Friday, April 23, 2010



(These notes and the commentaries that follow are a Facebook project based on Barbara Kingsolver's book "ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE A Year of Food Life." Each week a project member writes a response based on one chapter of the book. Together we read and talk our way through a year in the life of Kingsolver and her family. This response was authored by PAM PRIEST and is prompted by Chapter Eight, "Growing trust.")

Growing Trust

I bought my copy of AVM used. Apparently it was read by a child named Harry, because his name is all over it. I don't know how old Harry is - maybe 11? Here's what Harry wrote in the book:

"I find it interesting that farmers have a lot of terms I've never heard of, like annuals and biennuals. I realized how much I didn't know about plants - I never knew that root vegetables were supposed to last through another season!"

I wonder who got Harry to read this book. Was it in school? A parent? I'll never know, but I think it's great that that it captured his interest.

My post is a little different from previous posts. I have a tendency to look at things critically, but I sincerely don't intend to sound negative at all; I hope that it's not taken that way. I just think that the original purpose of this exercise was to generate discussion, and my inclination is not to just agree with everything in the book.

I have a confession.

I don't know what healthy food is. I know what it's not; Cheetos, those neon orange things that my husband loves. Vegetables are considered healthy, but what if those vegetables are covered in hollandaise sauce? Hollandaise sauce is made with all natural ingredients: 3 egg yolks, 2 sticks of butter and a squirt of lemon, but oh, when those ingredients are emulsified, you have a lush, rich sauce that is pure fat. Put it on asparagus and it's heavenly. But is it healthy? Probably not. I say "probably", because the consensus about what is healthy changes from year to year. It goes in cycles. The media picks up any poorly conducted, biased "study" conducted by the food industry and touts it as fact, and soon everyone believes it. Carbs are bad, protein is good (Atkins). Carbs are good, fat is bad (Pritikin). Then back to Atkins. Then "low glycemic". Who knows? The only concept that has remained uncontroverted is that of calories. Eat too many and you gain weight. Everyone knows that, and yet we still consuming too many. Why? It tastes good! Sometimes a cigar really is a cigar, unless it's one of those chocolate know, with that crunchy center...mmmm....where was I? But seriously, I think it's because calories are readily available in a way that they never were before. Sugar, in various disguises, is in almost everything that is "processed." Packages are labeled, but in such a way that the calorie level looks much smaller than it is. Who can have just 8 potato chips?

In AVM, Kingsolver discusses the fact that processed food is cheap, intimating that this is why people buy it. I disagree in part. I'm sure money is part of it, but I think that a huge factor is that it's fast and easy. I am lucky to be self employed. I also don't have children. I can take the time to go to the grocery store every day and choose what to make for dinner that evening. I don't need to buy a box of macaroni with powdered cheese; I can buy a variety of cheeses, go home and grate them, make a white sauce, cook the macaroni and saute breadcrumbs for the top. But most people don't have that luxury. They work long, hard hours, have to pick up the kids from daycare, help with homework, do laundry, clean house, get them ready for tomorrow's school and, of course, make dinner. No wonder they choose fast food!

I think that the other reason people buy processed food is because they are genetically programmed to consume the highest calorie food available. If you offer a child one item that has sugar and one that does not, he will take the one with sugar. A secret of chefs in the best restaurants is that they emulsify butter with a tiny amount of water to make buerre monte, and then submerge foods such as steak, vegetables, and lobster in it just before serving. Why? Try and you'll see (but buerre monte requires practice).

People buy high calorie foods even though they know it's not good for them. From an evolutionary perspective, the craving for calories makes sense; it would sustain people through periods of famine. Of course, most of us no longer have famine. Our genetic evolution has not caught up with our present reality of caloric abundance and the consequence is the increase in food related illnesses. (And yes, I know that some people will say they don't crave calories; maybe you're genetically superior!) We know these diseases are caused by an over-consumption of calories. The problem is that we are trying to overcome a biological compulsion with logic and a moral imperative. This is not impossible.

Look how many of you are vegetarians. People can and do change where they buy and how they eat. But they need some motivation. It needs to be easy. And it can be easy. If the goal is to get the majority of people to buy local, then the local farmers do not have the luxury of saying "this information does not fit in a five-syllable jingle" or "The best they can hope for is a marketing tactic known as friendship." Why is that the best they can hope for? Why not hope for widespread education? Why not hope that oh, say, a chef from England would come over to try to improve the school lunch programs in a town - and that his efforts would be made into a TV show?

This chapter is called "growing trust". Kingsolver says "Corporate growers, if their only motive is profit, will find ways to follow the letter of the organic regulations while violating their sprit." I agree; my only question is why she would use the word "if".

She goes on to say that by its nature, locally grown food is trustworthy - that it is transparency and farmers showing up at a community gathering place every week. I agree that this creates trust from the people who go to the farmer's markets, but is merely showing up sufficient to increase the number of people who jump onto the locavore bandwagon? It's fine for us to have this discussion, but what about the rest of the world? Whether you call it advertising or outreach or education, more people need to become aware that buying local is an option, and it does not need to be burdensome or expensive - children love to go to farmer's markets. They are entertaining and they are free. There are even free samples! Local farmers need more customers. Trust is good, but it does not exist in a vacuum.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010


(These notes and the commentaries that follow are a Facebook project based on Barbara Kingsolver's book "ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE A Year of Food Life." Each week a project member writes a response based on one chapter of the book. Together we read and talk our way through a year in the life of Kingsolver and her family. This response was authored by SUSAN JORDAN and is prompted by Chapter Seven, "Gratitude.")


Susan Jordan and Friends

If you’re following along with the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle project, you know this chapter (with the title “Gratitude”) takes place around the month of May. It begins with Mother’s Day being celebrated in an interesting and traditional way--by bringing tomato plants to friends and neighbors . In this neck of America’s woods, you’re not supposed to actually say ‘thank you’ when you receive this gift, lest you should fly in the Face of God and cause the tomato plants to wither and die on the vine. Instead, folks thank each other by saying, “Oh, well, goodness”, then, “Well, look at that.” Everyone knows what it really means anyway--even the author, once she’d been properly chastised a few times by the locals to never actually utter the words ‘thank you’ for the gift of a plant.

May is the month they set out their tomatoes (14 varieties), all of them heirlooms with colorful, exotic, beautiful and even funny names (like the round, juicy and voluptuous ‘Dolly Partons’). After the tomatoes came a virtual laundry list of other vegetables being set out, one after another. May kept the family busy, as May is prone to do with people who live close to the land. That May was the author’s 50th birthday too. The family had an invitation list of 150 people – family, friends, and neighbors old and new, and many of them (30?) planning to stay the weekend for the party. HOW would they feed all these people with only locally-grown food AND make it a celebration instead of an oppression and a punishment? If you’ve already read it, you know they not only managed to do it, but did it in a way that brought out all their ingenuity, inventiveness and creativity. It also made them even better friends and neighbors, and dug them even deeper into their commitment to go local. They HUSTLED for that birthday party, which turned out (to me, at least) to be downright legendary.

What struck me most about this chapter is how, when giving their word to themselves and to each other to live (and party!) completely ‘locally-produced’, it COULD have felt like a terrible mistake or penalty, but it didn’t. They threw their hats over the fence by promising, and it turned out great! They learned what else was out there in their adopted community; they got even more inventive, and their love and friendships deepened. Just by promising to live locally!

This made me wonder (especially since I practically felt PRESENT at that birthday party myself)--what could I do as an individual to have even a little ‘morsel’ of a life like this? What could any of us do, to have that? I don’t mean this question hypothetically, either--I mean for it to be answered in a concrete way. Not necessarily a giant, earth-quaking way, just . . . what little things can I do to bring sustainability to the earth (and therefore to my life, my friends’ and neighbors’ lives, and to the lives of small-scale farmers)? I can start buying organic again, and more of it. I did that today, actually. It felt good--like it used to feel when I followed this ‘way’ many, many years ago in my youth.

Susan's "Youthful" Lettuce Patch at Cal Poly

I am moving soon to a rather small-scale town, where I’ll be able to walk just about everywhere. So I’m going to do just that. I don’t need to take my car everywhere. I’ll admit I’ve gotten lazy about that, but this is one more small thing I can do.

More importantly, what do you think YOU can do? What are you willing to start with, I mean? I ask it not as an accusation and not as an empty question meant only to sound good, but as A REAL QUESTION.

I know about five small things I can start with to move in the direction of sustainability--things I’m absolutely willing to do. Can you think of about five yourself?

What did you think during this chapter?

And what are you willing to start with, however ‘small’?

Just wondering.


Love & Great Tomatoes,



Sunday, April 11, 2010



Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast

Tarahumara Arnulfo Quimare and American Scott Jurek in the climactic ultra race described in Chris MacDougall's Born to Run.

I’ve never run with the Tarahumara. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a living Tarahumara, but you never know. As they say, “Indians are everywhere.” But I’d sure like to run with these people, the greatest ultra-distance runners on the earth, not that I’d last very long, because, for the best of them, hundred mile lopes through rugged mountains are casual day trips.

The Tarahumara live in the Copper Canyon wilderness of Northern Mexico. They are a reserved people who stay just about as far away from Western Civilization as they can manage. From early childhood they run. Boys, girls, men, women, they all run astonishing distances seemingly without training, preparation, special diets, or expensive equipment. They rarely run outside of their homeland, and they don’t seek records, fame, or money. They run for the love of running.

The running prowess of these Indians popped up in my awareness from time to time as a kind of mildly interesting trivia, but I didn’t take a hard look at them until I read Chris MacDougall’s best seller Born To Run. The central character in his book is an American known among the Tarahumara as Caballo Blanco, the White Horse, formerly known as Micah True.

Caballo Blanco, who has lived among the Tarahumara, gave the author, Chris MacDougall lessons in running the Indian way. One of those lessons stuck in me like a burr, and I’ve been working with it recently.

Here’s the quote from Born To Run:

“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.”

You don’t give a shit how high is the hill or how far you've got to go.

You don’t care how far you've already run or how tired you are.

You don’t care about your pains or your shoes.

You don’t care about your run tomorrow or if you'll ever run again.

You don't care.

I’m talking here about the ancient practice of letting go of worry, of detachment from the responsibility to worry about stuff. Letting those concerns just slip and fall away while you run.

You run down the trail through the forest, along the canyon wall, along the seashore or the river. You start up a long uphill climb. You say to yourself, “I don’t care how high is this hill or how long it’s going to take to run up it.” If you need to, you say it again, you say it again. Soon, you believe it. Soon you really don’t care. You. Don’t. Care.

You just run.

I’m a beginner at this Tarahumara way of running. My success at running “light” is sporadic, and I find myself slipping back into “worry,” but the trance-like periods of lightness are coming easier, coming sooner and lasting longer.

Thirty years of dedicated running, much of it goal-oriented. Races, paces, mileage, trail mastery, that sort of thing. I’ve run a bit over 23,000 miles toward a goal of running 25,000 miles, the circumference of the earth, by the time I’m 65 years old, so I’ve got about two and a half years to lay down those 2Gs.

I suppose I’ll carry on with that project, but I have a new idea, a Tarahumara idea. After I achieve that 25,000 mile goal, I’m going to take off my watch and never wear it again while I run. I’m going to stop recording my mileage. I’m going to see if immersing myself in the Tarahumara way can take me to higher and higher levels of awareness. That should be interesting, don’t you think?


Thursday, April 8, 2010



(These notes and the commentaries that follow are a Facebook project based on Barbara Kingsolver's book "ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE A Year of Food Life." Each week a project member writes a response based on one chapter of the book. Together we read and talk our way through a year in the life of Kingsolver and her family. This response was authored by DESTYN SUBLETT and is prompted by Chapter Six, "The Birds and the Bees.")


I have always had a deep love for animals.

Growing up we had more than the acceptable number of pets for a suburban family. At various times we had birds, lizards, rats, fish, and of course dogs and cats. Our pets were always multiple and I can't imagine growing up any other way.

When I was in 7th grade my brothers and I joined 4-H. We choose to participate in the poultry project since we could raise the animals in our back yard. We raised bantam game birds and one psycho drake duck who was affectionately known as Norman Bates. When I went on to high school, I was still interested in animals so I joined FFA (Future Farmers of America), not a club choice of the "popular kids" but I didn't care. I could raise animals and get school credit for riding horses. During my time in FFA, I raised market hogs, lambs, chickens, and one beef steer. I can honestly say I have eaten an animal that I raised and it tasted good. I rose up the ranks in FFA and eventually earned my State Farmer Degree.

I was a pretty hard core carnivore until the fateful day that my brother introduced me to a book called "A Diet For A New America" by John Robbins. This book introduced me to the horrors of factory farms (CAFO's) and the injustices to the animals who are raised in them. I became a vegetarian. That was 20 years ago. I have never preached vegetarianism or tried to "convert" others. If someone asks why I am vegetarian I am always happy to explain. I have chosen to raise my daughter as a vegetarian and we talk very openly and honestly about where meat comes from. She is 4 now and I have told her it is her decision whether or not she wants to try meat when it is offered to her.

I appreciate the Kingsolver's consciousness with regard to the slaughter of animals that they have raised. They do not appear to take this decision lightly. The animals are raised in the best possible environment until they meet their demise (of which we are thankfully spared the details).

I have often thought about raising animals for food as I once did. I live on a farm, I certainly have the room. Could I kill and eat a creature that I raised?

I have to say my answer would be no.

I don't know what changed in me over the years, but I know I don't have the heart to look an animal in the eyes and say "you are going to die so I can eat." I do not judge anyone who eats meat, nor do I think it is morally wrong. It's just not right for me.

This book has ignited a spark of excitement in me about food, however. I am trying to be mindful in my food choices. I am cooking at home more (some successes, some failures) and enjoying doing so. We are shopping more often and making use of the local produce as much as possible. I have no excuse not to, I live in an agricultural community smack dab in the middle of the "Salad Bowl" of America.

We have a few feral hens that live here on the farm, and we recently set out some nest boxes to see if we could get them to lay in a place where we could find the eggs. That plan worked and we have been enjoying fresh eggs almost daily.

Our next project is to build a little hen house. My daughter has requested some hens that can be "hers to pet" and that aren't "so wild."

Now . . . if anyone has any bright (and non-toxic) ideas about eradicating squirrels and gophers, I would love to get a garden planted! My 7 dogs are no more willing to kill than I am, apparently!

p.s I haven't read ahead to find out but I sure hope Lily gets her horse!


Saturday, April 3, 2010


The Molly Moochers V2.

(These notes and the commentaries that follow are a Facebook project based on Barbara Kingsolver's book "ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE A Year of Food Life." Each week a project member writes a response based on one chapter of the book. Together we read and talk our way through a year in the life of Kingsolver and her family. This response was authored by Michael Fleischhauer and is prompted by Chapter Five, "The Molly Moochers.")

I could start this thread with an argument about a substitute for tobacco. Marijuana helped ease my son’s loss of appetite, his nausea, his glaucoma for years, as he fought and eventually lost his battle with primary-progressive Multiple Sclerosis (I have been and always will be an advocate for its legalization). We in Alaska are fortunate to have legalized medical marijuana as well as a constitutionally-protected right to possess up to 4 ounces for personal use. Although tobacco is a large part of this chapter, I don’t believe that is meant to be its message.

Shortly after the dawn of humanity, our forebears hunted and gathered food for survival. They taught succeeding generations as they learned new and better methods. They found shelter; they banded together and their cooperative efforts allowed them more successes and they settled in places where food was more easily gathered. They built more permanent shelters, for themselves as well as for the storage of their foodstuffs. Agriculture sprung from these beginnings, as did communal living, and eventually village, towns, cities. Pastoral peoples no longer wandered as they once had, and before long it became necessary to form rudimentary armies to guard their stored harvests from outsiders who would take it from them. We’ve come a long way, baby. Or have we?

In our headlong rush towards the future, have we forgotten how to hunt, how to gather? In mid-February, when you take that package of Romaine lettuce home and rinse the dirt off, do you wonder where that dirt came from? Is it from California? Texas? Or is it from Ecuador, maybe even as far away as Australia? And how much of that dirt actually got onto your hands? From its seeds to our salad plates, how much effort did any of us exert for that produce? How many of us know how to plant vegetables, fruits; or to hunt; or to gather? How many of us had this knowledge passed to us from previous generations? I would submit that the number is small, very small.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we “civilized” Americans have forgotten how to be in touch with our foods. What is now passed down to us from our predecessors is how to save money when buying canned tomatoes, or why it makes more sense to buy in bulk from Costco than to pick thru the bell peppers at the locally-owned grocery or – heaven forbid! – go to a farmer’s market. It appears that we are headed down a path to destruction; a path that we ourselves have not only built, but that we are following willingly.

But, fear not! There is a silver lining to the cloud. I see it here in our own “tribe” as we discuss Kingsolver’s book; I see it in my home community in Southeast Alaska. There, I see the elders of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians teaching the younger generations the ancient languages and the ancient traditions of hunting and gathering the foods which for generations have sustained their cultures. In Alaska, there are separate laws for gathering foods for subsistence as opposed to harvesting for commercial or sport uses.

I live on the waterfront in Juneau, Alaska. The tide goes in and out in front of my living room window twice a day. In mid-February, about fifteen years ago, in the pitch black evening, I saw two lanterns on the beach during an extremely low tide. The temperature was in single digits and I became concerned for the well-being of the persons who were out there. I looked thru my binoculars and, to my dismay, a very young boy was holding one of the lights. He also held a five-gallon bucket. I swept my gaze slightly to the left and discovered that the other lantern was sitting on the ground and that its owner was using a garden rake to dig up cockles from the rocky beach. I watched for the better part of an hour, and eventually realized that the adult was teaching the youngster how to gather food! Last year, again in a frigid and pitch black February evening, I saw three generations digging cockles. (Dare I say “it warmed my cockles”?)

The older of my two granddaughters believes that bananas come “from the store”.

Katelyn and Grandpa Mike

She also loves to eat coconut sorbet, which also comes “from the store”. Her younger sister loves to make jack-o-lanterns, and, in her mind, the pumpkins, too, come “from the store”. Imagine their awe and excitement upon learning differently, although to see it first hand they had to travel far from Alaska.

Could this kid possibly be cuter? (Editor note)

We humans are a strong lot. We’ve been around for quite a while. We can turn this tide; step back from our wasteful ways and learn to be more sensitive of our Mother Earth. She can provide and will do so as long as we allow her to be fertile and to help us along our paths.
Help a child to plant some seeds and to nurture the life that comes forth and bears edible rewards.

Teach that child to harvest, whether it be hunting or gathering or planting, weeding and picking.

GrandMary and Sydney

Play it forward; the rewards are boundless.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Sam Means and Michael Fleischhauer both wrote on ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE Chapter 5, “The Molly Moochers.” Don’t worry, we’ll get to Mike’s elegant Chapter 5 post (with cool photos!) in a couple of days. But what about sad, neglected Chapter 4, and even Chapter 3, rather glossed over in our thread? What about those worthy Kingsolverian efforts? Well, the old professor just can’t let two significant chapters slide by without appropriate attention. Hence, with Chapter 3 as our first subject, fellow tribe members, get ready for a little . . .

Pop Quiz

1. T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” What point is Kingsolver trying to make by opening Chapter 3 with this quote?

2. If you want reliable, year-in-year-out, plant ‘em once and forget about ‘em, early spring “Surprises” leaping forth from the earth to delight you, what could you plant?

3. What are the benefits of planting heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables?

4. Why are hybrid seeds more profitable than heirloom seeds?

5. What is a terminator gene? (lots of pun and wise crack possibilities with this one, huh?)

6. What are the four major “breeding” goals of industrially-created supermarket vegetables and fruits?

7. T or F Modern U.S, consumers get to taste less than 1% of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a century ago.

8. T or F In Peru, the original home of potatoes, Andean farmers once grew some four thousand varieties of potatoes.

9. T or F Now, even in the areas of Peru least affected by the modern market, only a few dozen varieties of potatoes are grown.

10. T or F Three quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the field quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy, and canola.

11. T or F In 1981 about 5,000 varieties of vegetables were available in seed catalogues. In 1998, the number was down to 600.

12. Six companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis, and Dow—now control 98% of the world’s ________________________. (fill in the blank)

13. Why did Monsanto sue (and win!) Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser?

14. The most common genetic modifications in U.S. corn, soy, cotton, and canola do one of two things. What are they?

15. Monsanto allocates $10 million dollars a year to hunt down and prosecute what kind of notorious North American criminal?

16. Our national food addiction to two crops have made us the fattest people who have ever lived. What are those two crops?

17. T or F The diversity of food crops is again on the rise in the United States.

18. What is the goal of Slow Food International?

19. Why are multivitamins and food supplements not a long term substitute for eating a variety of fresh foods?

20. Which of Camille Kingsolver’s recipes, Eggs in a Nest or Spinach Lasagna, are you going to cook first this Spring? You must, of course, render a full report to the tribe.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010



You are invited to join Bob Jenkins and Maggie Hollinbeck on Saturday April 10th to visit the ghost of our departed friend at his secret clearing in Grass Valley, California.

After Robert died, four of us found a place in the Empire Mines State Park and planted a tree in Rob’s memory. We called the tree, Rob’s Redbud. We also planted Weird Tokens of Dire Portent and goofed around. The following year, bears tore up the tree. From his bachelor pad in the afterlife, Rob must have guffawed at that. The Weird Tokens are still there, somewhere, and the clearing still carries a Prentice vibe, I kid you not. At least once a month, I visit that place, share a wise crack with Rob, and take a pee. Here’s the cool part: a fresh, young incense cedar is now growing where we planted that first tree.

The four original goofballs were Maggie Hollinbeck, Stacy Stafford, Andrew Kerr, and Bob Jenkins.

The schedule will be something like this, and you can join us at any point during the day.

12:00 Eating Locally (a short class taught by Bob at the Century 21 office)
1:00 Eating Locally (a repeat of the same class--about 15 minutes long)
2:30 Depart for the Secret Clearing
3:00 Celebration with Rob
3:30 Hike or run at Empire Mines, Grass Valley
6:00 Dinner
8:00 “Snow Falling on Cedars” at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City

“Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson features original goofball and SJSU Theatre Alum ANDREW KERR who promises he will know his lines by April 10. It is, after all, closing night. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door. I have reserved 6 tickets. Maggie, her Friend, CJ and I will take four of them, so there are two more available at $20 for the first Friends of Rob who get in touch with me. There are still other tickets available, and you can reserve them yourself at or get in touch with me through a Facebook message and I’ll help you out.

Maggie and Friend will be staying over on Saturday night at my house. You are welcome to crash with us at Lake of the Pines if we have some advance notice. There might be extra beds available or sofas or sleeping bags on the floor. Just let me know. We’ll get up on Sunday morning and cook a big communal breakfast.