Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book discussion (chapters 4 - 6)

The long overdue discussion questions for the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book club are finally here!

For those of you not aware of what this is all about, this blog hosts an online book club where we all read the same book (this current one was picked by the readers) and I post discussion questions for each chapter. I got a little behind and missed last month's posting, but hopefully we are back on track! I try to post on the first Tuesday of the month. So, to help you with your reading assignments, the next post after today's will be November 6th and will cover chapters 7 - 9.

Now onto the discussion questions:

Chapter 4 introduces the idea of the "vegetannual", basically bringing to light the concept (for most vegetation, but not all) that a plant is predestined to begin its life in the spring and die in the fall. The underlying idea is that most modern consumers have become so distant and unaware of the growing cycle as to expect tomatoes in the winter, watermelons in spring and pretty much any type of produce year-round. The exceptions include things that we tend to prefer seasonally, like pumpkins in the fall and yams around Thanksgiving.

Do you try to eat seasonally, or do you just buy whatever looks good in the store regardless of whether it's in season locally or had to be shipped in from another hemisphere? Will you pay more attention to it after reading this chapter?

Chapter 5. The author's family comes from a region of tobacco farmers and I found it interesting that when the idea of eliminating tobacco given it's inherent health risks came up at a party, she blurted out, "what about the tobacco farmers"? The idea never really came to my mind when thinking about cigarettes and the cash crop and industry behind it. You usually think of only the big tobacco giants, but not the farmers that actually grow the crops. The same thing goes for the produce you find in the stores.

Does it ever cross your mind what it actually takes to bring one apple to market? Are the time, work and resources properly represented by the cost? Since we all are, for the most part, completely at the mercy of farmers for our food supply, shouldn't we pay more attention to how our food is grown and how our farmers are compensated?

Chapter 6 discusses how the author's daughter wants to get chickens to raise for eggs as well as meat. I remember reading somewhere that at the turn of the 20th Century many people, even those living in cities (even NYC), had backyard chickens.

Do you own chickens? If not, would you be willing to if it were either more socially acceptable, or legal to raise chickens?


As usual, feel free to add your own questions or comments regarding these chapters since I only touched on a few points.


Juli said...

Hi Crunchy! It's been a while since I've stopped by your blog. I saw the book listed and then saw the chicken question. Good timing... I had a dream last night that included one of the chickens I had here at my suburban home last year.

So to answer your question, I don't have chickens, but I did and I MISS THEM TERRIBLY!

Chooks aren't legal here but I didn't let that stop me from raising three last spring. One turned out to be a cockerel, so he found a home on a farm where he could be the big rooster on campus. The other two, Ella and Ginger, were MY GIRLS for about 6 months then the pressure of catching hell from my neighbors got the best of me so I found a home for them.

Raising chickens is wonderful and I long to have them again. I loved knowing where my eggs came from... they were delicious and healthy and came from two very happy girls who were often pampered with organic grapes and strawberries. :)

(Peace to you and your family and the best of wishes for comfort and healing to Mr. Crunchy.)

Oldnovice said...

We had a chicken the city. It was a product of a science experiment back in the days when my children were small.

We obtained a fertile egg from the farm where my oldest daughter (maybe 8 at the time) went to farm camp, got the instructions on how to heat, turn, etc. the egg to get it to hatch and it DID. I have no idea what kind of chicken it was or whether it was male or female. It wasn't the fuzzy yellow variety of Easter fame; more like black, gold & beige. Cute little thing, though. We kept him (for the most) in a box indoors, but took him outside to explore the backyard. He imprinted on bare feet, so if he got lost somewhere in the bushes we needed only to stamp bare feet for him to run out. My three young children took him for walks around the block; he followed their bare feet.

We left Apple Dumpling with neighbors while we went on vacation. They kept him in a makeshift coop in their backyard and one day while we were gone they went outside to feed him/her and found just a clump of feathers. He/she'd been eaten by a local cat.

We'd need a fairly strong caged system to keep feral cats at bay where we live currently, even if the Home Owner's Association didn't have rules against them, and I don't see that happening in the near future.

Deb G said...

I'm pretty well acquainted with the effort of growing food and the seasonal cycle of food in that my grandparents grew produce for local farmer's markets for many years. They have also provided produce for their own small grocery store, for the other grocery store in their town and for local restaurants. A lot of my family has fished for a living too-lots of the same issues. That's why I have no arguments with the cost of organic food. I don't think I've ever bought an out of season tomato in my whole life (that would be about 20 years of shopping for my own food now).
So yes, I am a very seasonal eater and I do really value the effort farmer's make to raise our food.

Earlier this week I cheated a little on the "local only" food goal I have and picked up a Satsuma at the store. I haven't peeled an orange in months. The fragrance of the orange as I peeled it was divine. I think that's the way should be.

The chapter "Molly Mooching" reminded me of a segment on NPR done by the Kitchen Sisters. It's about a man in the San Fransisco area that forages for food. If any one wants to check it out it's program number eight and can be down loaded from iTunes in their podcast section. Might be able to find it archived on NPR's site too.

As for chickens, I get my eggs from my parents who have a flock. I would have chickens here if I wasn't able to get them from my parents. I can have them where I live :)

Whirled said...

We've had chickens now for the past 6 years, and we'll never go back to a chickenless life! There is nothing like a truly free-range chicken egg. The color alone is extraordinary. A foraging chicken who is eating all the bugs she can find will have deep yellow, almost orange yolks that are yummy-yummy. If your "free-range" grocery store eggs are the regular, anemic yellow, you are eating eggs from penned chickens.

And I never realized how old the eggs in the stores are! A fresh egg slips completely out of it's shell, with no "snot" trailing behind. I've kept our eggs for 3 weeks before they even begin to leave a goop trail. I've never had a grocery store egg slip right out of it's shell! Kind of scary.

Also, no amount of expensive landscaping could possibly be as lovely as a small fock of multi-colored chickens foraging across your front lawn! Not to mention the natural fertilization and pest control.

I'm sorry, I'll shut up now! That was quite a rant. I think I just committed chicken TMI!

emmer said...

i have had chickens while living on a teeny farm-ette, and in two suburban neighborhoods that did not allow them. hens are pretty quiet if they have no rooster to show off for and if they are not one of the nervous leghorn-type breeds. good old-fashioned ground birds and banties lay pretty well, don't need high-powered who-knows-what's-in-it food, and are great entertainment. i have prepared a chicken coop in the rural place i live now and when the racoon and bear resistant yard is done, i will have hens again this coming spring. hurray!

Anonymous said...

Chapter 4. I loved the vegetannual discussion. Although I am familiar with the growing cycle, and we raised much of our food when I was little, I had never thought of it that way, and it helped me understand better why I am making the choices I do as I try to eat more locally. I am not sure why I had never really pictured the plant-overview before, it is so simple and obvious.
I try to eat seasonally, but a few exceptions have slipped in over the years (grape tomatoes) and I need to start making more deliberate choices.

Chapter 5. I had family who farmed, so I was always aware of the “what about the farmers?” aspect to economic choices. Although, as you say, we are “at the mercy of farmers for our food supply,” in the real world we and the farmers seem to be more at the mercy of the government. Farmers don’t dare grow anything except corn and soybeans on much of their land or they can’t be sure of an income. That has to change or we will eventually all starve to death, since much of what they grow is not food grade, and we can’t live long on high fructose corn syrup and such like. I am always willing to pay more for fresh, pesticide-free, and local, and it is always worth it. Paying more helps me waste less, too. And I am able to express my appreciation to them for their work, and most of them love to talk about it, which is endlessly interesting to me. No grocery store can both feed and entertain me!

Chapter 6. My aunt used to kill chickens very efficiently, and a cousin recently mentioned how traumatized she was then and how proud she is now. The same aunt still reads every label because she has no intention of withdrawing her support from local farmers and will not buy if it is not relatively local. As a child I only knew that I liked eating dinner there better than anywhere else. I do not own chickens (not legal in my 'hood' and I imagine my neighbors faces and laugh!) but I am looking at land prices and thinking about it hard and long. I have cousins who have moved so that they can grow their own food and meat and I like to think that I am as smart as they are.

Anonymous said...

I have to mention, as a post script, that I wonder how well I could slaughter and eat my own meat, which of course makes me wonder (again) how big a hypocrite I am to eat it. My 86 year old mom died this month and I found a scrapbook among her belongings, with two duck feathers and a sad story of how her family ate her favorite ducks, lancelot and priscilla, but she did not. My mom was a farm girl and well accustomed to eating what they raised, but it reminded me of the author's discussion on not naming our food. As far as I know, my mother never ate duck in my lifetime either. I am so removed from meat-making, and ashamed of that, but I have to wonder how I would feel if I dated make meat my friend.

Chile said...

Chapter 4 - growing up, my father and grandfather grew a lot of fruits and veggies in our yard. We ate seasonally but also preserved a lot of food to have year-round. I tried to continue to buy seasonal produce when I left home, but not always. I'm far better about eating seasonally since joining a CSA a year and a half ago. Produce in season tastes so much better!

Chapter 5 - Having seen the work that went into the family garden, yes, I'm aware of what goes into producing food. Unfortunately, this has absolutely nothing to do with today's agribusiness, which is why I prefer the CSA, farmer's markets, and our own garden. I'm proud to support my CSA farmer who pays a fair living wage and provides health insurance for his workers.

Chapter 6 - We owned chickens when we were homesteading on bare land. We don't now, but only beause we're vegan. It comes up occasionally as a way to supplement the dog's food as well as producing useful fertilizer, and may happen once we buy and move to our own property again. Chickens are legal here, but our landlord might not be too thrilled...

katecontinued said...

A good quote I thought of after reading your chapter 5 summary:

Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?

Robbyn said...

Loved this book...

Along the subject of choosing to raise some chickens, I'm unhappy with the ignorance on the part of regular folks who have been taught that chickens are nasty, disgusting creatures that spread disease, and therefore should never be kept in a neighborhood. I agree that roosters should be a noise consideration, but our zoning regulations here state we can't have as much as ONE chicken or any other type of poultry, for ANY purpose, not even as a pet. When I asked for some clarification, the zoning department employee herself expressed the common view of how "nasty" those creatures are and how it would infringe on neighbors' health and also bring property values down.

We do not live in a gated or deed restricted community or even in a subdivision at all. Just across the road, the zoning is for agricultural, and you can keep any sort of animal for any sort of purpose. But on our side of the road, if a zoning inspector finds out you have any sort of animal besides a cat or dog or such, he can make you get rid of the animal within 10 days.

I've joked with my husband that we should get two or three hens and refer to them as "Florida Ground Parrots" if the inspector shows up. But it's no laughing matter, really. Since when has it become ILLEGAL for us to keep clean, contained, healthy,and quiet animals of ANY SORT in our private fenced space, away from anyone's view...for our own fresh eggs or meat or enjoyment?

I'm so concerned we're giving up our God-given rights to determining for ourselves what goes in our own yards and on our own plates without a Big Brother experience.

Chickens will be the first animals we'll have when we're finally able to purchase a bit of acreage further out, hopefully sooner than later. To file legally in our community to get the zoning changed takes big money we just don't have.

Deb in MA said...

I most definitely would raise chickens if it were legal here in our city. I am fortunate enough, however, to have a friend who has laying chickens and I receive two dozen eggs per week from her and her "girls." I feel comforted when I know where my food comes from.

Anonymous said...

Crunchy, hey, love your site, just recently stumbled upon it by way of

Good timing though as I just finished the book this week. I also really enjoyed the vegutannnual discussion and found it to be very eye-opening. I am really new to thinking about food this way but find it very fascinating and logical. The more I read on the topic the more inspired I am do make better choices for my husband and I when it comes to the food we eat but also our impact on the earth.

A friend of mine and I started a blog to discuss these very issues and then some at Anyway my point in mentioning the blog is that we were inspired to try the 100 mile diet for a week in September. We both learned a lot and blogged about our experiences. Since then I find myself cooking more seasonally and passing by all well-traveled little strawberries on the shelves this time of year.

I live in a small apartment with no yard, so I am lucky that I have tons of great resources here in upstate New York like a wonderful co-op and year round farmer' market to help me continue to eat as local and seasonal as possible. I honestly can't wait to move into a house sometime soon where I can start planning a garden to grow my own food but I think the chicken bit will have to wait a while according to my husband! (While reading the book I kept declaring to him that I wanted to do what the Kingsolver's did and grow our own, he didn't buy it!)

Anonymous said...

Reading the book HAS changed how I buy produce and how I regard it in the store. A few weeks ago, I saw asparagus at Safeway and knew right off, based on the reading, that it had to be imported. Sure enough, it was from South America. Then I noticed avocados and knew from talking to a vendor at the farmer's market, that they'd have to be imported at this time of year too. Yep. They were from Mexico.

I spent this past weekend at my parent's house in Maryland and was really surprised to be served an avocado salad. Of course, they thought nothing of it. For me as a California resident, I might not have thought about it if it were served in California. But avocados in Maryland in October? No way!

As far as paying farmers, I don't think we pay them enough! Reading this book has really made me feel the worth of good, wholesome food. I'm much more willing to pay more for food these days than many other things.

Chickens? No. I'm an urban girl. But I'll support the local chicken farmer!

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying the book. My daughter is on a soccer team and each game, they suck on orange wedges at half-time. Last week was my turn to bring them, and not only did they cost $2 a pound, the girls complained they tasted like lemons. I said that's because it's not orange season anywhere near here! (I did break the granola bar trend and bring homemade muffins for after-game snack.) We are trying to eat more seasonally and locally. Our King Soopers store is excellent about stocking and labeling Colorado-grown produce - in the summer at least.

We have thought a lot about getting chickens but haven't done it yet. I think we could with a special permit from the city. But we would need to develop a sturdy coop to keep out the local tomcats (one of whom has been witnessed with a dead squirrel, so he's quite a hunter) and perhaps our own dog. That's been too much of a challenge for us so far.

girlosun_9 said...

As recently as six months ago I expected strawberries in the winter, bananas year round, and any vegetable I wished whenever I wished. Prior to reading this book, I started making shifts in my family's eating habits and started switching to local seasonal fruits and veggies. I am now very aware of the seasonality (if that is even a word) of most foods and truly wish I had started changing sooner as we have almost nothing (some blueberries, cranberries, squash, and apples) for the winter. We will have to switch back to buying from the supermarket (as we were also to late to get winter farm shares at any local farms). So not looking forward to the lack in taste.
I used to comment about the high cost of food, lately (about three or four moths ago) I started thinking about the atual cost to produce food (particularly the food that I was not eating local) and wonder why it doesn't cost more. This chapter explained quite a bit of that.

Growing chickens is illegal some places??? I did not know that, I will have to check and see if it is legal here (central Maine). I rent but share a duplex with my landlord who is reasonably easy and willing to pelase; I am contemplating asking about chickens and turkey's next spring but we live next to a busy (busy for here) road so there would have to be some kind of coop (not sure how I feel about that but think that I would like caring for my own chickens much more then the questions I ask myself when I buy chicken). I am also considering turkeys.

Trina said...

Chapter 4: This summer has been my first summer eating seasonally. I still have a weekly CSA box that I'm picking up and will have that for another 6 weeks, so eating seasonal fruits and veggies is still a no brainer for me. I think it's going to get more difficult for me when the CSA stops. I did do some preservation this year, but not near as much as I would have liked. I'm hoping that not having good veggies to eat this winter will help with my motivation for doing more preservation next year. I don't think that this book has caused me to pay more attention to eating locally...I think I wanted to read the book because I was already paying more attention to eating locally.

Chapter 5: We should absolutely pay more attention to how our food is grown and how the farmers are compensated. As I put more and more effort towards learning exactly how much effort is put into a dinner salad, it amazes me that I can go to the grocery store and spend a dollar to get that head of lettuce to put into that salad. One silly little dollar, and most of that goes toward the shipping! Every time I go into the grocery store, I find myself wondering how it is that farmers make it financially.

Chapter 6: I don’t own chickens. I live in a condo and they get uptight when I hang my clothes on a rack on the back porch. Somehow, I think having a chicken would cause mass heart attacks in little old Lebanon, Oregon. Occasionally, I find myself wondering how this condo complex would look if we stopped paying the landscapers to have our yards looking immaculate, tore out the grass, started growing some of our own food, and having some ducks tromping around. In my mind, that should bring the value of the home higher, but I am definitely the minority with that train of thought. It certainly gets frustrating trying to lower your impact on the planet when your neighbors have meetings criticizing what you’re doing and telling you to stop because it will lower their property value. Makes a girl wonder what it is going to take for that socially acceptable part to happen.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the no chickens in the backyard covenant a lot like the no clothesline convenant! Is our culture saying that frugality is trashy?

On to the main point:

I have been eating more and more locally mostly because I am lucky to live in the SF Bay area and can shop farmer's markets with great choices even through the winter. Over the years I have found that because I am eating a lot of strawberries/aspargus/peaches/tomatoes or whatever when they are in season and perfect (and less expensive too) that I don't crave them until it almost time for them to be in season again. Just the memory of how tasteless out of season produce is generally makes even the prettiest supermarket offering look unappealing.

Interestingly this year I am also noticing that summery foods just aren't so appealing when the weather turns cold...sort of like hearty stews are totally unappealing in hot weather.

Reading Kingsolver made me more aware though of the distance factor So even tho I still buy and consume well traveled food I find myself thinking about it when I pick it up and put it into the basket. And I am buying fewer well traveled items or making choices by including that in the decision process.

I had been giving a lot more thought to animal protein. And to the issues she raises about what we pay for our food. I am lucky in that I can afford to buy what I want to eat without a lot of thought to cost but we all like being frugal.

I have reached the same conclusions mostly based on health and flavor because local and from a smaller farmer is generally both really fresh, flavorful and organic or pseudo organic (ie they are so small they choose not to pay for certification).

Another book I read this summer, The Ominivore's Dilemma, really opened my eyes to how unhealthy for us we have made our meat by trying to get the lowest price for the consumer combined with the greatest profit for the producer. We are paying a huge price in terms of pollution, our own health and goverment subsidies for industrial agriculture thinking we can't afford to pay higher prices at the point of purchase. Kingsolver has a good point when she asks us to rethink what we can afford to pay for our food as well as how and where we buy it.

Paying more at the point of purchase may save us quite a lot in the long run.

But being basically frugal I am now planning to purchase a chest freezer and buying meat by the side (beef, lamb, pork) and a few chickens at a time from local pastured animal farmers. I have been researching chest freezer, figure it will add at most $100 per year to our power bill. I think I can justify the additional use of resources by what I won't be consuming weekly for meat and buying outside the chain of transported and refrigerated commercial food. A couple of trips of less than $100 miles each year plus the electricity to run the freezer plus whatever resources to manufacture it.

And all this reading has made me fully aware that CAFO's are unethical...not just unattractive and dirty. We are making the animals who will be forfeiting their lives to sustain ours so unhealthy that they are dying the entire time they are in the feedlot. No wonder our meat is making us sick. Some kind of cosmic payback.

Of course I am really doing all this because I believe my dinner will taste better!

Cycle Crone

koustubh said...