I was in the middle of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle when I got distracted by a featured post on Xanga.  I read all 700 + comments—thus breaking my New Year’s resolution already.  The post told me that even though I’m a nice person who works in human services, pays my taxes, loves my children, and looks after my neighbors, I’m definitely, positively going to hell.  Sheez, I’m not even gay!  I don’t even kick the dog.  Heck, I don’t even HAVE a dog.

The whole thing, including the many, many comments concurring with the blogger’s assessment of my afterlife, reminded me of the Roman Emperor Caligula.  Not that I spend a lot of time thinking about Roman Emperors, but recently my husband and I have been watching the old miniseries, I, Claudius.  Anyway, Caligula declared himself a god, and not just any god, but Jupiter, the Big Daddy of the gods.  People believed him because…I don’t know why anyone would believe him, but there are a lot of things people believe that I don’t understand.

Caligula/Jupiter rather capriciously killed anyone who displeased him, and he was so very easy to displease.  If you kissed his butt and he was happy with you, it was party time, but everyone around him lived in fear, because no matter how upright, kind, productive, pleasant, helpful, or anything else you might be, Caligula would have you whacked on a dime.

But it’s the book I wanted to talk about. 

I was kind of bummed about going to hell when I went back to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which Kingsolver discusses her family’s experience with living for a whole year on only locally grown food, much of which they grew themselves.  She also weaves in a great deal of essay/commentary about food, especially about the intensely negative effects of relying on Big Agribusiness for our food supply. 

And there I was, going to hell again!  I think my diet is pretty good, especially by American standards.  I limit my saturated fats and I consume more vegetables than anyone I know.  But it seems I’ve been eating the wrong vegetables!  Some were trucked to me with gallons of fossil fuels from the far corners of the earth! 

I’m making light, of course, but I am far more sympathetic to Kingsolver’s argument than to the featured post I mentioned.  (Also, she didn’t actually threaten me.)  Consider: a small number of giant corporations produce the majority of our food, even the fresh produce.  They are not interested in providing us with the best tasting food.  They do not concern themselves with the nutritional quality of our food.  They are motivated by one thing and one thing only: maximizing their profits.

The profit motive leads to such travesties as the production of plants that cannot reproduce themselves, so farmers can’t save seeds for the next crop (forcing them to buy more seeds from the company).  And the “Round-Up Ready” plants that can survive being hosed with herbicides that kill all the weeds around them.  Do you want to eat food that’s been hosed with Round Up? 

We can now buy only one variety of wheat.  Every turkey available to you for your holiday meal is of one breed.  The bio-diversity of our food supply shrinks and shrinks—courting disaster, like an undiversified portfolio.  And of course, buying food produced far away burns fuel, creates pollution, and oh, the list goes on.  It’s enough to make you want to pull on your hemp clothes and visit your p-patch right now.

Of course, a piece of my brain is reminding me that the ability to transport resources is one of the things that makes humans so successful as a species.  And how many things would you have to live without if you adhered to a local food only rule?  Do bananas grow in your state?  Mine neither.

January is the wrong time to read this book.  Even the crunchy organic food delivery service I recently subscribed to is hard-pressed to find much local food to send me now.  But a little more mindfulness about my purchases, over the course of a year, adds up to a significant impact, especially if other people are a little more mindful too. 

Our planet is our responsibility while we’re on it.  What happens after, I don’t pretend to know.


33 thoughts on “DAMNED IF I DO

  1. Right now in my sustainable garden I have broccolini, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, and a dead banana tree.  I ate raspberries for breakfast yesterday, though, and who knows where they came from.  I told you to read Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma!!  It is all about this very issue.  I love Barbara Kingsolver and I liked Animal, Vegetable Miracle, but the Omnivore’s Dilemma was unputdownable.You should really stay away from those featured posts.  a) featured posts suck; and b) people who read featured posts are going to hell.

  2. Good stuff, TR!   The food system is very comparable to an undiversified portfolio, isn’t it? I wonder if that analogy would get people’s attention today? Because buying the cheapest food we can lay our hands on only seems economical when all of the downside costs are hidden by the current system of producing it. I thought Kingsolvers book offered an excellent look at what direction we are going, and asked if that is really what we want.  SEVEN HUNDRED replies?! You’ve already been to Purgatory, I’ll plead your case. Just don’t let it happen again!

  3. *sigh* Looks like I’m hell bound too, and although I really do try I’m afriad I even have a hard time remembering to bring in the reusable bag to the store. Maybe if I stitch it to my side? Anyway, although I make light here, I agree it’s a serious concern, and our responsibility. I need to do better on that front.

  4. I’ve got a south facing sliding door in my dining room. It’s great for starting garden plants that need the jump-start to their growing season, and this year I’ve got turnip greens growing for winter tastiness. –not enough for more than a taste, but it feels good

  5. You make me feel so un-read!    I used to read all the time.  I always had a book tucked in my purse so if I had to wait for something at the pharmacy, or stand in line at the post office, or wherever, I could always read.    Then I got away from it.   And about a year ago, I started again, always at the library, book after book after book,   But alas, I have fallen off the bookmobile again and I see you are reading all the time.    I really do need to read more.    I don’t need any recommendations about which books to read because they are all around me.  As for growing my own produce.    I tried it.   It got too wet, then too dry, then some sort of tiny critters started chewing on the leaves.    It was too hot for anything to grow.   I gave up and went to the supermarket.     Now we are trying to get grass to grow over the garden spot.   How come we were always pulling grass out of there when we didn’t want it and now it doesn’t want to sprout anything but tall weeds?Ava

  6. As much as I appreciate the Alice Waters/Slow Food/organic lifestyle, I always feel it’s a bit like sewage treatment.  Absolutely fantastic, a great idea, as long as it’s someone else doing it.  I don’t, for example, feel I should be spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on monthly groceries to feed one person.  With six billion people in the world, figuring out how to feed everyone is a tough task, and there IS a happy middle ground between only eating food produced within ten miles of your home versus filling yourself entirely with Frankenfood produced on corporate farms the size of Spain.Civilization exists to make life more convenient.  History, through one lens, is a steady progression of life becoming more convenient, or making small corrections along that path.  We have vacuum cleaners — should we throw them out and get the rake instead?  Heat our irons on manure-burning stoves?  We can see examples all around us of life being a little TOO comfy, but I still think that by and large, corporate farming is just another aspect of our take-it-easy lifestyle, and barring any major upset to our way of life, inertia will only see us ending up with Frankenpeople to go along with our cuisine.

  7. I loved that book.  One of my favorite quotes was, “In my view, homeland security derives from having enough potatoes.”  That pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.  Even growing a small garden or a few containers of herbs goes a long way toward being local.  Every little bit amounts to so much.  I know I could not go 100% local — I’d miss coffee way too much.  But I think, especially in the growing seasons, if we can support local farmers via CSA’s, farmers’ markets, etc. we really can make a difference.  And assuming you are a meat eater, you can often find, with a little bit of nosing around, local farmers who will sell you truly fresh meat that you can keep in a chest freezer.  The meat is far superior to anything you can buy in a market and usually costs much less per pound.Off my soap box now.  🙂

  8. Guess I’m weird. Love turnip greens. When I was a kid alot of my gandparent’s generation had maintained their victory gardens. I’m wondering, if this recession lasts long enough, will they reappear? The whole conservation of heirloom varieties thing might get a big boost from the current economic woes. Maybe.

  9. I belong to the CSA right now and I mostly get squash.  (Wo)Man cannot live on squash alone… Of course, I jest, since being from California I probably COULD live on locally grown produce and meats and eggs and etc.  But I do love those Canadian blueberries!  They are high in antioxidants, you know 🙂 

  10. As far as the “going to hell” thing, may I suggest reading The Shack by William P. Young?  As for growing one’s own food, one of my friends asked “why do you always do things the hard way?”—because I’m stubborn, independent, and love to dig in the dirt!  Not everyone is meant to be a farmer but it is good to know where one’s food comes from.

  11.  hi jodi…the reason Caligula convinced the commoners that he was a god…was once he heard you didnt believe …he killed you……pretty convincing aurgument woodn’t ya say?? i’m not sure why people love to romanticize the greeks and romans ..all the emperors were pretty much that way…if they werent inviting you to an orgy,,they were killing you……hey did ya figure out why yer going to hell??? p.s. those featured blogs are usually written by 57 yr old hacks{ in a building in new york} , posing as 18 year old girls with xanga names like super mom  or sumpin like that……..so maybe yer not going to hell after all……………… 

  12. I started to read that featured xanga post you mention, but quit after the first paragraph.  And I’m a Christian (Catholic), although there are some who think Catholics will end up in hell too.  Oh well, it sounds like I’ll have interesting company. I’m worried about the whole food issue, but I’m also really gardening challenged.  I rarely have good luck with plants, although I discovered this year that the plants I fed bunny droppings to did better than the plants that didn’t get bunny droppings.

  13. I have never read Featured Posts. I have all I can do to keep up with my subs, half of who never seem to comment on my posts so I wonder why I bother to try and comment every where I visit. My father was an organic farmer. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t grow a garden. Little did he understand TX soil and weather, he lived in PA. Our city no longer has the farmers market down town or coming to the local mall parking lots. So that leaves us to shop without worrying about what has been sprayed on food as it grows.

  14. given the particular types of people who are going to heaven and therefore casting everyone else to hell; i think that those in hell will be a heck of a lot more interesting. Can you play the harp? Me neither, can you imagine the caterwauling that will pass for harp playing in heaven? hell is probably a bit more peaceful. won’t be able to hear anything over the roar of the fires, anyway. 

  15. As a person who is on the express train to hell, I can tell you that it’s going to have most of the fun people, the better music, and more creative freedom.  As for the food question, I agree, but I also spent a good part of my youth in a cult, where we grew all kinds of stuff in our back plot, waiting for the day that the Frankenfarms failed and the universe unraveled.  Hmmm, seems like those folks have been waiting a while now.  Well in cosmic terms they haven’t, but in human terms it does seem to have been a while.  And while I agree that we have a responsibility to tread lightly, I hated gardening, and am willing to let someone else do that chore.  I should join one of those farmers co-op things, but it always ends up being really inconvenient. My friends had me pick their stuff up once when they were out of town.  7:30 a.m. on a Saturday?   The only time in years I was up at that hour.

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