The Official Book of the Month, my friends, is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s slaying me, as my friend Abby would say. (If I read half as much as Abby, I’d have three honorary doctorates right now, but that’s another blogpost). I’ll allow you two tries — that’s what it took for me. The 1st time I picked it up, it seemed altogether too celebratory about a topic that is actually an international health, food, and farming crisis. The fact that it doesn’t take the kind of tone we humans reserve for crises, had me a bit skeptical. Where were all the scary statistics? The fear-based arguments? Where was the anger? The blaming? Don’t they want me to feel like an idiot for eating what I’ve been eating my whole life? 9 months ago, I put this book down after 15 pages…and then along came the intelligent voters of my book club, and alas, here I am reading and absolutely adoring it. In what context is timing (and, perhaps, mandate) not everything?
So, request it at your library. Grab a copy of it used. Or, borrow mine when I’m done. I think it’s even out in paperback now. Just promise me you’ll read it this summer, because, let’s face it — summer is when the bounty is highest.
I’m not going to make this blogpost a book report, so go ahead and keep reading. In fact, I’m not going to attempt to sum up the beautiful and most compelling argument this book makes about what to eat and when. Barbara Kingsolver, even on a bad day, could persuade me to consume copious amounts of dog vomit, and convince me it was tasty, with her lovely turn of phrase. You’re going to read the book this summer anyway — you already promised — so I don’t need to restate what’s already been said so well.
This is what I do need to say: Food! The Love Factor. All this talk about food — what’s in it? what’s not? where’d it come from? who touched it? where did it spend its adolescence? how far did it travel before I bought it? how many precious fossil fuels were used? who’s selling it? who’s reaping the major reward here? gets me, truly it does. The who, what, when, where, and why of food production has dramatically altered the way I shop and eat. If I could talk about food politics as beautifully as our gal, Babs Kingsolver, I’d get on my soapbox too.
Barbara is held in high esteem
And at the same time, there’s a central point I want to drive home. Make fresh and healthy food at home, from scratch, because that way you can put love in it. You read me right — love. I’m talking about an ingredient that can’t be measured — whose impact can never be made statistical. Love. We need love in our food. Why? Because, we are what we eat, my friends. Foodlove heals, fills, and nourishes in a way empty, processed, calories never can and never will. This is one of life’s tastiest mysteries.
is there love in there?
What I’m really talking about is an old thing I’ll call “The Grandma Effect.” Why does the food Grandma makes taste so good? Why is it so healing? Because there is actually love in it. Cups and pints of it. Now, I don’t mean to be cryptic or cute. I realize I’m stating an obvious thing — and yet, we get away from it. We — so many of us — fill our lives with Costco frozen appetizers and Krispy Kreme platters and call it a party. In the meanwhile, we are starving for foodlove.
I want to break it down this way: There are two kinds of love found in food:
1. Active Love. Active Love is simply — just doing it. It means I care enough about you to go to some effort. This is the one Grandma may not even realize she’s doing because she doesn’t know it any other way. This is the Love that implies we know and understand where our food comes from. We respect it, and want to use it well — do it right. This is the Love that means we make the time because someone is coming over to our home to share a meal. We get our hands wet; dirty up some dishes; start at the beginning. The Active Love involved in making something from scratch sends this message: “Your presence here is important to me. I want to take care of you. I made this with my own two hands.” Simple as that, whether you are making a 3-ingredient fruit salad or a 3-day, 3-layer cake.
Barbara Kingsolver takes it many steps further, and with good reason. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but the love theme runs rampant in this book! The farmers love their crops and their customers and the land enough to treat them all right. The vegetables and animals love their lives. The cooks and gardeners love the satisfaction that only comes from hard work and a sense of ownership. And, of course, the eaters love the results. Wholesome. Homegrown. Homemade. Garden. Farmer. Harvesting. From Scratch. Don’t those words alone make you want to roll out some dough?
The Love Quotient runs high in the Kingsolver kitchen because Barbara and her family take the concept of eating locally to a whole new (actually, very old) level. They befriend their local farmers, harvest their own chickens, can, pickle, make cheese, and mostly grow their own. They truly eat with the seasons — waiting all year for those 6 weeks when their asparagus plants sprout, and then eat asparagus like they’ll never eat it again…and they won’t, for about 46 weeks.
The philosophy is this: by the time it’s no longer “in season” you are sick of eating it anyway, and a year later, you can’t wait to bite into it again. Delayed satisfaction. Quality and Simplicity. Hard Work. Well, wrap an American Flag around me — aren’t those the kind of values our country was founded on? Why does this make the love quotient higher? Because it brings the earth into the equation. It sings the praises of nature — the way it provides for us (with a little canning and hoarding through the winter thrown in) which, inevitably imbues our lives with a sense of abundance and perfect order. Eating locally means taking care of everyone — that’s love.
2. Intentional Love. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle doesn’t cover this kind of love, hence my need to write this blogpost. Once you have started making something from scratch (Step 1) Intentional Love means actually putting love into the dish (Step 2). Mindfully put it there, as you are stirring, chopping, or frying. Love it. Think about who will eat it. Put your own unique healing powers into the soup or the souffle by simply taking a moment to want them there. Infuse the food with your own intentions. (This is the Grandma Effect, Part II, I assure you.)
"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"
Alas, my friends, the message here is simple. It doesn’t matter what you are making — just make it from scratch. Stay home. Have people over. Feed them. Nourish them. Go to a bit of trouble for them. Love them. Put your whole heart into it. I promise, it will taste amazing. Is there absolutely anything in the world we need more, as human beings, than to feed each other?