Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a book review

a freshly harvested tomato salad
It's the worst of bad manners — and self-protection, I think, in a nervously cynical society — to ridicule the small gesture. These earnest efforts might just get us past the train-wreck of the daily news, or the anguish of standing behind a child, looking with her at the road ahead, searching out redemption where we can find it: recycling or carpooling or growing a garden or saving a species or something. Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren't trivial. Ultimately they will, or won't, add up to having been the thing that mattered.
     —Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I feel motivated to do something to further our journey in living green. What, I'm not sure. On one hand, I'm inspired to raise chickens and grow fruits and vegetables, to learn to can and otherwise preserve our surplus, to make everything from scratch, to shop almost exclusively at farmers markets that pop up around the city when warm weather entices everyone to spend more time outdoors. On the other hand, we have constraints. We live in an apartment building in the city with no space for chickens or a garden or a stockpile of preserves. Many farmers markets are open on weekdays, when we're both at the office. And it's New England. Farmer's market season is limited (though CSA options extend beyond it).

Where does that leave me and my aspirations? What I find most compelling about Barbara Kingsolver's book is she acknowledges that conscientious eating in practice looks different for everyone. Instead of mandating what everyone should do, she highlights why the local food movement matters. She discusses the high long-term costs of our current food economy — to our health, to our environment, to our communities — and then explains how the local food movement can stem the tide through small and simple choices.
"Locally grown" is a denomination whose meaning is incorruptible. Sparing the transportation fuel, packaging, and unhealthy additives is a compelling part of the story, but the plot goes well beyond that. Local food is a handshake deal in a community gathering place. It involves farmers with first names, who show up week after week. It means an open door policy on the fields, where neighborhood buyers are welcome to come have a look, and pick their food from the vine. Local is farmers growing trust.
     —Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
This resonates so much more now than when I first heard about the local organic food movement. On 60 Minutes Leslie Stahl interviewed a dreamy-eyed foodie in California who seemed to suggest that every family had the money to buy expensive organic food and the time to make everything from scratch, and just did not value the flavor and experience enough to do so. We moved to Boston in the middle of the winter on one entry-level salary, and after cutting out all expenses not directly related to survival, we were left with a $40 budget to feed both of us each week. I wasn't buying $8/pound organic grapes.

In contrast, Kingsolver isn't puttering around in a kitchen the size of my apartment, waxing poetic about how much better an egg tastes when it's poached in a wood fired oven. She works long hard days in her garden, revels in the first shoots of asparagus, serves as a matchmaker for her adolescent flocks of chickens and turkeys, spends late summer days in a hot kitchen canning, and builds meaningful relationships with the growers in her community. By sharing her experiences — the hardships as well as the joys of pursing local food, she inspires me to believe I can do it too, in my own way.


One of Kingsolver's keys to making local organic food economical, and therefore practical, is eating in season, whether you grow food yourself or buy from a grower or grocery store. Tomatoes in the middle of summer surplus are inexpensive. The same tomato in the middle of winter is not, due to the expense of either transporting it long distances or using lots of energy to grow it in a hothouse. Because the book follows their year-long local food experiment chronologically, it lends itself to good tips and recipes to eat seasonally (basil blackberry crumble? twist my arm). And while her family was committed to the project for one full year, she admitted once it was over, they would allow themselves more flexibility. But Italian wine and bananas would be treats, not staples.

So what are our next steps, in a small city apartment and six-month winter without outdoor space or a car? Switching our Boston Organics box to the local option (I acknowledge we may cry uncle to root vegetables by mid-February). Making a more concerted effort to see if/when we can work local farmers markets into our schedules. Finding restaurants and grocery stores that buy or even grow local (like Russos and Wilson Farm). Shifting our perspective to see out-of-area and out-of-season food as treats. Eating less meat, and making sure it's from happy healthy animals when we do. Planning meals around the seasons, instead of picking recipes first. Supporting and celebrating growers who are passionate about their craft. It is these seemingly small changes that will "add up to having been the thing that mattered."
Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants.
     —Michael Pollen
hulled and halved strawberries


thankful list | October 2014

Fall is my jam. So are my @seamlyco no sweat pants and @toms shoes, usually classics - can you tell? #tomstan #juttiflats #ilovefall

01. a late night of work allowing me to take Friday off without using PTO.
02. an easy busy ride to Cape Cod.
03. family in New England.
04. kitties in New England.
05. a cozy house that is already starting to feel like a home.
06. an amazing skillet apple crisp (thanks, Cook's Illustrated!).
07. a school of tiny fish and lots of tiny jellyfish (this Kansans is still fascinated by ocean creatures).
08. exploring the Cape.
09. a very kind bus driver on the morning commute.
10. yoga at work after missing a few weeks.
11. a good discussion and new friends at community group.
12. a quick afternoon walking break.
13. a fixed dripping faucet.
14. a night of t-shirt making with friends for Canstruction 2014.
15. thanks to customer service, getting a new L.L. Bean down comforter (on sale) that was sold out.
16. seeing old friends for the first time since they moved back to Boston (and their adorable new baby!).
17. a successful Canstruction build out (hooray for the yellow submarine!).
18. discovering Burmese food with an awesome couple from community group.
19. introducing old friends to Orinoco via brunch.
20. hanging out again with that adorable baby and her chubby cheeks.
21. winning the people's choice award AND the Structural Ingenuity Award at Canstruction.
22. a big win for our Wildcats.
23. a freelance copyediting opportunity.
24. a football watch party with tacos and good friends (and so many cute babies!).
25. chili and pumpkin carving with some of our oldest Boston friends.
26. a little person who is so excited to see all of us ("Ian! Open pumpkin!").
27. a good turnout for REUNION setup.
28. a delicious dinner with friends, planning for the 2015 DR trip.
29. Roxy's Grilled Cheese for dinner.
30. fun events at the office (meet your library! artist reception!).
31. a bus ticket to the Cape for a much needed weekend away.
32. fall foliage.
33. Ian's awesome Cape carved pumpkin.
34. cozy weather and that new down comforter (I'll never go back).


a weekend at Newport Folk Festival

I don't even care that it's sprinkling. @nickelcreek @newportfolkfest #newportfolk #folkyeah

Ian loves music. The more obscure, the better. So when friends with similar musical affinities highly recommended Newport Folk Festival, Ian decided it would be his dream to go. We saved up, and as soon as tickets went on sale in January, purchased our two-day passes. And then we found out said friends who love NFF wouldn't be able to attend this year on account of their new baby's due date being right around the festival weekend. I got worried. I enjoy music but I'm not an avid fan like Ian. I didn't know anyone in the lineup. And I'm an introvert. What business did I have at a music festival with no veteran friends to guide us and hang out?

It turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Our friends assured us it was fun and low key, and they were right. Ian did a great job of planning everything. We lined up a room with a fun quirky family through Airbnb, rented a car, and borrowed a bike rack so we could exercise while bypassing festival traffic congestion and simultaneously ogling the gigantic mansions all over Newport.

newport folk festival 2014

Saturday morning, we headed to the park and ride, hopped on our bikes, and arrived at Fort Adams about 30 minutes before the gates opened. We admired the view of the harbor until we were allowed to speed walk to the Harbor Stage, our carefully selected home base for the day. We left blankets on a couple chairs, then went to window shop at the festival store and vendor booths until the first performer took the stage.

Willie Watson: It's like listening to a solo artist from 1920 (think O Brother Where Art Thou). Both you and your grandma will love him.
John C. Reilly and Friends: Star factor (sweet berry wine!). This set also sounded like it was from 1920 (and John C. Reilly's guitar Charlie is 60 years old, if memory serves) but was much more of a quiet hymn vibe than Willie Watson.
The Oh Hellos: We only caught the very last song, but it was the one Ian wanted to hear. And they broke into a wordless version of "Come Thou Fount" that was heart exploding.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business: All rock and roll, and they put on a great show.
Shaky Graves: NPR must listen for a reason. Unbelievable. One of my favorite performances of the weekend.
Deer Tick: We headed to the Fort Stage early to catch Nickel Creek, and heard the end of Deer Tick's set. Not too shabby.
Nickel Creek: When they first broke into the music scene, I missed the memo they were folk, not the pop-twang-country (*cough* Toby Keith *cough*) I avoid. So talented, and so fun to watch.
Jack White: Crazy. Really crazy. Superstar status. Did I mention crazy?

After the last set, we rode back to the car, then drove to Newport Creamery for dinner and an Awful Awful. The food wasn't bad, but the Awful Awful tasted like Nesquik strawberry milkshake and it made me feel like I was eight years old in a good way.

Who says you can't go to church at a music festival. #canigetawitness @newportfolkfest #newportfolk

Sunday, we repeated our morning routine despite the looming weather forecast, spread out our blanket under the Quad Stage tent, and settled in. The performances began with a weather related announcement: take cover in the event of a thunderstorm. We crossed our fingers, and despite a torrential downpour that resulted in us standing for a few sets before finally snagging less comfortable but dry chairs, we had a blast. By midafternoon, it cleared up, and the sky was gorgeous as we headed to to the Fort Stage to catch the end of Mavis Staples.

Berklee Gospel Choir: Who says church doesn't happen at a music festival?
Leif Vollbekk: Soothing music for a relaxing, rainy morning.
The Lonesome Trio: Again, star power thanks to Ed Helms (what's up with comedians moonlighting as legit folk artists?). They're seriously talented and seriously funny.
Gregory Alan Isakov: He was the artist Ian was most excited for on Sunday, and he delivered. He and his band even gathered around an old-timey microphone for a true acoustic set for a few songs. Listen to "Suitcase Full of Sparks." You'll melt.
Hurray for the Riff Raff: Not my first choice in folk music, but great at what they do.
Trampled by Turtles: I did feel slowly trampled by folk music, but in a good way. Fun fact: Mavis Staples kept calling them "Tramplin' Turtles."
Rodrigo y Gabriela: My favorite performance of the weekend, hands down. We were going to bounce early to catch more of Mavis, but we couldn't tear ourselves away. They have a joy and passion they exude when performing, and it's captivating.
Mavis Staples: A legend and entertainer. She was celebrating her birthday, and had lots of special guests, including Norah Jones. ("Little Norah!")

For lunch between sets, we grabbed chicken pot pie and peach pie from Humble Pie Co. Yum. And Del's Lemonade was a refreshing afternoon treat.

The sun is finally out, and we're celebrating @MavisStaples's birthday with #NorahJones #newportfolk

We haven't decided yet if we'll attend next year, but if YOU'RE going, these are the tips from friends that came in handy (along with a few lessons we learned firsthand).
  • Scope out the bands ahead of time and plan which stage you want to see each day. The NFF app was great for this!
  • Use the bike park and ride. Fast, easy, and a beautiful ride.
  • Arrive 15-30 minutes early; when the gates open walk fast (don't run) to your selected stage.
  • Be considerate when claiming spots for a long amount of time. You can leave a blanket and chairs or stake claim to a couple venue chairs and wander (just don't leave your valuables). Most people are kind and respect your space. But if you plan to bounce around, don't reserve the best seats at all four stages at once, then try to kick people out of your seats in the middle of a set. In fact, if you don't plan to be at any one stage more than one or two sets, consider not claiming a spot at all. If you are at one stage all day but want to leave for a set to catch another artist or event, make friends and invite them to enjoy your spot until you come back.
  • Prepare for a variety of weather scenarios; bring a sweatshirt, lots of suncreen, a poncho, and/or large plastic bags, and a Ziploc bag with a spare set of dry clothes, just in case.
  • And about that possibility of precipitation... bring a tarp and/or chairs. Being under a stage tent doesn't guarantee the ground underneath you isn't a low spot that will turn into a miniature river if it rains.
  • Pack snacks and not-glass water bottles. There are food vendors around, but you don't want to get stuck in a long line and miss your favorite artists.
  • Bring toilet paper in a Ziploc bag and antibacterial hand gel. The porta-potties were fine, but you really don't want to get caught without either of these vital items.
  • Make your festival/band merch purchases first thing, before they sell out of your favorite style.
See the rest of our photos on Flickr.
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