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Local food commitment has its limits

Life with a View

July 24, 2010

I feel I owe Barbara Kingsolver an apology.

I recently read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," Kingsolver's account of the year her family committed to eating only food they grew themselves or purchased locally. Steven Hopp, Kingsolver's husband, provides commentaries throughout the book, explaining how corporate farming compromises not only the success of small family farms, but the nutritional quality of the food on grocery store shelves. Kingsolver's daughter Camille provides a young adult perspective on the venture, and some family recipes, too.

Kingsolver is an articulate, lyrical writer, and in this book she's also down to earth and chatty. It feels like you're having coffee with her, enjoying her tales seasonal eating, adventures in canning, and turkey procreation.

Before long, however, I was wading through lengthy paragraphs on the political and socioeconomic aspects of corporate farms, the blind greed of food manufacturing giants, and the extravagant amount of fuel oil it takes to deliver bunches of bananas from the tropics to America's produce aisles.

Wait, I thought. What about daughter Lily's baby chicks? What about making your own mozzarella? One minute I was enjoying a gentle tale of grow-what-you-eat living and next thing I knew I was up to my eyeballs in facts and figures that made my eyes squint and my head ache.

I was tempted to adopt the reading technique employed by generations of schoolchildren: skim over the hard parts. I'd be reading about newspapers as compost, the urgency of cherry picking season, and the delights of sharing one's homegrown bounty with friends when my pleasure would be interrupted by still more facts and figures, not to mention Hopp's frequent sidebars.

It was pride that got me to read that extra information. How was I going to discuss this book, or recommend it to friends, if I'd only read a self-abridged version? It would be like recommending a restaurant to someone when you'd only tasted its breadsticks.

When I did buckle down and read every word, it was a revelation. Eating homegrown or locally grown food is not only nutritionally beneficial, it makes environmental and economic good sense for everyone. Well, everyone except big corporations.

Here's the catch: it isn't always easy.

Making a true commitment to eating locally means giving up anything that isn't grown within approximately a day's drive of where you live. Bye bye, bananas. So long, lemons. No strawberries in December, no tomatoes in February. For some of us that's a hefty sacrifice.

Since reading this book, I've some small changes. I buy most of my produce from local growers. I buy less ready-to-eat foods in favor of making meals whose ingredients don't contain words like "glutamate."

But I still eat bananas. I squeeze fresh lemon in my tea. The difference is I feel a twang of guilt for my complicity in the corporate domination of the food industry. I know, I know; my purchases are a miniscule, a speck in the global scheme of things. But if you combined all of our molecules, imagine how it would add up. Imagine how it could revolutionize how and what we eat, and how and where it's grown.

So apologies to Barbara Kingsolver. I'm awed and enlightened by her family's commitment to its principles. And who knows, maybe someday I'll actually commit to kicking my banana habit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Deb Pascoe is a Marquette resident, mother of three and full-time editorial assistant in The Mining Journal newsroom. Her bi-weekly columns focus on her observations on life and family. She can be reached by phone at 228-2500, ext. 240, or by e-mail to Read her blog online at



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