I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle — A Year of Food Life.” In this book, Kingsolver and her family basically pick up and move from Tucson, Ariz., to Virgina in order to spend a year eating only food grown by themselves or by other producers in their local area.
I’ve been a fan of Kingsolver for years. Her essay collection “High Tide in Tucson” and novel “Animal Dreams” are my favorites. In general I like “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” as well, though it brings up an interesting dilemma.
While nobody can deny the environmental and nutritional benefits of eating locally as much as possible, it brings up questions of possible health consequences of doing without certain foods — good nutrition vs. environmental awareness, and good nutritition vs. less than ideal nutrition.
Kingsolver correctly argues that there is more nutrition in vegetables grown fresh and picked just that day. However, when you know broccoli, for example, contains compounds that help prevent cancer do you want to limit your intake to only when it is in season in your geographical area? Nutritionwise, even well-traveled broccoli seems better than no broccoli at all.
Then there is the question of foods like avocados, grapefruit, almonds, cocoa, olive oil, fish oil — all of which have powerful nutriceutical properties, but just don’t grow in most areas of the United States regardless of the season.
While I do avoid most foods produced out of this country, the real issue is not necessarily our system of transporting food, but rather the fuel we use to do it.
I have not finished the book, but it’s already struck me that while Kingsolver’s quest to eat locally is a noble cause, it’s just not practical for most people (few of us have the opportunity to own a farm and work it full-time) and perhaps nutritionally ill-advised. I think rather than one family going to such an extreme, a bigger difference could be made if every family made it a priority to buy some locally produced food, even it it is just one regularly consumed item. Better yet, some people may have the time and space for a garden, or to raise some animals for food.
This morning two beeves from our natural beef herd — a Freemartin heifer and a steer — were pasture-harvested by the owner of the local butcher shop, The Chop Shop. I’ve hunted since I was a young boy and have put many big game animals in the freezer myself, but since I had actually been charged with the care and feeding of these cattle I asked the butcher if it would be OK if I were not present when he actually killed them.
I showed up shortly after the animals had been sent to that lush pasture in the sky and watched as the carcasses were hoisted, gutted, skinned, halved and hanged in a refrigerated trailer. After aging for two weeks, the meat will be packaged, frozen and ready to eat. Food doesn’t get much more local than that.