Sunday, February 28, 2010



Angie Kahler's Response
Chapter One--Called Home

(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 or prompt 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. The first response is authored by Angie Kahler and sent to us from her home in rural Australia. Angie, born in the United States, has dual American/Australian citizenship.)

What interested me (a historian-in-training) in ‘Called Home’ was thinking about our nation’s transition from rural to urban and the loss of knowledge from one generation to the next, resulting in an ignorance- even disdain – that allows the health problems and environmental problems that have run amuck in the American (and increasingly globalised) system. How do we prioritise time and spaces for learning from our elders, or at least learning old knowledge? How do we elevate old knowledge to a level where it influences our choices and is not merely nostalgia or anachronism? How that ignorance and our lack of a deep (other than deep-dish) ‘food culture’ has manifested in such low standards is also intriguing. How did we let it get so BAD?

Living abroad, I often meet potential travellers leery of visiting the US for fear of food quality. Sometimes, on their return, they report that the food wasn’t as bad as they had expected, but all remark on the heavy amount of cheese in restaurant meals, the fact that it is ORANGE (Australia’s cheeses are white), and the abysmal coffee.

Kingsolver points to nations with strong ‘food cultures’ – Italy, Japan, Thailand, etc. The problems are there too – when I lived in Japan a decade ago, society was concerned by rising rates of childhood obesity – but not as bad or as rapid as in the US. In Japan, as in other Asian nations “Gosh, you’re fat!” was still only as impolite as “Hey, you’re blonde!” a statement of obvious fact. For Tibetans, “You’ve put on some weight!” is a compliment – you must be doing well if you’ve had plenty to eat since last we met, and you’ve not been worked to the bone.

America’s fat poor are unique in a hungry world, and it’s those gruesome, sneaky additives, the tax-subsidized “commodity-crops” pushing soy and corn into us in unrecognisable forms. This is scary and infuriating, but I feel I need to know more before I get on a soapbox. Lookout, Washington, I’m reading up.

I am over-prompting, and yet I’ve skipped that whole, main point of oil consumption… somebody wanna pick it up?


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