I finally finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’ll start by saying I had high hopes for the book. For an entire year she and her family committed to local sustainable food, most of it grown and harvested themselves. Now think with me for a moment about the likely audience for this book. Foodies, highly-educated, middle- to upper-class, people with an interest in sustainability, right? Turns out that Barbara, her editor, and her publisher came to no such conclusions. Otherwise they might have toned down some of her revival tent proselytizing. Babs, we’re on your side, ‘kay?
From the beginning of the book, her tone of sanctimony was well-seasoned with broad generalizations about “Americans”. Much to my surprise, I learned that I prefer my food to be shrink-wrapped and buffed to a high gloss, my contact with farms to be limited to cartoon images on my microwavable burrito wrappers, and my gape-mouthed consumption of petrochemicals and corn syrup only interrupted by the occasional cigarette or bleat at the TV when it goes fuzzy. Time and time again she refers to her countrymen and –women as willfully ignorant of everything relating to food, the environment, and the possibility [gasp!] that dinners coming out of a cardboard box might not taste as good as those from the earth. Again, I blame her editor as much as her for underestimating and insulting her readers.
I’ll take time here to say I had a completely different reaction to Michael Pollan’s books, which educate without lecturing. Michael lets you learn along with him, as opposed to Barbara who writes as if she already knows all there is to know about sustainable eating. Both are excellent writers and their books are well-researched, but one presents you with information, the other is a knuckle-rapping from on high.
I must say I got wicked satisfaction from reading that their bread was made in a bread machine. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud all of us who attempt to make our own bread. But coming from someone who regales us with the ecstasy of the season’s first asparagus and the orgasmic joys of country living, the fact that their bread is kneaded by metal and plastic paddles and is plugged into the grid (and from there to the local coal plant) is just…perfect. Casting the first stone is a dangerous thing to do.
For myself I took several things away from the book. I’m glad I live in California where agriculture is an important and year-round part of our lives. I’m glad I can source good local food and make many things myself. And I’m glad that I won’t get tendonitis from finger-wagging at my fellow Americans.