(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’?
Love & Great Tomatoes,