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Lions Roar : July 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2007 23 Barbara Kingsolver, best-selling author of The Poisonwood Bible, always begins writing a book by asking herself an important question, then writes her way to an answer. Her new book, however, required her to both write and eat her way there. “Could my family and I feed ourselves on only local organic food,” Kingsolver asked, “and could we produce a good chunk of that food ourselves on our Appalachian farm?” Peppered with recipes, surprising facts, and love-struck turkey hens, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of their yearlong experiment. ANDREA CLAIRE MILLER: What was the most difficult thing about eating locally for a year? BARBARA KINGSOLVER: Everyone asks that, and I think the answer people expect is that it was really hard to give up some particular food, but it really wasn’t. Our undertaking was to focus on what was new, what was good, what was fresh in every season, and every month there was something to celebrate. By concen- trating on that, we really forgot about what we were missing. It didn’t cross my mind when I was hunting morels that I was giv- ing up bananas. I mean, who needs them? Near the beginning of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle you talk about the miracle of asparagus. Can you tell me about the wonders of another vegetable? Peanuts are a miracle. Most people understand that peanuts are seeds, and most people understand that peanuts grow un- der the ground, but not many people stop to ask themselves how a seed gets under the ground. The answer is that the plant plants the seed there. The plant has a flower above the ground that looks like a little orange pea blossom; it’s in the pea fam- ily. The flower is pollinated by an insect, and then the stem of the flower goes crazy. It turns downward and grows really fast, driving the fruiting body of the flower into the ground, where the seed matures. So the peanut is the overachiever of the veg- etable world: it plants its own seeds. But pick any vegetable and I could wax lyrical about it. I never get tired of these fascinating processes. That’s the most interesting thing about food—that it’s a process, not a product. Everything in the grocery store has had a fascinating life, but most people only see a moment in the cycle of each food. In the book you introduce us to many people involved with producing local organic food. Who was particularly inspiring to you? I appreciate engaging with my community, so I feel such grati- tude to the farmers in my neighborhood—the people who, over the year, became our friends at the farmers’ market. A myth that drives a lot of American culture is that we are solo flyers. This myth, which suggests we can do everything by ourselves and that we should be proud of independence, gets us into trouble be- cause nobody is really a solo flyer. We all depend on other people to make our clothes and grow our food. It’s a wonderful spiritual exercise to re-engage with some of that invisible community by going down to the farmers’ market and saying, “Thank you for the grains, thank you for the strawberries.” It’s a way of remem- bering we belong to a chorus of humanity. What was another satisfying aspect of this project? The work involved. I loved walking out to the garden with a hoe and getting dirty. We live in a culture that doesn’t respect manual labor. We’ve been told that the purpose of education is to free our- selves from it, and a corollary to that notion is the belief that if we are busy or important in any way, it’s fine to pay other people to do our simple labors. At the very least we expect others to farm for us. It’s a pervasive notion in this country that hard work, and especially anything having to do with rural places and dirt, is beneath the im- portance of most people. I strongly disagree with that, and for years I have struggled to explain to people why I consider growing some of my food as important as the work that I do with my intellect. How do you explain it? It’s a pretty radical concept for North America. Recently I read the principles that Gandhi followed for right liv- ing and I discovered the word sharirshrama, which means “bread work,” and my heart just settled into place, because that is exactly how to explain it. No matter how important Gandhi became in the world, he never considered himself too important, too old, Q&A Bread Work BARBARA KINGSOLVER