With the completion of "Bean Trees" I reach immediately for "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life." This is a non-fiction book about Barbara and her family living a year on food from their own garden or other local sources. Her oldest daughter Camille contributes recipes and weekly menus to the book. Her husband Steven L. Hopp, a college professor who teaches environmental studies, contributes unfortunate realities about the food we eat and her youngest daughter Lily holds the crazy looking lima beans on the book cover among other things.
I have a feeling that this book is going to have a lot of "inconvenient truths" in it. I already feel guilty just reading about the things that I shouldn't be eating. Which, if truth were known, encompasses just about everything served in America. Read the following grim reality from husband Steven.
"But getting our crop from seed to harvest takes only 1/5 of the total oil used for our food. The lion's share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled on average 1500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food."
As interesting and perhaps less disheartening is Barbara's description of how America has moved away from food knowledge in a way never before seen in history. It is only less disheartening than Steven's contribution because it seems like something that is within our reach to correct. Admittedly, as she points out so well in the book, it would take some serious convincing to get some parents to believe that teaching their kids about agriculture is as important as math and reading.
We have recently seen that what you don't teach your kids is as important as what you do teach them. For many years we taught things in school like home economics and shop. Most adults today no nothing about economics in general. Our current financial crisis is a direct result of Americans blithely putting their money in the hands of "professionals" to invest. It is easier than learning how it all works and as long as we're all making money then all is well. Until we're not making money anymore and then we ask "What the hell happened?"
It is an abject lesson and Americans should take notice. Learning the basics is important. Knowing how food is made, what it is (why do you think we call it beef rather than cow meat?), and where it came from are things that our kids have no clue about. In their world these things come from "the grocery store" as if the shelves actually sprout that stuff.
Since I have just begun the third chapter of the book it is clear that it still has a lot to teach me. I hope it does more than teach me. I hope it inspires me to live better for myself and our planet. More on the book to come.