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    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Quote Selection One

    October 1, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Here we have a book which I found enjoyable and informative. Even though it was a memoir, it was full of helpful information, especially for me since I’ve been dreaming of our first full-sized gardening adventure that {Lord willing} begins this spring. However, I also had an underlying uncomfortable feeling as I read the book. I initially thought that it was because the author was so obviously feminist, so obviously evolutionist.

    But then I thought of other books I’ve read that contained these elements and yet didn’t give me the same feeling. A difference of opinion or belief doesn’t necessarily have to translate into this feeling that I’m having trouble putting words to.

    I think the majority of the feeling stems from my impression that the author was antagonistic toward the average creationist. She made room for the Amish, but deep down, everyone likes and respects the Amish, right? But someone from my community, who lives in the modern world and yet seeks the old paths at the same time? I got the feeling that Kingsolver would look upon this with disdain.

    I also found another source of my irritation, but it is so involved that I’m going to save that for a future post, because this post is intended to be a quote selection, or collection, depending on your way of looking at it.

    Kingsolver’s perspective on tobacco farming is much like my own, so I appreciated her comments on it. She wrote:

    I grew up in a tobacco county….[W]e knew what tobacco meant to our lives. It paid our schoolteachers and blacktopped our roads…For my classmates who went to college, it was tobacco that sent them. Me too, since my family could not have stayed solvent without other family economies that relied on tobacco.

    From that society I sallied out into a world where, to my surprise, farmer was widely presumed synonymous with hee-haw, and tobacco was the new smallpox. I remember standing in someone’s kitchen once at a college party…listening while everyone present agreed on the obvious truth about tobacco: it should be eliminated from this planet and all others. I blurted out, foolishly, “But what about the tobacco farmers?”

    You’d have thought I’d spoken up for child porn….

    Yes, it’s a plant that causes cancer after a long line of people {postfarmer} have specifically altered and abused it. And yes, it takes chemicals to keep the blue mold off the crop. And it sends people to college. It makes house payments, buys shoes, and pays doctor bills. It allows people to live with their families and shake hands with their neighbors in one of the greenest, kindest places in all this world. Tobacco is slowly going extinct as a U.S. crop, and that is probably a sign of good civic sense, but it’s also a cultural death when all those who grew it must pack up, go find an apartment somewhere, and work in a factory. What is family farming worth?

    Kingsolver understands the value in food crops is related to their proximity to the marketplace:

    The world’s most beautiful tomato, if it can’t get into a shopper’s basket in less than five days, it worth exactly nothing.

    It was interesting to me to see Kingsolver try to bring feminism back from its kitchen neglect:

    When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it…We came a long way, baby, into bad eating habits and collaterally impaired family dynamics. No matter what else we do believe, food remains at the center of every culture. Ours now runs on empty calories.


    Eating preprocessed or fast food can look like salvation in the short run, until we start losing what real mealtimes give to a family: civility, economy, and health. A lot of us are wishing for a way back home, to the place where care-and-feeding isn’t zookeeper’s duty but something happier and more creative.

    Kingsolver looks to the Amish for hints on how to make self-sufficiency a reality:

    If a self-sufficient farming community has survived here, it remains a possibility elsewhere. The success of this one seemed to hinge on many things, including steady work, material thrift, flexibility, modest expectations, and careful avoidance of debt–but not including miracles, as far as I could see. Unless, of course, we live in a country where those qualities have slipped from our paddock of everyday virtues, off to the side of “miracle.” I couldn’t say.

    Because I find the Amish fascinating, I made sure I underlined this insight:

    The Amish don’t oppose technology on principle, only particular technologies they feel would change their lives for the worse…When milking machines came up for discussion in David and Elsie’s community, the dairy farmers pointed out that milking by hand involves repeatedly lifting eighty-pound milk cans, limiting the participation of smaller-framed women and children. Milking machines were voted in because they allow families to do this work together….

    David summarizes his position on technology in one word: boundaries. “The workhorse places a limit on the size of our farms, and the standardbred horse-drawn buggy limits the distances we travel. This is basically what we need. This is what keeps our communities healthy.”…[L]imiting territory size can yield dividends in appreciation for what one already has, and the ability to manage it without debt. The surprise is to find whole communities gracefully accepting such boundaries, inside a nation that seems allergic to limitations, priding itself instead of the freedom to go as far as we want, as fast as we can, and buy until we run out of money–or longer, if we have credit cards.

    Want to know why we want to grow a lot of our own food? It’s knowledge we might need someday. Kingsolver gets that:

    [W]hen centralization collapses on itself, as it inevitably does, back we go to the family farm. The Roman Empire grew fat on the fruits of huge, corporate, slave-driven agricultural operations, to the near exclusion of any small farms by the end of the era. But when Rome crashed and burned, its urbanized citizenry scurried out to every nook and cranny of Italy’s mountains and valleys, returning once again to the work of feeding themselves and their families. They’re still doing it, to this day.

    Are poultry were vegetarians? Vegans? There aren’t many true, 100% vegan animals in the world, much as my high school biology teacher would have liked to believe. Kingsolver explains:

    Both chickens and turkeys are also eager carnivores. I’ve seen many a small life meet its doom at the end of a beak in our yard, not just beetles and worms but salamanders and wild-eyed frogs. {The “free-range vegetarian hens” testimony on an egg-carton label is perjury, unless someone’s trained them with little shock collars.}

    That’s enough for today. More quotes tomorrow!

    Other Posts Concerning Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

    Economics as a Form of Community
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Quote Selection Two
    What to Look For in a Rooster
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Final Review

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  • Reply Brandy October 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Rahime, I have to admit I’m a bit relieved that you felt the same way. I kept questioning myself, whether I was picking up on something that wasn’t there, whether I was being extra-sensitive because I’m low on sleep right now.

    I tried not to let it ruin the book for me because there was so much in it that was worth reading. But, yes: a sense of superiority. That is a good way of putting it.

  • Reply Rahime October 2, 2008 at 5:34 am

    I wondered what you’d think about this book. I had some of the same reactions…interested in and appreciative of most of the information, but even keeping in mind the different worldviews we’re coming from I was disturbed by some almost intangible aspect of it. I think it had something to do with the attitude of superiority she held about her views on feminism and evolution.

    Anyways, good selection of quotes. That was one of the disadvantages of listening to the audio book…I didn’t get to highlight and go back to some of the jewels.

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