Thursday, August 2, 2007

Read the Book

You know, sometimes you get such a great book that you have to quote huge chunks of it to your husband late into the night as he moans and grumbles trying to get to sleep? Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one of those fantastic books.

Maybe it's because Barbara Kingsolver is dealing with themes that are really important to our family at the moment: our culture's dependence on oil; eating seasonally; supporting local food producers; aiming for self-sufficiency; good, healthy food.

Maybe it's because her name is Barbara and our favourite British comedy characters are Tom and Barbara (terms of endearment we use for each other) from The Good Life, which humourously deals with the self-sufficiency dream in the 1970's.

Maybe it's because she supports our current omnivorous lifestyle, allowing me to somewhat cast off my nagging meat-eaters guilt. How serendipitous to be reading the chapter "You can't run away on harvest day" when having a conversation with vegetarian and vegan friends! Barbara was a vegetarian for many years until alternative pasture-based and free-range meat sources became more widely available.

"I respect every diner who makes morally motivated choices about consumption. And I stand with nonviolence, as one of those extremist moms who doesn't let kids at her house pretend to shoot each other, ever, or make any game out of human murder. But I've come to different conclusions about lifestock. The ve-vangical pamphlets showing jam-packed chickens and sick downer-cows usually declare, as their first principle, that all meat is factory-farmed. That is false, and an affront to those of us who work to raise animals humanely, or who support such practices with our buying power. I don't want to cause any creature misery, so I won't knowingly eat anything that has stood belly deep in its own poop wishing it was dead until bam, one day it was."

"Most humans could well consume more vegetable foods, and less meat. But globally speaking, the vegetarian option is a luxury. The oft-cited energetic argument for vegetarianism, that it takes ten times as much land to make a pound of meat as a pound of grain, only applies to the kind of land where rain falls abundantly on rich topsoil. Many of the world's poor live in marginal lands that can't support plant-based agriculture. Those not blessed with the fruited plain and amber waves of grain must make do with woody tree pods, tough-leaved shrubs, or sparse grasses. Camels, reindeer, sheep, goats, cattle, and other ruminants are uniquely adapted to transform all those types of indigestible cellulose into edible milk and meat...countless other resourceful tribes would starve without their animals."

Our family eats vegetarian meals, interspersed with free-range chicken, organic lamb and "wild" goat and venison. We have stopped purchasing tinned fish and very rarely buy fresh tarakihi or gurnard (please check out the Best Fish Guide for buying information). Our next step is to practice our very small scale gardening, in the hope that, one day, we will own a wee piece of land.