January 11, 2008

Animal Vegetable Manifesto

I recently finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and a major side-effect of this is my standing in the snow with a hoe, ready to plant me some beans the very minute I see green. Or dirt. Or anything at all, including doggie doo, that pokes its way through the whiteness. I have called my mother four times this week saying crazy things in lieu of ‘hello’: “How many tomatoes can we start in the basement? Have you got plant lights? Is it too cold down there? Did you do kale last year? Can we start beans? Will the dogs eat the beans? Can we train the dogs to dig holes? Would you eat cheese if I made it? Also, can we quit our jobs and be farmers?!” I am perhaps annoyingly ready to garden. To think that next winter, I can live off of the fruits (and veg) of our labor in little Kerr jars and freezer bags, thumbing my nose at Prego for the fatta the land. Because we can can can!

My mother has always handled the food garden, while I was more of a landscaper. My sister and I keep up the front and side gardens of the house while Mom toils in the back, pausing at intervals to advise me how deep the rosebush holes should be (pretty damn deep, as it turns out) and swat me away when I impugn the oregano. Now we shall have some cross-pollination in the beautification and substantiation fields; in addition to watching my own chrysanthemums bloom each year, now I can do the same with gourds, onions, gaaaaahlic… it’s almost lyrical. And that which I cannot grow I shall obtain from my handy local farmer’s market, which I have raved about before but am going to treat as I would the supermarket from henceforward. If they ain’t got it, I ain’t eatin’ it. Local eating is the only way to go (also, in case I didn’t mention: read this book).

The book is plain spoken and evocative, two things I have always loved about Kingsolver’s writing; it’s folksy, but in an academic way. I was unequivocally in love with it, nodding emphatically, until the chapter I had been eagerly awaiting made me pause, mid-tea, in a bout of queasiness. For the vegetarians, squeamish, or otherwise not made of stone, the harvest chapter features not only the collection of succulent veg, but everything reared during the year. I gripped the binding tightly as I acknowledged that all things raised on the farm have their time to be plucked—including the chickens. Descriptively. Vividly, in its original sense: the life in an animal at its most acute just before it’s ended.

I read the chapter with varying degrees of horror—shuddering, deep breathing, etc—in spite of the fact that I regularly eat chicken. I could have skipped it, but the knowledge that I couldn’t handle the truth if it wasn’t heirloom tomato pesto would have niggled at the back of my mind until I was grey. I read it. It’s pretty gross. It might make you vomit. One thing it isn’t, however, is inhumane, which set my shoulder-angel and -demon bickering once again, re: vegetarianism.

I’ve never really derived as much pleasure from eating as I have seen others do. Sure, when I haven’t eaten all day I’ll descend on some unwitting dish and proclaim it to be the best food ever, that the chicken and I are BFF, and the smell of toasted bagels will find me staring at the toaster demanding that the food GET IN MAH BELLAY. But in a normal, sated state, I could easily do without a number of foods, one of which is meat. The fact that I say this and haven’t given it up vexes some passionate people who don’t like the killing of food animals. I don’t like it either, but I’m not going to discount it as an option completely, any more than I would eat vegetarian foods solely because they don’t contain animal products. I enjoy soy milk, not least because I am lactose intolerant, but it also keeps longer than regular milk. The fact that I’m not eating a cow by-product is nice, but is not the point; I drink it practically, the same way I eat Boca burgers (less fat, already patty-shaped, cooks in five minutes) and vegetarian sauces (meat ones leave nasty orange grease on my dishes, increase lack of future heart attacks, are icky). I will probably phase meat out altogether at some point, but that time is not now. When I have both the means and the dedication, that’s when it’ll come together.

I can hear the musing driving my brother to hysterics, same way my oldest sister gets nuts about my pro-choiceness—if you don’t believe in it, why do you still support it? Am I lazy? Where are my morals? Do I want to talk about it? Can they interest me in brochures with grisly and misleading color photographs? No, actually, I’m good—but I still feel like I have to defend my position (that chicken chapter is pretty intense), so I can tell you this: I am always about choices. When death intersects with those choices, some people name-call or make posters or form non-profits, but everyone has to figure out how she wants to live. If I choose to eat that chicken, it’s gonna be a free-range, organic hippie-chicken that spent its entire chicken life like a Chicken Heidi of the Swiss Alps: bawking and running and pecking at shoes and buckets and happily annoying people as only chickens can.

I don’t think it’s wrong to eat a chicken if it had a good life and would otherwise die on its own over the winter. I also think hunting is barbaric and gross, but it kept my grandmother alive through the Depression. There’s no black and white here; if you think there is, you’re seeing a particularly dark (or light) grey. It’s good to feel passionate about something, but trying to make it mandatory is just going to cause a lot of fury, panic and clichéd bumper stickers (Against vegetarians? Eat one, etc). And nobody wants that.

That said: read the book and start a tomato plant; either one will get you hooked.


Dann Rafferty said...



Marathon soon?


Sarah Beedoo said...

The pusher, ladies and gentlemen.

Adn yes, yes yes, with a dollop of dood! Lemme know when you got the cizzash to register.