Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goodbye, Bananas

Yesterday, I finished up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book chronicles her family's journey to eat local produce and meat for one year, growing it themselves or buying it from her community. It includes small essays written by her husband, Steven L. Hopp, as well as essays and recipes by her eldest daughter, Camille Kingsolver.

Kingsolver wrote the book not as a lecture about the dangers of industrial eating, but rather as a celebration of good, locally-grown food. It's about having a relationship with what we eat, about having the chance to see it as emerging from vibrant earth or from a living creature, instead of carefully packaged and tidy products to be purchased whenever and where ever. It flips the idea of convenience and availability (the "I want it now!" mentality) on its head as she joyfully moves through the season and the fruits of that particular time and place. Strawberries and asparagus are all the sweeter because they emerge for a short period; tomatoes full of flavor are those that are not shipped from California, but picked from the garden, still warm from the sun that draws out their juicy sweetness. Food that's not eaten in its proper time and close to its source just isn't as good.

I love that this book shuns the impulse to become a bitter tirade against the industrial agricultural system; instead, Kingsolver weaves her family's story in with the story of small farmers that she meets and with facts about the current state of food in the US. She visits Quebec, Italy, and seeks out the local in those places and finds it delicious. The work takes a didactic turn every so often, but inevitably she returns to her goal in writing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: to show that eating locally is beneficial, fun, and not that difficult. It's not for an elite few, but it can be for everyone if we'll stop allowing our government to support big agriculture at the cost of small, productive farms.

The illustration above is a "vegetannual," which envisions a return to the relationships between vegetables and fruits and their season. We've lost a fundamental connection between seasonality and locality in selecting what we eat. Hence, I'm saying goodbye to bananas. Bananas are not grown in the U.S., and where they are grown, banana companies were (are) responsible for the exploitation of South American peoples and governments*.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an inspiring work. I felt compelled (and hungry) while reading it to grow a garden, support local farmers (which I do already! yay Farmers' Market!), can and preserve my own produce, and shun processed foods and unseasonable fruits and vegetables. It was a fantastic read and ultimately hopeful that we can return to a simpler (and healthier for body and land) way of eating.

*For more interesting stuff on bananas, their origins as the possible fruit of Eden, and how the mass production and transit of them shaped South American politics, check out Dan Koeppel's book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. A hint: we might not even have bananas in a few decades.

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