(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 Sam Means and is prompted by Chapter Five, "Molly Mooching.")
As a man who strives to respect Nature as much as I can, it is refreshing to read a book that champions communion with the land and environment. This communion is a reality that can be accomplished by any of us. We see how the big farming corporations have put the farmer on a "pedestal," so through our low-attention-span apathy, it seems an unattainable realty. Yet, with each page, we see that not only is it an attainable goal, but that through the journey, one's soul grows and flourishes along side the life one grows and fosters.
I think that it is our disconnection with the land, and with the Circle of Life, that has withered our souls and personalities, like the plants that line the highway, choking in car fumes. Around me, I constantly see people running around with deep self-encompassed concern painted on their face. No smile, or even eye contact, passes between us, as if even the slightest token of energy may send their fragile reality into a tailspin. It is as if their inner being is a dry, sun-starved vine, scraping to the sky for a drop of loving sunlight, without care or notice of the symbiotic life all around them.
I theorize that it's this examination of our connection to Nature that is the basis behind the ideal of "Southern hospitality." The southern United States was (I can't say much about today) predominantly farmers and people that lived and worked directly with the land and growing life. This symbiotic connection, and gratitude, for the environment that fosters this communion truly influenced us as humans--much as we say we can influence plants by singing or talking to them. It's not a long leap to see that communion reflected in the way humans treated each other, not just in simple pleasantries, but in truly caring and helping each other through the sharing resources and fruits of labor.
Connection with the land also bleeds into the food we eat. As examined in "Like Water for Chocolate", love, but more importantly, energy is exchanged into the food we prepare, which has proven to enrich us more and even taste significantly better. This connection is lost in our manufactured foods and genetically engineered food sources.
Having said that, I'll focus on Part 5 of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Molly Moochers.
We see a wonderful connection to the land in how every spot on the Kingslover Farm was named by some aspect of connection, connection that had been passed down through generations, thereby strengthening the bonds between these generations. When it fell upon the Kingslovers, who were not the original land owners, to assume the stewardship of the farm, these traditions were so alive, that the Kingsolvers too adopted the generations-old area names for the various nooks and crannies of their new land. Through this intimate relationship, they became "in-tune" enough to gather the delicious secrets of their land, especially the mushrooms, that if not correctly identified, could kill a person. Through these connections, they became in tune with their own balance in relation to their land, and began to understand the intricate schedule of when to plant and harvest, a knowledge lost to many of us who can go to the grocery store and consume anything from any harvest period or any environment. Hell, some of us are so disconnected that some call fish or chicken a vegetable.
I know that living the ideal lifestyle of the Kingslovers is a stretch, but I think if there's anything we can take from this book, it is to re-connect ourselves more consciously to the food we consume. Even if we are too poor to purchase organic or free range meals at most times, we should make an effort to research and purchase the types of foods that are indigenous to the land around us in their proper season. We should make an extra effort to cook our food and give it attention in preparation, instead of falling into microwaveable alternatives. It takes a little longer, but any worthwhile relationship does.
I propose that even in these seemingly small efforts, we will make strides in re-establishing the connection we have with Mother Nature, which will reflect in out behavior towards each other! Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this experiment with you all!