off, picture 54 gallon containers of milk. Compare your stats - does your household go through a gallon of milk per week? Because that's probably the minimum amount of soda you're going through if we're playing the law of averages. Second of all, I've been in high school cafeterias in the recent past and can personally vouch that "salads" and all other green items were not well received. Peer pressure is a huge factor in high school diets; find a kid who admits to not liking french fries, and you'll find a kid who's ribbed mercilessly by his friends. Find a kid who admits he'd rather eat carrot sticks than french fries - well, if you find that kid let me know, cuz I haven't found one yet. Kingsolver does not address the school cafeteria proper in her book, but most are as horrible as you remember, and teens are not rewarded for choosing healthy options - if they even exist. For some reason, a turkey sandwich costs more than a slice of pizza; gee, which one of those do you think a teenager is going to pick?
"... A perception of organic food as an elite privilege is a considerable obstacle for the farmer growing food for the middle-income customers whose highest food-shopping priority is the lowest price... Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history.... it's interesting that penny-pinching is an accepted defense for toxic food habits, when frugality so rarely rules other consumer domains. The majority of Americans buy bottled drinking water, for example, even though water runs from faucets at home for a fraction of the cost, and government quality standards are stricter for tap water than for bottled. At any income level, we can be relied upon for categorically unnecessary purchases: portable-earplug music instead of the radio; extra-fast Internet for leisure use; heavy vehicles to transport light loads; name-brand clothing instead of plainer gear."

"Shoppers who are most daunted by the high price of organics may be looking at bar codes on boutique-organic prepared foods, not actual vegetables. A quality diet is not an elitist option... Globally speaking, people consumer more soft drinks and packaged foods as they grow more affluent; home-cooked meals of fresh ingredients are the mainstay of rural, less affluent people. This link between economic success and nutritional failure ahs becomes to widespread, it has a name: nutrition transition."
It is certainly interesting as we barrel towards the Great Depression "the sequel" (trademarked by my mother - no copyright infringement here), to reflect on the personal economic decisions that many made in the past few years. I love Kingsolver's argument that we're willing to go into debt to entertain ourselves in our downtime (iPods, premium tv channels, vacations, and so on and so forth), yet not willing to pay an extra dollar for arugala... which according to many is "elitist." (Remember the uproar over Obama's comments about the price of arugala - since when is it elitist to name-check a vegetable? Sigh.) Anyway, Kingsolver addresses the elitist/budget issue in several ways throughout the book, and the argument that I fall back on is that a person has to prioritize; if you want to spend your money on entertainment, that's fine, but don't expect that that choice won't come with consequences eventually.
"A survey of National Merit Scholars - [super smarty pants high school seniors] - turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table."
Not rocket science, but, a good reminder nonetheless. Mom, thanks for forcing us to sit at the kitchen table and eat tuna noodle casserole with you so often - it did more than just a body good.

There is one additional topic that Kingsolver raised in her book, concerning cooking and women, and because it extends for several pages, I'm struggling to condense her points without retyping four pages. So, I will likely be subjecting you all to one more post on this book. (Who knew I would have so much to say about food!?!)

3 comments:

historygirlie October 14, 2008 at 5:02 PM  

Wow, you seriously must have loved this book. 2 posts about food from someone who at one time belived that perhaps hot pockets should be their own food group??? I guess this is going to the top of my "must buy" list at the bookstore.

I told "the guys" today that you are going to be attempting to make thanksgiving dinner for two families and assorted military men. They (B.K., M.H., and J.G) laughed OUT LOUD at the thought of Ms. Lean Cuisine cooking up a turkey and all trimings. Then, New Girl A in your old room had to one up the story by saying that she made Thanksgiving dinner for her whole dorm or soemthing like that. I tuned it out..........

I really miss you sometimes. That was one of them....... :)

Anonymous,  October 14, 2008 at 6:34 PM  

Finally a plus side to being poor...we cook our meals!!! Woohoo!!!

But seriously, TWO liberal/environmental posts!?!?!?!?!?

While the 5th grade/let's start an environmental club me and the semi-recent environmental studies major me are proud, the mother in me is concerned about what the distance from Target is doing to you as a person.....

Please tell me you at least read this WHILE internet shopping or WEDDING PLANNING!!!!! (insert look of disdain here)

Love, TWP

Anonymous,  October 15, 2008 at 5:22 PM  

Love the post, keep 'em coming! This is much easier than actually READING the book myself. :)

~YellowBunnies

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