Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts on the book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Part 3)

As I read the last chapter in the book I wanted to cry or scream. The author discusses her friend who is making a movie about climate change. Her friend asks the question: "How do we encourage people to keep their hope, but not their complacency?" The concern was that if they didn't present the problem as dire enough people wouldn't care, but if it was too dire people would feel doomed and be paralyzed. My heart screamed the answer, I imagine my mouth even said it, "God!!" God is the answer.

I firmly believe our planet is doomed to destruction someday. I kind of doubt that global warming has anything to do with it. But we live in a world warped by sin, and God has promised that he has prepared a better place for us. This gives us great hope! Still we have been charged to be stewards of God's creation. This gives us motivation to be responsible with what God has given us. God is the answer.

Though the author does not specify, she indicates she is likely an atheist, or at least agnostic. She speaks indirectly to this as she describes how they celebrate holidays. Also, throughout the book the author and her daughter (another secondary author) refer to how we evolved to use certain foods. As someone who has studied secular biology, and read a great deal regarding creation science, what the author usually refers to as evolution is actually what I would consider adaption or excellent evidence for intelligent design. Since much of her viewpoint is based in evolutionary science, it gives me pause as I read some of her other "scientific" theories. It is hard to trust what is built on a faulty foundation.

The saddest part of the whole book was her description of their Thanksgiving. At the end of the description of the mouth-watering foods, and their small cheat of importing cranberries, is this statement "... for here is a day off work just to praise Creation." As I read that I had mingled sensations of horror, and heartbreak. The Bible is clear. Praising creation instead of seeing the divine nature and eternal power of God in creation, is the reason the world is doomed to destruction. In one sense it was amazing to see the words of Romans 1, so clearly displayed in our modern world:

Romans 1:20-24
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their

But, these are real people. Barbara Kingsolver has a real soul and God loves her. It is heartbreaking that although she loves His creation so greatly, she is blinded to God's love and purpose. As I finished the book, I prayed. I prayed for the authors to be able to find the real source of hope, the real One to praise.

This is the main reason I can not recommend this book. If you have a firm understanding of your faith, if you have the inclination to read critically, it can be an excellent opportunity to develop an understanding of the devout environmentalist perspective. But if you do not know what you believe, or you just don't feel like working hard while reading, please don't read this book.

It can't help but wonder what this experiment would be like from a Biblical perspective. Maybe instead of the sad, but so true, Romans passage we could celebrate with the joyful truth of this:

Psalm 104

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty...
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
14 He makes
grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens the
heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread that sustains his heart...

Thoughts on the book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (part 2) - The organic debate

One of the major issues I have with the book is the author's view of modern agricultural. I find her to be narrow minded in this area. Reading on the Internet, I have discovered that there is definitely an anti-ag movement out there. Unfortunately most of it is fueled by presenting the extremes of modern agricultural practice as the norm. The author obviously believes organic is the only way to go. The author's husband, is a secondary author in the book. He writes little boxes of "factual" information in many of the chapters. He makes what on the surface looks like a good argument for small organic farms being the best way to feed the world. And, if conditions were always stable, he might have a case. However he neglects to consider anomalies, such as blight and mass infestation. We rarely think of these nowadays, because modern farming practices (including those nasty "chemicals") have mostly eradicated them. However before modern farming practices those were real threats, and famine and food borne illness were common concerns.

Of course I come from my own bias. I am surrounded and even somewhat financially supported by those very corn and soybeans the book so demonizes. There is a lot of emphasis on the evils of all the corn and soybean based products in our food supply. I actually agree that as a society we overeat the corn and soybean food products available. But a lot of corn and soybeans go to products as replacement for petroleum. Decreasing our petroleum consumption is a major premise of the local eating movement. Of course a lot of corn also goes to livestock feed. The book gives the impression that this is a bad thing, that grass fed is the only way to go. But livestock have been part grain/part pasture fed for thousands of years. Feeding grain to chickens is not a recent phenomenon. And in many areas of the world (including the fertile Midwest) there is just not enough pasture to provide enough livestock a complete diet.

I also know plenty of non-organic livestock farmers. This is where I see the book as biased toward the extremes. The book gives the distinct impression that farms in the commercial food industry all keep their animals confined in small spaces standing in their own waste being fed only corn. I made it a point to drive by 2 near-by dairy farms yesterday. I saw something amazing, cows grazing in the pasture. The truth is all the farmers I know feed their livestock grain and put them to graze on pasture. I know there are some extreme mega farms where the cows live in bad conditions, but it isn't necessarily the standard. Even many large "confinement" operations pasture their cows. This is a great post about what a real confinement operation is like.

My point in all this is that where the author seems to have one view, that allows for only organic agriculture, I think we can use modern ag practices wisely and in moderation without sacrificing our health or ethics. Yes modern ag has it's problems. But, even though I appreciate much of the "real food" movement. I don't believe that real food must be all "organic". I think there is just as much biased anti-modern ag propaganda as pro-modern ag propaganda. As usual the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I still have one more post to go on this book. I know my "review" has been long. But that is why I would actually recommend this book to some. If you have the inclination and time to dissect it critically, it really makes you think. My last concern is my biggest heartbreak in reading this book, the one that left me sad at the be continued.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thoughts on the book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (part 1)

I finished the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I can't say that I would recommend it to everyone. I would absolutely not recommend it to some. I would highly recommend it to some. It really depends on you desire and ability to read critically. In some places the book is inspiring, in some places it is flat out wrong. Sometimes it made me laugh, and sometimes I just felt so sad for the author and her family.

I'll start with the good stuff. I think living off of local/seasonal food is an excellent experiment. I also liked the information about how to eat more locally and more seasonally. The practical stuff inspired some ideas of how I could make positive changes in our diet and lifestyle. I am inspired to make better use of our garden produce. I am inspired to search for fresher, more flavorful basic foods so my "healthy" cooking actually tastes good. There are some good recipes in the book too. And I am determined to learn how to braid my onions and garlic like the author does.

The book is written as a memoir. I really liked this format. Instead of feeling preached at, I felt that she was sharing her life. And though she was at times passionate about her views, I didn't feel like she was saying: agree with me or else. Also because it was a memoir and story of their year, there were some funny parts, especially in the realm of chickens and turkeys. But, more importantly, for someone like myself, who disagrees with the author in many areas, I felt as though I gained some understanding of where she was coming from and why she feels that way.

Philosophy-wise I do have many disagreements with the author. But there were ideas I truly appreciated. The idea of taking time to prepare food, hit home to me. So often our culture values efficiency even when efficiency isn't truly needed. There is joy and renewal in work, whether it is in the exercise of hoeing the garden, the rhythmic contemplation with kneading bread, or the exhilarating creativity of cooking a meal. Rushing through each task just for the sake of moving on to another one is not fulfilling or necessarily profitable.

Also I agree with the basic premise that there are problems with the way our society eats in general. Obesity is definitely an issue. And foods that are not profitable for our body are out there. Ignorance of where our food comes from and how it is made does seem to be common. However I view the "whys" behind these problems differently. I find that the author places a lot of blame on the food industry, as if they are the ones in control of the situation. In the authors view, they are manipulative, they are greedy, but the consumer and even the farmer are often just the pawns of a powerful corporation.

I really think it is more of a matter of personal responsibility. While there are individuals in the food industry who are motivated by greed and power, they are responding to individual consumers often motivated by a mix of gluttony, laziness, pleasure-seeking, and lack of self-control. Which are sin issues for all of us. So I see many of the problems as a result of sin in our fallen world. The author who appears to be an atheist, or at least agnostic, obviously does not grapple with individual sin as a root of our cultural food issues. Also, viewing it as a sin issue I don't necessarily see it as a one-size fits all solution. Selling a beverage made from corn syrup and carbonated water is not necessarily a sin. Nor is it inherently sinful to consume such a beverage. But it can be, it is really a matter of the heart...

Sausage Asparagus Skillet - Yum!

I found a healthy recipe that actually worked! You can find the recipe for Sausage Asparagus Skillet here. The blog The Local Cook has a lot of other great seasonal "real food" recipes as well.

It is really easy and made with asparagus, and other ingredients I have on hand: sausage, potatoes, onions, and cheese. The one thing I did was add 3 small pats of butter after I put the asparagus in. It was a hit!

I enjoyed watching my 2 year old happily eat asparagus. She is not terribly picky, but I wasn't sure how she would do with it. Sprinkle a little cheese on it, cook it with some butter and sausage flavor and she gobbled it right down.

I even used mostly local ingredients. The potatoes were from the grocery store. But the sausage and asparagus were locally "grown". And the onions were from my garden.

Oh, another great thing about this recipe: one cutting board, one knife, one skillet, one spatula, one spoon - thats all the dishes to wash!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

30 boxes, 30 days Final Count!

I realize I never updated my April decluttering challenge. My final total was 54 boxes!

That total does not include the dresser, crib, and changing table I got rid of as well. I still have the old TV, and an old printer to get rid of. I know where to take those it is just a matter of arranging it.

I never did quite finish the back room. Though I got a lot out of it. The end of tax season kind of got in the way.

And, we are ready to redo the guestroom for the girls now, as soon as planting is over. I even have the before pics taken already!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I made bread. Real wheat bread. Now I have made many a quick bread in my time. And I have made "real" bread with experienced bread makers on occasion. But this time I made it all by myself. (Well I did have the eager assistance of my 2 y/o) I will confess that I used a no-knead recipe. I chose this recipe so I could work through the slightly daunting "rising and punching" part first. And then move on to the scarier tricky sounding "kneading" part.

The recipe made three loaves, which taste excellent and look great. It is a bit light though, not quite dense enough to use for a good sandwich. I am guessing that is where the kneading comes in. Since I managed the rising and punching so well I am looking forward to getting to the next level. Maybe I'll try some kneading tomorrow!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Looking Locally, Thinking Seasonally

I just started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover (and her husband and daughter). So far I am finding the book fascinating. The books details the authors' family journey to almost entirely eat locally, and therefore eat seasonally for a complete year.

There are difficult parts in it for me. For one, there is an underlying tone of evolutionary theory that bothers on occasion. However it is slight and easy for me to "re-view" those references in light of the wonder of how God created us, and our natural surroundings. The other issue I have is a little harder to reconcile. As I am reading about how the industrial food complex has warped our view of food, my other half is out planting soybeans on our farm land to be sold to the very same industrial food complex. Much of what we earn comes from "modern" agriculture. And I don't think all modern agriculture practice is bad. But I will give the author credit, she is not railing in her book, and though I find some of her views disconcerting I can understand where she is coming from and don't feel brow beaten.

However the major theme of the book: sourcing our food locally and eating seasonally rings so true to me. It is interesting. I am surrounded by corn and soybean fields. Most belong to family farms, but most will also be sold to be processed into things that look nothing like corn and soybeans, or shipped out to far-away feedlots. Yet sustainable living and local food sourcing is also not uncommon among these same farmers. Sure our fields of corn go off to the industrial complex. But along the edge we grow pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes...

Many of the farm wives I know (including me) can and preserve. I can name several friends with small flocks of chickens. And almost all the dairy farmers I know drink there milk just "one step" away from the udder, even though they sell the rest to be homogenized and pasteurized. There is a farmer's market in town every Saturday in seasonable weather. But there is also a direct selling family garden about 2 miles due east of my home.

To be honest it would never occur to me to buy a cucumber or zucchini in February. Of course I am aware I will be trying to find some open car windows to sneak the surplus into in August. (OK, I have never actually done that, but I have been known to occasionally beg someone to take them.) Although I do it on occasion, I hate buying tomatoes in winter, rally they taste nothing like a "real" tomato. However, I don't think a lot about where the foods I don't produce abundantly come from. In many of those cases I have rarely eaten truly fresh versions, so maybe I don't notice the inferior quality.

Maybe because of the beginning of garden season, I have notice that this is a popular topic in the blog world recently. I know I can do better about local sourcing my food, without much effort. Some of my goals for this are:
  1. Looking into options for buying fresh milk.
  2. Arranging to buy fresh eggs.
  3. Building dark storage for our root crops.
  4. Trying to local source our poultry (we already local source our beef and pork)
  5. Visiting our farmer's market and nearby direct produce seller.

Of course my biggest challenge is still turning this food into meals that receive a good reception from my family. So my biggest goal of all is learning how to use all those local seasonal foods at dinner time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mary, Mary, quite contrary...

How does my garden grow? The tomatoes, peppers, green beans, spinach, lettuce, carrots, onions, and radishes are all in nice rows. The hills; cucumbers, zucchini, and melons aren't in yet.

We have much of our home garden planted. Except for the sweet corn, we haven't started at the farm yet. The men are busy in the fields right now, so maybe next week we'll get to it. We planted the tomatoes and peppers yesterday morning, around 7am. It was so nice to be out in the quiet just the 2 of us, the girls were still sleeping. I took pictures. I am planning on updating my blog header as the garden grows. They are just little plants now surrounded by coffee cans for protection from our prarie winds.

There is a good aritcle on eating seasonally and locally on Keeper of the Home. It made me realize how blessed I am. For much of the year I don't have to source out my produce. All I need to do is walk into the back yard. I need to take better advantage of this blessing. Preparing to use the abundance produced by our fabulous black loam is one of my projects on my journey to "find natural". So if you have any great ideas for my garden produce let me know.