This book made me feel hopeful. In the last year, I’ve become more thoughtful about issues like waste, sustainability, and food quality. I have no idea why this is – nothing material changed in my life. I just started worrying about my body and the environment a lot more. (Maybe this in itself is
something hopeful about my generation – our apathy will naturally come to an end.)

The gist: Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp, and her two daughters spent a year eating locally – only what they could grow or raise themselves or source in or near their community in Appalachian Virginia. Kingsolver catalogues the experience, along with the logic and
implications behind a locavore diet (read: the individual and societal risks of a non-locavore diet). The book becomes a lot about nutrition and global warming, and also includes side-bars from Hopp on food science and the American food industry. Most chapters are capped with short essays from Kingsolver’s oldest daughter, Camille, on favorite recipes in their family and her experience participating in the local year as a teenager.

My favorite parts: I generally loved that Kingsolver wrote this as a real person trying to figure out the question of ethical eating – I am also a real person trying to solve that problem, albeit in a more urban setting. There’s a huge catalog of online resources in the index, and on the book’s website. I share her philosophy about change:

“However much we despise the monstrous serial killer called global warming, it’s hard to bring changes. We cherish our fossil-fuel driven conveniences…The cure involves reaching down into ourselves and pulling out a new kind of person. The practical problem, of course, is how to do that. It’s impossible to become a fuel purist, and it seems like failure to change our ways only halfway, or a pathetic 10 percent…I’m not sure why. If a friend had a coronary scare and finally started exercising three days a week, who would hound him about the other four days? It’s the worse of bad manners – and self-protection, I think, in a nervously cynical society – to ridicule the
small gesture…Small, step-wise changes in personal habits aren’t trivial. Ultimately they will, or won’t, add up to having been the thing that mattered.”

“Spring is made of solid, fourteen-karat gratitude, the reward for the long wait. Every religious tradition from the northern hemisphere honors some form of April hallelujah, for this is the season of exquisite redemption, a slam-bang return to joy after a season of cold second thoughts.”

“Food culture in the United States has long been cast as the property of a privileged class. It is nothing of the kind. Culture is the property of a species. Humans don’t do everything we crave to do – that is arguably what makes us human. We’re genetically predisposed toward certain behaviors that we’ve collectively decided are unhelpful; adultery and racism are possible examples. With reasonable success, we mitigate those impulses through civil codes, religious rituals, maternal warnings – the whole bag of tricks we call culture.”

“We’re losing food crops as fast as we’re losing rain forests. An enormous factor in this loss has been the new idea of plant varieties as patentable properties, rather than God’s gift to humanity or
whatever the arrangement was previously felt to be, for all of prior history.”

“A lot of human hobbies, from knitting sweaters to building model planes, are probably rooted in the same human desire to control an entire process of manufacture. Karl Marx called it the antidote to alienation. Modern business psychologists generally agree, noting that workers will build a better car when they participate in the whole assembly rather than just slapping on one bolt, over and over, all the tedious livelong day. In the case of modern food, our single-bolt has become the boring act of poking the ting in our mouths, with no feeling for any other stage in the process. It’s a pretty obvious consequence that one should care little about the product. When I
ponder the question of why Americans eat so much bad food on purpose, this is my best guess: alimentary alienation. We can’t feel how or why it hurts. We’re dying for an antidote.”

What I did with my copy: Gave it to a good friend who takes nutrition and food sourcing so seriously that he once briefly embraced a liquid vegan diet. I am an unrepentant eater of cheese, so I’m excited to finally have something food-related to talk about with him.