vegetable less traveled
—GARY W. PRIESTER
An online British friend who retired to France several
years ago was commenting on one of the big differences between the
two countries. In England, he told me, you could find just about
anything in the supermarket, just about any time of year. It France,
he continued, people eat much more of what is in season. And the
difference, he concluded, is remarkable. Fresh fruit and vegetables,
grown locally, are worlds apart in taste!
Interesting point. Most of the out-of-season fruits
and vegetables that magically appear on the supermarket shelves
in the middle of winter may very well have come from worlds away—often
from as far away as New Zealand.
My friend’s comparison was timely, as we had
just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable,
Miracle, a book whose subtitle might well have been “The
joys of eating locally.” Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the
perfect follow up to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which
I reviewed last month.
Have you ever noticed the difference in taste between
a fresh, locally-grown tomato and some of those shipped in bulk
to the U.S. from Mexico? One tastes sweet and succulent, and one
tastes like cardboard. The difference between fresh, locally-grown
and not-so-fresh, well-traveled is the essence of Animal, Vegetable,
Ms. Kingsolver, a novelist with whom many will be
familiar, moved from her long-time home in Arizona, with her husband
and two daughters, to a farm in West Virginia. They decided to try
eating for one year food either produced on their farm, or food
that was purchased locally and grown no more than one hundred miles
away. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a month-by-month journal
of how they did this, and the mouth-watering results of their experiment.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a true family
collaboration. Nine-year-old daughter Lily put in a stock of chickens,
which provided fresh eggs and meat. Lily ordered the chicks from
a mail order catalog and became quite an entrepreneur when she established
a lucrative business selling farm-fresh eggs to her friends and
Daughter Camille, a college student at Yale and a
yoga instructor, contributes chatty commentary and offers inventive
and nutritional recipes that feature the variety of local seasonal
produce. Barbara’s husband, Steven L. Hopp, a professor of
environmental studies, contributes a series of environmental and
industrial food-related essays. And Barbara, between her regular
writing gigs, manages to raise her two daughters, put in a full
day on the farm, and chronicle their year of eating locally.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is divided into
chapters that correspond to each month of the year. Ms. Kingsolver
and family have written a book that is informative and fun to read
without being preachy. To read this book is to—at the very
least—vicariously rediscover the pleasure of fresh-grown local
meat and vegetables. I bet you have never heard anyone write so
rapturously about asparagus!
We New Mexicans do not have access to all the farm-fresh
produce the Kingsolver-Hopps do—but we have more than you
might think. All through spring and summer there are a variety of
farmers’ markets where you can buy fresh, locally-grown fruits
and vegetables, many of which are organic. Organic produce is grown
without pesticides, which is better for you and better for the environment.
My wife and I, along with about fifty other Placitas residents,
have been buying a box of mostly locally-grown, mostly organic produce
from Los Poblanos Organics in Albuquerque that we pick up at the
Merc once a week. Los Poblanos has about twelve hundred customers
in the Albuquerque area and offers a variety of other local products,
such as the best tortillas you have ever eaten, exceptional goat
cheese, fresh pasta, grass-fed meat and farm-fresh eggs. For more
information about Los Poblanos Organics, visit www.lospoblanosorganics.com.
To read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is to
return to our roots (sorry, I couldn’t resist), and to return
to a simpler time when we all could wait with childlike anticipation
to enjoy the first red, ripe strawberries of the season.