Monday, September 24, 2007

book review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Let me start by saying I'm a foodie. I live in the Bay Area, and cherishing food is part of the culture here. It's not just what's on your plate-- it's everything, including who grew it, who transported it and how, who sells it and why.

There are people out there who will roll their eyes at the notion of a home-cooked meal made with homegrown (or at least, locally grown) food. Not me-- I love, even luxuriate in, that kind of thing. If you do, too, you'll be right at home in the pages of Barbara Kingsolver's ode to the foodie, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

Much like The Omnivore's Dilemma, AVM reveals the sordid underbelly of the American food machine. It's pretty ugly-- or perhaps the better word is tasteless. Agribusiness is first and foremost, business, and as such it's not going to protect the very things consumers value-- taste, quality, healthfulness (that is, the lack of killing substances like pesticides). Sure, these businesses will argue that what consumers really want is consistency (all the apples should look alike- it doesn't matter how mealy they are) and convenience (the tomatoes should last a couple weeks-- it doesn't matter how tasteless they are). They can make these products cheaply and make them cheap for the consumer.

But cheap food doesn't nourish. Or maybe I should say, cheaply made food doesn't nourish. Lots of farmer's market food, homegrown food, and local food is inexpensive, and it tastes like a million bucks. Or better.

Kingsolver writes about the many ways food affects us (everything from our stress levels to our family time to ... well, you name it, food probably affects it). And her family gets into the act-- her daughter Camille includes lovely recipes, and her husband Steve pens wry sidebars detailing in 500 words or less the food politics that shape what we eat.

It's a really worthwhile read. (And let me tell you, I was looking for something worthwhile. I'm still suffering post- Harry Potter depression!)