If you haven't already read it, run -- don't walk -- to pick up a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. We both read it this summer and it's without a doubt the most inspirational food book we've read to date.
Sure, other food books are inspiring. Heat, for instance, may make you want to go slave away in a maniac's kitchen. And Garlic and Sapphires may make you want to leave your desk job and go become a professional food critic.
But to us, Animal Vegetable Miracle is most inspiring because it shows you another way to live, how to truly change the way you eat and make more informed decisions about the food you consumer and who you support by doing so. (And the book also contains tons of easy recipes to show off your local purchases, like this amazingly delicious and simple Basil-Blackberry Crumble.)
The book -- in case you're not familiar -- is the tale of how Kingsolver and her family strived to eat locally for one year, growing and preserving much of their food and purchasing needed staples from local farmers. Over the course of the year, they made a few exceptions but were largely successful in their endeavor.
Obviously, this is not an attainable goal for everyone. Living in the heart of our nation's capital, we recognize the challenges of attempting to eat exclusively locally and we do what we can to eat locally, within limits.
As we've mentioned many times before, we belong to a CSA, which gives us seasonal produce for six months out of the year. On a nearly weekly basis, we shop at our local farmer's market, picking up additional produce and sometimes some meat. These two experiences -- at least during CSA season -- supply the vast majority of our vegetables but still leave us lacking for many staples (onions, flour, oatmeal, etc.).
Meat is where we really struggle. Admittedly, we often pass over buying meat at the farmer's market due to cost. We're simply not in a position to pay $20 for a chicken at the farmer's market each week when whole chickens at our neighborhood grocery are less than half that cost. We recognize the multitude of benefits to buying our meats from local farmers -- especially humane raising practices, control over what is fed to the animal, and how the meat is processed -- but we can't seem to cut the cord with consumption of meat from the grocery.
And speaking of said grocery, we do most of our shopping at a Harris Teeter. It just moved into our neighborhood this year and happens to be the closest supermarket to our apartment. We were surprised to go there last week and see this:
Is six hours from the farm an acceptable definition of "locally grown"? What exactly does that look like, you ask?
Based on this handy map, and assuming one drives an average of 60 miles per hour, a 360-mile radius from D.C. includes nearly a dozen states. Sorry Mr. Teeter, but we don't consider eating produce from South Carolina or Toledo, Ohio, to be eating locally.
Cynically, we suspect Harris Teeter may be selling produce that it has already been carrying under this "locally grown" banner, capitalizing on customer interest in local produce. We applaud their encouragement to eat locally, but wish the produce was from a 100-mile radius, from actual local farmers.
Summer is winding down, but it's still prime time for summer fruits and vegetables. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of your local produce by making this Basil-Blackberry Crumble. If you can't find local blackberries, buy another fruit: peaches, plums, whatever you can get your hands on that's in season and local. The recipe will be very forgiving and really, how can you go wrong when you're topping it with flour, sugar and butter?
One of the most striking things Kingsolver says towards the end of the book is how proud she is that her family spent a year without consuming high-fructose corn syrup. That sounds like a pretty good goal to us.
What's been your experience eating locally? What's most challenging? And what solutions have you found?
We'd love to hear your stories.
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Buy Animal Vegetable Miracle
2-3 apples, chopped
2 pints blackberries
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 large handful of basil leaves, chopped
1⁄4 cup honey – or more, depending on tartness of your berries
Preheat oven to 400. Combine the above in an oven-proof casserole dish, mix
and set aside.
5 tbsp flour
3 heaping tbsp brown sugar
1 stick cold butter
Cut butter into flour and sugar, then rub with your fingers to make a chunky,
crumbly mixture (not uniform). Sprinkle it over the top of the fruit, bake 30
minutes until golden and bubbly.