‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ Summer Luncheon in the Dining Room

As a member of an informal (but long-running!) book club, I was invited out to Bic Kolcum’s house in Buckingham County to discuss our book of the month, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. When I called Bic on the day-of to get firm directions and to ask what we could bring, I was delighted to hear how much the book was affecting her. “I’m taking the author to heart – I’ve been thinking about the book all morning as I get the house cleaned up and ready for guests, and I’ve set the dining room table hoping that we can do what Barbara Kingsolver proposes – to create a culture around the table, a culture around food,” Bic recounted in her steady, low voice. “I thought we could prepare a recipe from the book, prepare it together and talk about the book, and food, and anything while we make it.”

I finished the book a while ago, smiling and crying at the same time. Overall I applaud the effort that Ms. Kingsolver made to chronicle the journey of her family through a year of producing their own food. Her voice is clear and light, seamlessly switching from specific, seasonal tales to macro issues of food policy, quality and supply; I suppose her experience (and success!) as an author probably merit editors, proofreaders, and more than the average amount of support and guidance. More profound is the courage and dedication that she and her family showed in deciding on the venture, then planning it, and then succeeding, and then sharing their trials and tribulations. So I smiled at the end result, beautiful book, a true life’s work (and one that will continue in their family, I’m certain); I cried about the turkeys. Throughout the last part of the book, Barbara wonders if her heritage breed turkeys will remember how to mate, to lay and incubate eggs, to hatch them out and then to take care of them; along the way she realizes that she may own the oldest turkeys in the US because of our poultry industry’s manipulation of their life cycle. Immediately I began to think of us as the turkeys; do we remember how to love, to hope, to nourish ourselves? I look around at the brave souls in this area who are willing to coax life from the soil, the trees, the animals, the ocean AND WHO ARE WILLING TO PRODUCE MORE THAN THEY NEED SO THAT THERE IS ENOUGH FOR THE REST OF US. In the past, many people were farmers; now there are very few. Do we remember how to keep ourselves fed? Have we listened to those people, perhaps natives or perhaps visionaries, who make a positive contribution to the Earth’s ecosystem? If you were in charge of growing and preserving enough food to feed a family, would that family live? I am pleased to report that the turkeys sort it out just fine; I hope we do, too.

My contribution to the book club meal is local purple plums from the farmers’ market, and a bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Delfosse Winery in Nelson County. Shannon brings local organic greenbeans (on a cue from Bic) and we set about making Frijole Mole (pg. 214, I believe) from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Bic has already mixed up some chilled pasta with whole wheat and white noodles from Mona Lisa Pasta; it is garnished with ricotta, asparagus tips and lemon. The meal comes together quickly, and allows us to chat about the book while we move about the kitchen. We discuss the book, but each of us is framing the discussion in terms of the changes that we want to make in our food lives. One member speaks of the new garden at her house: she longs for more production, variety and planning so as to more closely approximate the family’s needs. We discuss our mutual friend, who is a ‘new’ farmer, and her job as the (unpaid) laborer, manager, marketer, delivery person, and biller on the fledgling farm. I find myself speaking of my work over the past few months, filling in gaps about the tomato recall, USDA and VDACS regulations, and giving backstory on our local system in order to outline the players, the problems, and the potential.

Our next book is  “Hope and Change” by Barack Obama; while I don’t know how food fits into it, I’m certain I’ll find a connection.  Thanks  to Bic, Barbara Kingsolver and to heritage breed turkeys for their instinctive survival.

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~ by a local notion on July 2, 2008.

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