NaBloPoMo Day Twenty:
Animal, Vegetale, Debacle
(or How Barbara Kingsolver Kicked My Ass)

Over the summer I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver brings to the pages her skills as an accomplished novelist, creating a rather charming tale of her family’s one-year project: to eat only locally grown, sustainably farmed, seasonal, and organic foods. Most of what the family eats is grown on their own farm in rural Virginia, and what they do not raise themselves, they buy only from local farmers. They become “locavores” primarily to reduce their carbon footprint, to answer the growing nutritional crisis in our country, and to support their local economy. In so doing they discover rich flavors, valuable nutrients, true friendships, family ties, and wholesome fun.

As the author provides a seasonal accounting of her family’s project, it is flavored with engaging stories of turkey mating, her nine-year-old daughter’s efforts at her egg business, and descriptions of home-made bread, cheese, sausage, and other assorted delectables that one can practically taste. In addition to baking the family’s daily bread, Kingsolver’s husband, Steven L. Hopp, adds to the book sidebars chock full of facts, figures, and statistics, revealing how agribusiness puts money mostly in the pockets of the shipping industry, robs our food of its nutritional value, and increases our dependence on fossil fuels. Hopp writes, “Food transport has become a bizarre and profitable economic equation that’s no longer really about feeding anyone: in our own nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons.” The author’s eldest daughter, Camille, adds some delightful essays as she observes the effect her family’s project has on her young conscience, and she shares some excellent recipes.

With thoughts of socially and environmentally conscious living lodged in my brain, coupled with my advancing age and accompanying thoughts that I ought to start focusing on what’s important in life before I die, I started thinking about lifestyle changes. I have grown weary of late with the fast-paced, traffic-jammed, dog-eat-dog, competitive, conspicuous-consumption, way of life in which I am immersed and nobody around me seems to question, at least not much. So when my friend Gary posted some pictures of the farm that his parents have talked about selling, the wheels of my imagination began to turn.

I posted about wanting to buy that farm. Go take a look. It’s a quick read, and pictures of the farm are included.

So, if you read my “People, I Just Want to Buy the Farm” post linked above, you will know that my sweet and well-intended thoughts of living a simple life made everyone start mocking me. Seriously. I was mocked. How was I supposed to know what a tractor really does? And now that I know that it does many things, including pulling a tiller, can someone please tell me what a tiller does? And aside from my big straw hat bumping up against the sunroof and my butt crack not being visible, come someone tell me why my Volvo XC90 won’t pull a tiller just as well as any tractor? Whatever a tiller is.

Anyway, since buying a farm in upstate New York was not on the immediate horizon, my husband’s common and economic sense being a major impediment to many of my best ideas, I decided that our family could experience local farming at someone else’s local farm. Julian, California is famous for its apple pie, and every fall, folks can come and pick apples at one of the many orchards in the community. Tom and I loaded Laura and her friend, Lauren, into the Volvo one Sunday morning in October, and off we headed to pick apples at an organic orchard that I found on Google. So began our debacle.

Laura and Lauren
enjoying a simple life.

Note the livestock in the background,
thus fulfilling the “animal” portion
of our Animal, Vegetable, Debacle experience.
If you give a juggler a pancake,
or apples, or anything that
fits in his hands in numbers of three . . .
(Good thing the Lord gave me just two breasts.)
See? I could totally be a farmer
in my Volvo XC90. Boo-ya.
See how nice is the view of the farm
from the driver’s seat of a Volvo?
Do you think these kids were in it for
the apple picking or the apple pie?
So . . . how was this a debacle? The ride to Julian took nearly two hours, but due to a traffic accident and a detour route home, it was nearly a four-hour return trip. Hence, my foray into produce picking was a shambles in view of the primary purpose of Kingsolver’s mission in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle being to address global warming by not relying on fossil fuel to transport food. And her argument that by supporting local economies, our food costs are cheaper in the end? Uh, not so much around me these parts.
$25 Bag of Apples picked in Julian, California

Time spent in Volvo: 6 hours.
Time spent picking apples: 45 minutes.

Cost of fuel: $95.00
Cost of one bag of self-pick apples: $25.00

Bottom line: Debacle

Readers, do you have any debacles experiences trying to reduce your carbon footprint to share?

27 comments on “Animal, Vegetable, Debacle”

  1. Holy carp!! Oh no!
    Listen, the heck with my parent’s farm in New York that you have lusted after and written of (it is currently under a foot of S-N-O-W, do you know what snow is Cheri?)
    let’s just move to Julien, CA and get some ponies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    btw–barbara Kingsolver is the BEST author and I suggest everybody look up her fiction from several years ago like the Bean Tree etc………

  2. I go through this all the time: Great inspirations that become debacles in reality.

    I just try to think some things through and go with what makes sense…

    And although I read like a mad woman, I still haven’t got to Kingsolver. For shame.

    She’s on my list.

  3. I love Barbara Kingsolver, but haven’t read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. John Robbins’ books “Diet for a New America” and “May All Be Fed” screwed with my head years ago.

    I loved this post. I relate. I toggle between wanting to be a filthy rich consumer (not really, but maybe a little), and live in a quaint cabin (or farmhouse) on a self-sustaining piece of land. Simplify.

    We need to make the reality of choosing to live responsibly (in all areas) attainable and affordable. It’s exhausting and expensive to “do the right thing”.

    Debacle? Every day.

  4. That book was really powerful to me too. But kicked my arse. Now I just feel guilty all the time b/c I can’t afford farmer’s market produce.

  5. I just love that book and will probably read it for the 3rd time this coming winter.

    Here in Virginia, apples are plentiful and there are dozens of apple orchards within easy driving distance. We went to our favorite one this year, lost our heads a bit, and brought home FORTY POUNDS of apples.

    And it only took us a month to go through them all.

  6. I love that book too. Have you checked out Michael Pollan’s “In Defense Of Food”? It lacks Kingsolver’s way with words, but is great in getting you to think about what you’re eating.

    I, too, would love to live on a farm. Except for the part where there’s no way I could live on a farm.

  7. I think we spent more money on WATER for my husband’s pet garden this year than we saved on buying tomatoes, cucumers, sugar snap peas, 2 strawberries and 1 pumpkin. That’s right. And I never actually got to see T in overalls and a straw hat. Seriously.

    LOVE Kingsolver. The Bean Trees is glorious.

  8. I’ve been meaning to read that book for ages. It’s sitting on my shelf calling my name- maybe I’ll get to it before the end of the year.

    I would love to eat all local/organic, but the costs!! And I thought apples at Trader Joe’s were expensive. Not so much after seeing your bag!

  9. I drive a hybrid. The premium for buying that car doesn’t justify the savings, but I feel good about reducing my carbon footprint.

    I installed a solar water heating system for my pool, but my homeowner’s association didn’t like it. Ignoring California law, they insisted that I remove it. Weighing the potential costs of litigation, association fines, mortgage defaults due to liens filed on my property, I backed off.

    Then I had a brilliant idea. Since farting increases your carbon footprint (see WikiAnswers), I decided to stop farting so that I could further reduce my carbon footprint. I subsequently learned, however, that 2/3 of adults do not produce farts that contain methane and that the combustion of fart gas may be due to the presence of hydrogen (remember the Hindenberg?). I figured if some people can say, “My farts don’t smell,” then it was ok for me to say, “My farts don’t contain methane.” It is with some measure of gastric relief that I am pleased to say that I am now looking for other ways to reduce my carbon footprint.

    You wanna talk debacle?

  10. Last Place Finisher always puts things into perspective!

    I’ve already mocked my dh for the potato crop failure at our farm this year ( ~ last year we got about 350 lbs of potatoes off our farm located within 25 minutes drive from our garage). We have a garden adjacent to our deck. We purchase beef and pork from relatives so we know where it comes from too. I bake, we bake bread (albeit via bread machine). Our climate isn’t exactly amenable to fresh produce year long! I can’t fathom eating canned peas!

    Incidentally, I knew I was writing to a kindred spirit on my most recent post. I appreciated having some company!

  11. I fell asleep half way through this post. No no I wasn’t bored – I was intending to have a nap.

    Anyway I dreamt about Gary’s parent’s farm.

    Then I woke up and read the rest of your post. I can only agree with csquaredplusthree – .

    Being good is expensive.

  12. I haven’t begun making such an effort yet, but I do live right next door to a huge Amish community where there are all sorts of locally produced veggies and organic meat—lamb, beef, pork, chicken, turkey. I have begun buying bread from a local baker who is amazing.

    but just when I think about branching out and buying locally, my grocery store manager calls and thanks me for all the business I give him.

  13. And here when I started reading your post I was feeling all guilty for my bad-ass bad-green lifestyle. Then I just snorted so hard my personal energy level went through the roof.

    And everything I touch is a debacle these days, so I am not so in to trying to add anything else for Murphy to grab and toss in my face…

  14. I love Kingsolver. Truly.

    My carbon footprint is probably the size of Paul Bunyan’s, I’m sorry to say. When I lived in Seattle, I was obsessed with recycling, composting, wise use, etc. Now I’m a lazy wastrel.

    But you’re inspiring me to go to the Farmers Market this coming Wednesday!!

  15. Geez. Look at how white Tom’s shoes are. If you ever decide to become farmers, the shoes have to get dirty.

    Debacles…oh yes. And organic seems to rot faster than we can eat it. I think it’s a scam to get me to keep trying…spend twice as much and buy twice as often.

  16. This debacle has nothing to do with reducing my carbon footprint, but kind of along that same line. After my daughter was born, I was going to be super mom. I can sew, so I decided to make her some little summer dresses. You buy the material, $20, pattern, $5.95, thread, 1.99, cute lace and trim, too much. After alot of time, and tantrums, I decided it was much easier to go to Walmart and pay 8.99 for a cute little dress, and much more fun to shop!

  17. We are discussing these issues right now in class. A lot of my students are reading IN DEFENSE OF FOOD. We are examining the contents of food and what it means to eat organically grown foods. And we are discussing how in the neighborhood where I teach, there are no Whole Foods Market and no Trader Joe’s. But there are many, many, many fast food restaurants. We’re looking at the politics involved and who is responsible for the obesity issues in America, and then we are learning to defend our views. It’s intense.

    Love Kingsolver.

    Those apples look delicious!

  18. Funny, I just wrote a post yesterday about GREENING the lunch Zone.

    And I really want to go to Julian. I went there years ago and want to share it with my kids. However, we’ll plan on just eating pie…

    I love your farm house fantasy.

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