What’s to eat?

I became a vegetarian in 2000, and now I feel bad about eating bananas.

I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I suggested it to my book club after we read a dystopian downer called The Windup Girl, which had something to do with food being an endangered species controlled by Calorie Companies. I didn’t care for it. At. All. But it did make me want to read some nonfiction about the state of food in the world.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I like. Some of the reviews I read complained that it’s not fair to expect regular people to grow their own food. Kingsolver and family have a lot more resources than regular people. And does she have to be so smug?

I don’t think she’s smug at all, I think she recognizes that the year of eating locally isn’t possible for most people. That’s why she wrote about it, to share the experience with those of us who don’t have the money or wherewithal to move to the Appalachians and pluck our own poultry. While the book contains recipes, it’s not a cookbook, it’s a fantasy memoir. Here’s what life would be like if you could afford to live off the land for an entire year. (I know, weird, right? Living of the land appears to be more costly than eating at McDonald’s every day.)

A neighborhood branch of a grocery chain is having a closing sale. I went there yesterday with ideas of buying all the local produce they had. (Wait, what’s in season right now?) I walked out with Ecuadorian bananas and $274 of other stuff. It was a ridiculous spree that also included organic cotton socks and a snow shovel. I don’t know what happened. Rob was with me, but I was the one putting most of the stuff in the cart.

I mention the bananas, because even though I am inspired by Kingsolver’s book, I still walked into the grocery store, looked at the produce section and thought, “I have no idea what to get.” When did I lose the ability to feed myself? Bananas are something I know how to eat. I slice them and eat them with peanut butter on toast.

I’m a fairly lousy gardener, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes me want to grow tomatoes and potatoes. How cool would it be to grow my own carrots? I picture myself pulling the leggy orange roots out of the dirt by their weedy green hair. Of course, then I’d have to worry about deer eating my groceries. And keep my diggity dogs away from the beds.

The least I can do is buy from the farmers’ market or co-op.

I’m not a strict vegetarian anymore. I started eating seafood again in 2007 when I regularly came face to face with the harvesting process. I feel good about that. I still feel bad watching fish gasp their last breath, but I’m comfortable decapitating a shrimp or putting a live crab in a steaming pot of water. Hey, if you’re going to eat it, you better respect where it came from.

That’s basically the message of Kingsolver’s book, and here’s the craziest part. I found myself looking forward to the chapter about harvesting poultry. It still makes me sad to think of the deer and cows who die to feed my dogs. I went to a sheep farm a few years ago, and couldn’t relate to the woman who raises those fuzzy little critters to eat. I wanted to read in detail about how Kingsolver dispatches the toms and roosters she and her daughter so lovingly reared. It helps, she says, that testosterone-fueled birds aren’t so fun to be around.

Also, what? The chicken on your table is actually a rooster! Your Thanksgiving turkey is a tom!

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