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, November 7, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book discussion (chapters 7 - 9)

Here are the discussion questions for the latest installment of the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book club!

Chapter 7. Gratitude - I love the idea of giving out tomato plants as gifts on Mother's Day. If you grow your own from seed and put them in a container, it's relatively inexpensive and even those recipients without a lot of yard can benefit from the bounty. Have you ever given food-bearing plants as a gift? Would you consider doing so now?

Chapter 8. Growing Trust - "Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history." I always find it amazing that for such a rich country we spend such a pittance for our food. Now, I'm sure a lot of that has to do with farm subsidies and the taxpayer money paid to produce all those High Fructose Corn Syrup based products that are so dirt cheap. But, even for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and the rest, it seems a crime that we don't pay for what it's worth. Again, I'm sure the prices are reflected by the huge economies of scale that you see in conventional farming and CAFO's. But all of this is at a cost. What's the thing that bothers you the most about cheap food and how it came to you? Unfair labor wages? Costs to the environment?

Chapter 9. Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast - One of the points Kingsolver makes early in this chapter is the idea of actually sitting down to enjoy your food instead of rushing through it. Many people spend little time eating their meals (as they are usually on the run) or don't spend mealtimes with their family. I'm sure you've heard about the Slow Food movement (she covers it in Chapter 11), or the concept of bringing back mealtime as a way of enjoying family, friends and food. How often do you have dinner together with your family? How often do you partake in fast food, take-out or eating on the run?

A while back I bought the book she describes in Chapter 9 regarding cheese making as I was interested in making my own mozzarella, among other things, but I never got around to ordering the required additives. Have any of you made your own cheese? What did you think about it?

The process of making your own food, whether that be from growing your own vegetables and grains, to milking your own animals to making something from scratch like bread and cheese, elicits not only a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you've done. For me, it also creates an almost a zen-like calm. I don't mind the extra labor because I get so much satisfaction out of doing it. How does it make you feel?


As usual, add your comments to this post and feel free to add your own questions for the chapters covered since I only touch on a few points in each chapter.


Anonymous said...

Chapter 7. Gratitude – I have never given food plants as gifts but I would love to receive them . . . are you listening, children?

Chapter 8. Growing Trust – I am increasingly, and belatedly, ashamed of how little we spend for good food and how willing I have been to accept the cheap and unhealthy substitutes. My kids, ten years ago or more, when they were in junior high school, started asking me to read labels and eliminate high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, and thank goodness for their insight. My family would be in even worse shape if I hadn’t had the benefit of their young wisdom, but I am afraid I have ingested lots of Bad Stuff by eating out now that they are grown and gone. Of course the low wages to farmers and harm to the environment are upsetting, but I think what upsets me most is that we have been bamboozled by our own government, so that Someone could profit from our being poisoned.

Chapter 9. Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast – I did not spend enough family meal time when I had a family at home, and that is one thing (of many) that I deeply regret. It is a great joy to me that my son and his wife insist on taking all meals together, slowly, and I am nourished when I am with them by far more than the food.

I was so excited to read about cheese making. I had no idea it was so 'do-able.' I am going to buy a kit and make mozzarella this winter with my toddler grandchildren, and hopefully will expand the experiment as they grow older and can actually participate more. It will be fun for me and their parents, and hopefully will instill in the little ones a better understanding of where their food comes from.

When my kids were little, I made all my own breads and grain foods, and cooked our meals from scratch. How is it that, with the kids grown and gone, I no longer have time to do that? I need to take stock of my life and rearrange myself as a priority. Maybe the lack of ‘slow food’ is why life seems to zip by, and I am of an age to want to slow things down again. I found myself really envying Kingsolver her more fundamental life.

Ananda Devika said...

I, too, was inspired to explore cheese-making after reading this book, but just never got around to it. Yet! It's still on my ever-growing list of things I'd like to try...if I ever get to it.

I must say this was my favorite read of the summer - I won't comment on each chapter due to the sheer amount I have to say - but I highly recommend it!

Anna Banana said...

What bothers me is that it's even legal to put pesticides on our food. Even if the amount that gets to us is low, the exposure to the farm workers is much higher. I don't hear people talk about how unethical it is to buy cheap food at the expense of workers who are underpaid and whose health is endangered. If we can't grow our own, let's at least buy organic when we can. So many topics to write about in this book! I would love to make my own cheese, maybe some day.

Anonymous said...

I've given lots of small herb plants to people who like to cook with them. For the black thumbed cooking friends, what better use for that end of the season glut of tomatoes, lettuces, etc?

I've loved Kingsolver's books since my mother gave me her Prodigal Summer a few years ago. It's not especially food related, but is a great read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tintex -- I am glad to hear that Kingsolvers other books are also good to read -- I had wondered about that, now maybe I will check them out at the library!

Christy said...

Chapter 7 - I've never done that but I love the idea. I think I will do this in the future.

Chapter 8 - This really frustrates me! I have friends that all they think about when buying food is how much it costs. They give no thought to how it was raised or what is in it. It drives me crazy! Our food budget has gone up a lot over the past year or 2 but our eating out budget has gone way down. We've also let other things go to have the money to buy good food. Why do people care so little about the thing that is giving them life? Why is cable and cell phones more important than healthy food?

Chapter 9 - We eat dinner as a family every night. My son and I also eat lunch together everyday. I've tried making mozzarella but so far have had no luck at it. I will give it another try soon. I have been making a lot of things myself and I do find it very satisfying. I've had trouble getting my husband to accept the differences but my son loves all the homemade stuff. He says when something is made by someone you love it tastes better. If only hubby saw it that way.

Piddler said...

Chapter 7: I never have given food plants although I have given baskets of bulbs as Christmas that were to be watered and watch grow and bloom in March. I read Animal, Vegetable, Mineral this past spring so was able to put to use many of Kingsolver's suggestions and was over joyed with everything I tried, including cheesemaking (see below).

Chapter 8: This is easy for me to say because we are past the point in our lives where we live paycheck to paycheck. These days, I can afford to buy organic, buy from my farmer's market, my eggs from my local chicken lady (I can see my layers running around the yard and my chicken lady is very proud of her non-chemical chickens and eggs) for which I pay $2 a dozen, twice as much as in the store but I pay it happily.

Chapter 9: My two sons are in high school and involved in many after school activities; however, on an evening when I know we are all going to be home at dinnertime, I make an event of it. There are flowers on my table, a candle burning on the kitchen counter, our favorite foods. I want to make it so everyone wants to linger and talk. We don't do it often enough, but when we do (two or three times a week) I make it an event.

And about cheesemaking. Go to, order the beginner's kit, gather up your favorite kids, and whip up a batch of mozzarella (from one gallon of whole milk). It is a craft and a chemistry experiment in one. I have made cheese several times with kids; it is fun (and a mess) and really cool to see where cheese comes from.

My favorite Kingsolver book is a collection of her essays called "High Tide in Tucson." I have a friend who highly recommends "The Poisonwood Bible," which I still need to read. Kingsolver rocks.

Trina said...

Chapter 7. I have never given a food-bearing plant as a gift. I’ve given plants as gifts, but never food-bearing. Would I give one now, that would depend on who the gift was for. If it was someone like my mother who would promptly throw the thing in the trash because it would take too much effort to bring the plant through its cycle, no I wouldn’t consider it. However, there are several friends that I have who would appreciate the plant. But now that I’m thinking about it, why should it be any different who the gift is for? Perhaps this would be the one thing that would open her eyes that there is more to getting dinner on the table than stopping at Safeway. Hmmm.

Chapter 8. It’s the environmental costs that bother me the most. Growing up, I have always known about how little the money the conventional farmers get. My family had a dairy and we never went without, but that came with a big debt for my parents. Eventually the debt got too high and sold the dairy. I knew there was a way to get more money (not shipping our milk from Oregon to Idaho to be packaged and sent back to Oregon for sale), but mom and dad always said there were laws saying that you are welcome to give your raw milk away but that it is illegal to sell your raw milk unless you sold to a creamery. Funny how the only creamery we could find to sell our milk was Darigold and they would pay my parents $0.60 per gallon of milk when it was selling in the store for $2.50 per gallon. The best part, the 40 acres that my parents had for the dairy has now been turned into a field for potatoes being shipped to Idaho to then be distributed back to Oregon for sale. I think I see a pattern. No? So as unjust as this is, I’ve always figured that’s just the life of the farmer and there is no way around it unless you start changing laws, and somehow that seems even closer to impossible than saving the human species. How sad is that? I’m also greatful that the costs of the environment have been the thing that has awaken me to the whole eating locally way of life. Now instead of paying $7.00 for a gallon of milk that has traveled who knows how many miles, I pay $10 for a gallon of raw milk directly from the farmer. It helps me feel like I’m doing something to lessen my impact and the farmer is getting paid a much better wage. I’ve always like win-win situations. I don’t know if someone changed those laws about not being able to sell your raw milk to people, but if I don’t look it up, I can’t be breaking the law. Right?

Chapter 9. Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast - One of the points Kingsolver makes early in this chapter is the idea of actually sitting down to enjoy your food instead of rushing through it. Many people spend little time eating their meals (as they are usually on the run) or don't spend mealtimes with their family. I'm sure you've heard about the Slow Food movement (she covers it in Chapter 11), or the concept of bringing back mealtime as a way of enjoying family, friends and food. How often do you have dinner together with your family? How often do you partake in fast food, take-out or eating on the run?

My son and I eat dinner at the table at least 5 nights a week. Typically it’s closer to 7 nights a week, but there are a couple of times during the course of a month we end up eating out. My husband and I eat dinner together 5 times a week, and most of those are at the table too. Ad in breakfast at the table on the weekends and lunch on the weekends usually consists of packed peanut butter and honey sandwiches on a hike.

Cheese making! Oh yes, I am interested in making my own cheese. Funny you should ask that. I was planning on going to a cheese making class up in the Seattle area this weekend, but I can’t find anyone willing to travel up there with me and driving that far alone doesn’t sound appealing for a variety of reasons. Instead, I’ll be heading to the local used bookstore tomorrow to see what I can find on the subject of cheese making. If anyone is interested is going to that class, you can see some information at So, to answer your question, I haven’t done it, but will be hopefully venturing into that arena within the next month or so.

When we sit down to dinner and it is potato leek soup, steamed carrots, and rolls that are hot out of the oven, there is tremendous satisfaction in the fact that at no point did I open a can or box of food yet there is a tasty, nutritious meal on the table. Yes, it is much easier to put a pan of hamburger helper onto the table with some Pilsbury rolls, but then I feel like I haven’t done my part in providing nutrition for the family. Not to mention, spending money at the grocery store to buy the ingredients in their least processed stage that I can allows me to spend less money over all, which allows our family to only have one income. There are lots of good feelings involved when I find a way to lower the miles on our food, increase the nutrition served, and lower the need we have for another dollar.

Trina said...

Eek, I didn't realize how long that got. Sorry for the rambling!

Anonymous said...

I've given food plants and herbs as gifts for a long time-they are what my mom and grandmother like! I also get them as gifts frequently. :)

Although I've always known about farm subsidies, I have to admit I was dismayed by the figure given in the side bar in Chapter 8 that about $725 of our taxes per family, per year go to subsidizing conventional foods. Since I do buy local and organic, that's not even going towards the food I buy. I would so much rather be able to direct that money to organic and local farmers. I guess that's what bothers me the most is that I'd like to see that money go towards fair wages and improving environmental impact rather than corn syrup and all that entails....

As for meals, growing up we ate dinner together every night. Very rarely was anyone missing. Now that my brothers and I don't live with our parents anymore, we have a family meal with most of us at least once a month, and about three times a year with the whole family when my wandering brother is home.
I really like cooking for friends too. I don't eat fast food. I suppose the deli at the co-op might qualify as take out and I do that every couple months. I do snack on the run quite a bit (things like nuts, scones, cookies usually).

I've had the cheese making book on my "to get" list since this summer. I've made Farmer cheese several times and it's turned out very well. It's just milk and vinegar. I think kids would like watching the curds and whey separate-I do! I really want to try making my own mozzarella. I've been making my own yogurt and butter-both are super easy.

I do feel a strong sense of satisfaction and connection when I eat food that I've made from scratch or that is from the garden and it seems very nurturing to feed it to others. To me making something that needs to be stirred a lot (pudding!) is very meditative. Hmm...making pudding sounds good right now.

Jennlala said...

It has been awhile since I read the book but I too ordered the cheese making book and love it! I just buy organic milk at Whole Foods and make mozzarella in 30 minutes. It is much cheaper than buying organic mozzarella cheese at the store. I then proceeded to buy all different kinds of the supplies that they offer. And then tried goat cheese from store bought milk. It did not turn out to be my favorite but I think my goats milk was not as fresh as it should have been. I froze it for about 6 weeks and found out that is not a great idea. But I will try again. I did get some lipase (sp) to make the mozzarella and it does add flavor. Well, anyway, It is a fun experience. And I hope to have some goats in the next year and really make some cheeses and get set up to make some aged cheese. Loved her book!

Sam said...

What's the thing that bothers you the most about cheap food and how it came to you? Unfair labor wages? Costs to the environment?

Stuff that bothers me includes the fact that Americans (as far as I know) have a very ugly relationship with food and many list food as a basic necessity. They spend more on stuff (that could be housed in a house) than on something that could affect everything from one's mood to one's health.

The journey that food makes to many tables is also bothersome. The convenience of it, the poor wages someone somewhere is lunch trucks across the city, a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich is $1.50. That boggles my mind! Picking one egg and the effort and energy it takes to bring that thing to me is more than $1.50. At least that's what I would want out of it.

I wish more people considered food and eating to be more sacred than an activity to get out of the way.