I am reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle. It’s the sort of book oaty crunchy self — minus platform four inch heels (no leather, of course), a trip to Vegas or two and that spackling knife I use to cobble on my layers of (cruelty free, of course) makeup — would normally read, but I haven’t had time. I read Skinny Bitch (my choice), Fast Food Nation (book group choice), and The Cubed Foot Gardener (a mania passed from my father to my decidedly NOT oaty crunchy husband, who knew?) and I knew all I needed to know, and I haven’t looked back.

But this book has looked at me from my library’s shelves, making me feel guilty, since last year or so, when one of my book groups chose it for this year– same group that chose Fast Food Nation, although alarmist prose about our food supply is far from our stock in trade, I promise. We’re more into obscure, often unreadable works of great modern literature. For real. Anyway.  Now my mom’s been talking about it and lo and behold, it’s our selection for September.  When she sent me the list of where I’ll find her after she departs this earth, and possibly my lost twins too, I checked the calendar for said book group and got me a copy.

I remember about ten years ago someone really cool, someone I looked up to, asked me if I liked Barbara Kingsolver. I’d only read The Bean Trees and maybe Pigs in Heaven at that point. Both of them seemed rich in intent, but I was already sick of the Oprah Book thing– Marginalized-And-Impoverished is cool.  Been there, done that.  It’s not cool, and I don’t want, nor do I wish on anyone, nor do I want any longer to read about, the struggle to find individuality and follow my star or live a Great Life from– due to the blessing in disguise that I find myself on– the outskirts of societal norms of community or material wellbeing. Not unless it’s by someone like, say, Frederick Douglass or James Still or Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Thanks anyway.

Kingsolver’s work seemed sort of like, you know, to Louise Erdrich what Isabel Allende is to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. God, I am a snob, for somone who hasn’t yet managed to write a book, right? Don’t tell anyone that I LOVED The House of the Spirits when I read it in high school, until I read Cien Anos de Soledad in college.

Then years later I read Poisonwood Bible and was just blown away. I loved Prodigal Summer too, but more for the richness of biology and ecology than for the overall gripping tension and frankness of Poisonwood Bible. I’d misjudged, or she just wasn’t there yet, maybe, when I’d last read her.

Animal Vegetable Miracle is, for some reason, making my eyes fill with tears every so often. Maybe it’s because I’m depleted emotionally and physically from a near-lethal combination of the depression that lingers after the last of the fairy dust evaporates and your feet finally touch the ground again a week after you return from Las Vegas, and the horrible GI bug my little girl brought home from her new kindergarten. I mean, I thought I was heartbroken to see her suffering from it. I’m even more heartbroken to BE suffering from it, let me tell you– not just it, that passed (so to speak) pretty fast, but the relentless fatigue that lingers. I’m especially ticked since I am a handwashing FREAK — though never with antibacterials, mind you — and I never get sick.

Anyway, weakened state or not, I am sickened to read things I already knew in my gut. We have lost, or never had, our own foodways. Corporations can rob us of the genetic diversity that is the fine line between us– as an entire race, not just those poor starving heathen babies in Africa and India– and starvation. I grew up with parents and grandparents who grew tomatoes and strawberries in the garden or picked blueberries or crabapples or stuck maple trees with spiles in earliest spring and boiled down syrup on the wood stove or went to the orchard down the road for bushels of peaches in season to put up for the winter. Pulling those icy sweet peaches out of the deep freezer on the back porch in the middle of winter– that was like owning and eating frozen sunshine, just as rare, precious and delightful. (At Granny’s we also had a stack of commercial and virtually nutrient-free white bread and a stick of hydrogenated magarine on the table at every meal, but that’s beside the point). 

My mother’s been saying lately that the reason food from her parents’ garden tasted so much better than any since is not fickle nostalgia or any sort of superiority of growing method, but simply that the soil was different.  All those wonderful memories that today we simply cannot touch– local food, in a nutshell.  We’re trying, here in the subdivision, in our own small way, with raised beds we can barely keep up with– commercial mushroom compost in His, compost from our kitchen vegetable scraps mixed with dirt off our own lot in Hers, a sort of Lowes vs. Scott County WT grow-off. We’ve had some delicious tomatoes and flavorful jalapenos, and I treasure the photos I have from last year of my vegetable-hating four year old standing out back in her panties (li’l Courtney Love), deep in concentration, shelling and eating peas straight off the vine. Finally, finally… pictorial evidence that I’ve done something right. Although sadly the peas didn’t make this year.

So the latest passage that made me cry was her mention of Leigh Van Valen’s Red Queen Effect. “In this place it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” That is *exactly* how I feel right now. For Kingsolver it’s a principle of survival– evolve or die, whether you are a predator fox, its rabbit prey, or the bacteria evolving superstrains immune to our antibiotics and antibacterials. For me it is– I am sick, and before I got sick I wasn’t doing too good with standing still, much less getting any where. My house was already a mess, the huge yard that gives me such pride and joy is a foot tall and in danger of being overrun by trees and shrubs that needed to be pruned desperately a month ago, my job is about to overwhelm me and I have a terrible attitude, I haven’t laid hands on a quilt or a scrapbook or even put photos up on flickr in weeks, I pour out all my creativity and patience at work and what little I have left I use to pull love and nurture out of my ass for my little girl. I leave work early to get the rest I couldn’t get yesterday when I was really in the throes of this thing because I had to go to work, and my husband says, and you’re going to sleep, right? And I say no, I am going to mow. (But then it rained, and lay down ‘just for a minute’ to chat with him after work and passed out, and so spent the evening in bed, in a nightmarish place between awake and too tired to really get up and do anything, so I slept as he directed but I still feel like shit.)  

It came to me the other day… I work in a library and I never, ever read something just for fun. What the hell is this? In the words of the immortal David Wilson in one of his immortal (and regular) episodes “Sumpun ain’t right.”

And now Kingsolver tells me. I thought I was doing so good, me and my vegan raised bed gardening righteousness. She tells me “We now depend… on a few corn and soybean strains for the majority of calories (both animal and vegetable) eaten by US citzens. Our addiction to just two crops has made us the fattest people who’ve ever lived, dining just a few pathogens away from famine.”

So all that soymilk and tofu I consume and feed my family (don’t worry, they all eat meat and dairy, I’m the only vegan freak)… could be gone in an instant, right? Maybe my vegan body armor isn’t all that after all? Well eat up, me hearties, cause when the famine hits we’re going to need our massive obesity to survive on til we figure something out. You people who have slimmed down through diet and working out– you’ve got it all wrong. Hell, I’m going back to Big Macs and Edwards’ key lime pies. Where’s that 30 pounds I lost?

Meanwhile, I’m so damn tired. I think I’m just going to sit down and let life pass me by for a bit, cause I just don’t have the strength to run or to evolve right now.

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