Notes & Quotes: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

The following are my favorite quotes from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

  1. The average food item on a U.S. grocery shelf has traveled farther than most families go on their annual vacations.
  2. We call our food animals by different names after they're dead, presumable sparing ourselves any vision of the beefs and the porks running on actual hooves.
  3. We don't know beans about beans. Asparagus, potatoes, turkey drumsticks--you name it, we don't have a clue how the world makes it.
  4. Obesity is generally viewed as a failure of personal resolve, with no acknowledgment of the genuine conspiracy in this historical scheme. People actually did sit in strategy meetings discussing ways to get all those surplus calories into people who neither needed nor wished to consume them. Children have been targeted especially; food companies spend over $10 billion a year selling food brands to kids, and it isn't broccoli they're pushing. Overweight children are a demographic in many ways similar to minors addicted to cigarettes, with one notable exception: their parents are usually their suppliers. We all subsidize the cheap calories with our tax dollars, the strategists make fortunes, and the overweight consumers get blamed for the violation. The perfect crime.
  5. The multiple maladies caused by bad eating are taking a dire toll our health--most tragically our kids, who are predicted to be this country's first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. That alone is stunning enough fact to give us pause. So is a government policy that advises us to eat more fruits and vegetables, while doling out subsidies not to fruit and vegetable farmers, but to commodity crops destined to become soda pop and cheap burgers.
  6. For most of us, if we see asparagus in any month far removed from April, we're looking at some hard traveling.
  7. It's hard to reduce our modern complex of food choices to unifying principles, but this is one that generally works: eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body.
  8. Modern U.S. consumers now get to taste less than 1 percent of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a century ago. Those old-timers now lurk only in backyard gardens and on farms that specialize in direct sales--if they survive at all. Many heirlooms have been lost entirely.
  9. Six companies--Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis, and Dow--now control 98 percent of the world's seed sales. These companies invest heavily in research whose purpose is to increase food production capacity only in ways that can be controlled strictly.
  10. A thriving field of vegetables is as needy as a child, and similarly, the custodian's job isn't done till the goods have matured and moved out.
  11. Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history.
  12. The larger the corporation, the more distant its motives are apt to be from the original spirit of organic farming--and the farther the products will likely be shipped to buyers who will smile at the happy farm picture on the package, and never be the wiser.
  13. A survey of National Merit scholars--exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography, and class--turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table. It's not just the food making them brilliant. It's probably the parents--their care, priorities, and culture of support. The words: "I'll expect you home for dinner."
  14. As a rule, the harder the cheese, the lower the lactose content. (Anything less than 2 percent lactose is tolerable for just about everybody.) Also, higher fat content means less lactose--butter has none.
  15. Buying your goods from local businesses rather than national chains generates about three times as much money for your local economy.
  16. If we draw the okay-to-kill line between "animal" and "plant," and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest. An estimated 67 million birds die each year from pesticide exposure on U.S. farms. Butterflies, too, are universally killed on contact in larval form by the genetically modified pollen contained in most U.S. corn. Foxes, rabbits, and bobolinks are starved out of their homes or dismembered by the sickle mower. Insects are "controlled" even by organic pesticides; earthworms are cut in half by the plow. Contrary to lore, they won't grow into two; both halves die.
  17. I don't want to cause any creature misery, so I won't knowingly eat anything that has stood belly deep in its own poop wishing it was dead until bam, on day it was. (In restaurants I go for the fish, or the vegetarian option.)
  18. No fickle wind messes with the track of the sun. It's a crucial decision for a living thing: When, exactly, to shut down leaf growth and pull all resources down into the roots to stock up for winter? A mistake will cost a plant the chance to pass on its genes. So in temperate climates, evolution has tied such life-or-death decisions to day length. Animals use it also, to trigger mating, nesting, egg-laying, and migration.
  19. It never really stops, this business of growing things--garlic goes into the ground again in October, just as other frost-killed crops are getting piled onto the compost heap. Food is not a product but a process, and it never sleeps. It just goes underground for a while.
  20. Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August.
  21. The great majority of modern turkeys can expect an earthly duration of only four months before meeting their processor. Free-range turkeys may take as long as six months to reach slaughter size. But any bird that lives past its first Thanksgiving inhabits a domain occupied by fewer than one-half of one percent of domestic turkeys.
  22. The three basic components of responsible eating are to favor food grown in an environmentally responsible way, delivered with minimal petroleum use, in a manner that doesn't exploit the farmers.