It seems like everyone wants to try things out for a year these days, and then write a book on it: Maria Headley said yes to every date request for a year; A.J. Jacobs lived Biblically for a year. Author Barbara Kingsolver chose (with her family) to live a year focused on food -- specifically, the food that was produced near her home.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Harper Collins, May 2007) took me on a journey through the food seasons so brilliantly described that while reading it, I could practically smell the dirt!
Kingsolver's premise is that so much of the food that Americans consume is from somewhere other than where they live. This uses up precious fossil fuels, causes the destruction of farmland (and its inhabitants), and generally leaves us with sub-par food, so that not only do we not know where food is supposed to really come from, but we don't know what it really tastes like!
With that in mind, Kingsolver resolves for one year to only consume foods which have been either grown/produced by her family, or purchased locally (with a few necessary exceptions like coffee and olive oil). In the midst of her musings, her husband Steve interjects biological facts, economic statistics, and political commentary, and her older daughter Camille provides recipes and a teenager's take on the experiment.
Kingsolver crafts her story brilliantly, weaving humor (turkey sex) and practicality (botulism is not to be trifled with) with steady resolve. She is obviously passionate about local agriculture's battle against corporate giants, and yet she never comes across as bitter or self-righteous. At some points, she seems almost heartsick at the way America's been tricked into consuming so much that's so bad for us.
Towards the end of the book, she writes about a conversation she had with a friend of hers who was producing a film on global cimate change. Her friend wondered how to move people enough to lose their complacency, but not so much that they are immobilized with fear. She didn't have an answer for her friend, but one answer is this book. I have personally already started considering my eating habits, looking at the chicken breasts in my freezer and wondering what kind of atrocities had the chickens suffered in their short lives, and looking at the tofu I thought was such a good alternative and wondering what kind of damage had been done to the environment to make it and get it to me.
Kingsolver ends the book on a note of hope. Local farmer's markets are increasing, many states include vouchers for them in their WIC programs, the "locavore" phenomenon is starting to gain popularity, and many school districts and even prisons are partnering up with local farms. Perhaps there's a chance.
And I, for one, look forward to the day when I, too, might get to watch two heirloom turkeys have sex.