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, December 5, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book discussion (chapters 13 - 16)

Well, here we are. I'm going to finish up the discussion posts for this book this month. So expect to see the final installment in two weeks. If you want to have your say for the book in the next book club, vote here!

Here are the discussion questions for chapters 13 through 16:

Chapter 13 - Life in a Red State: Aaaah. Tomatoes. There's just no comparison between home-grown or in-season farmer's market tomatoes and those anemic, mealy orbs sold in the grocery stores year round. Here in Seattle we get "hot house" tomatoes that are supposedly grown in Vancouver, B.C. (huh?). Rumor has it they come from Mexico. They are slightly better than the standard beefsteak, but I've decided it just isn't worth it to buy them out of season. But I digress.

Our tomato plants were hit and miss this year due to the cool summer. The majority of our tomatoes were green and never did ripen. Next year I'll try ripening them inside, but I did manage to pull about 15 lbs of green tomatoes this year.

Did you grow tomatoes this year? How did they turn out? If not, will you consider growing them yourself now that you've read this chapter?

If you grew tomatoes did you do any canning or freezing to capture the bounty for consumption the rest of the year? Even if you don't grow them yourself would you think about buying a load from the farmer's market next year and canning your own tomatoes?

Have you ever had a canning party? Would you consider organizing one next year?

Chapter 14 - You Can't Run Away on Harvest Day: This chapter discusses a different kind of harvest. One that involves dispatching (my homesteading uncle's term) raised animals for consumption. For Kingsolver and her family this means chickens. She brings up a good point for those critical of raising animals for meat:

... animals raised on open pasture are the traditional winter fare..., and they serve us well here in the months it would cost a lot of fossil fuels to keep us in tofu. Should I overlook the suffering of victims of hurricanes, famines, and wars brought on this world by profligate fuel consumption? Bananas that cost a rain forest, refrigerator-trucked soy milk, and prewashed spinach shipped two thousand miles in plastic containers do not seem cruelty-free...

The point is, it's easy to malign raising animals as a food source to consume during the months when vegetation is slim. And it's easy to sit back and feel self-righteous whilst hoarking down loads of vegetarian fare that may have more of an environmental impact than low-impact raised meats. What do you think about this argument?

Do you raise animals for meat? Would you ever consider doing so? Did reading this chapter at all influence your opinion?

Chapter 15 - Where Fish Wear Crowns: Kingsolver discusses, in detail, her trip to Italy and how the food culture there influenced every part of her travels from the lengthy meals to the Italian's love of food. Granted, her trip had more of a food oriented bent to it, but I think most people travel to Italy with food on their minds. It's one of those destinations where food is just as much part of the reason for going as seeing the sights.

What's your favorite food-oriented destination and why?

Chapter 16 - Smashing Pumpkins: October brings in the pumpkin harvest and the planting of garlic. By now, your potatoes have been dug and stored along with the onions and other end of season storables. If you grew them, of course.

Were any of these grown in your garden this year? Will you be growing them next year?

Feel free to add your own discussion questions pertaining to these chapters in the comments as well!


Lisa said...

This has been an interesting discussion--thanks for leading it.

Ch. 13: Well, I got a little carried away at the greenhouse last spring and grew 50+ tomato plants. It was way too many and lots ended up going to waste. We did can a bunch of sauce though. Our favorite slicing tomatoes were Brandywine and Green Zebra.

Ch. 14: We raise almost all of our own meat. Chicken, turkey, an occasional steer, and we just took 3 goats to the butcher. It's hard in some ways, but it feels honest to me--like if I'm going to eat meat, I should be willing to look it in the face first.

Ch. 15: I can't think of a particular destination, but I am learning to enjoy searching out local foods wherever I go, and trying out their specialties.

Ch. 16: We didn't do very well with storage crops this year--life got too busy at the end of the summer. So we'll have to buy our potatoes and onions at the grocery store this winter unless I can find some at an Amish farm.

As always happens in winter, I have great plans for next year's garden!

Deb G said...

Chapter 13- I've grown tomatoes for years.... Didn't get a very good crop last summer, to cool here too :) I ended up getting my tomatoes for canning from my mom who grows them in a hoop house and from the farmer's market. I made homemade catsup, sauces, and froze a few. Should have enough to get me through most of the winter. I'm a tomato snob- I won't buy them out of season.

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching my mom and grandma canning jam on camp stoves on the deck of our family fishing boat. We'd just moved down from Alaska and weren't able to move into a house yet so we were living on our boat.

Chapter 14

This is a funny thing for me. I grew up on fishing boats and am not bothered by dealing with fish, however I don't think I could raise animals for meat. Just eggs. I don't have an issue with others doing it and I agree with Kingsolver's argument that it probably is a better environmental choice than non local products. If the only way I could get local meat would be to raise my own, I think I'd stick with cheese, nuts, beans, and eggs for protein myself.

Chapter 15: I went to Italy about 6 years ago. Kingsolver's chapter brought back lots of memories and also made me think about the way my Italian relatives garden, cook, eat, and think of food. It's a pretty serious thing.... Actually, my trip to Italy made me understand my family a lot more! I would love to go back to Italy.

Chapter 16: My garlic for next year is in the ground and looking great! I always grow onions, sometimes they do really well, other years not so well. This year was not so well, but I have a few . The potatoes did so-so this year too. I was experimenting with less water and I think I didn't really give them enough. I didn't have pumpkins this year, but am planning on growing them next year. I want to see if I can find a hull-less variety (I know it's out there somewhere) that can be grown more for it's seeds. Lots of garden planning to do right now.

Anonymous said...

I was in Italy for the first time this October. Though I didn't think of food as the main reason to travel there(my husband did however) I couldn't help but fall in love with the way the Italians eat. Simple, fresh food served with love in good company. I'm trying to duplicate this philosphy at home.

Ananda Devika said...

I so loved this book...oh, have I said that before? :)

Ch 13 - I had my first garden this summer, and the tomatoes took over half of it very quickly. I made salsa twice, and we ate the cherries on salads every day. I ended up with a TON of green tomatoes towards the end, so I pulled them all inside and ripened them on shelves in my basement. Worked like a charm...

Ch 14 - I live in-town and we can't raise livestock or poultry, but I'd consider it if it weren't illegal. Chickens, at least... I can see the possibility of growing attached to anything without feathers... Fortunately I have access through my co-op to locally-and-humanely-raised meat.

Ch 15 - we don't travel much, but I have many international friends who like to cook, so I at least get to try their local versions of "home" foods.

Ch 16 - I managed to ruin my potatoes and onions by storing them year I'm growing a lot more of everything, as well as joining a CSA, so much much more will be preserved and stored...

Christy said...

Ch 13. I did grow tomatoes this year and will grow them again. I tried 3 different types and discovered some are better than others for my uses. I canned a bunch of sauce and even bought tomatoes at the farm market to make and can more sauce. DH then informed me he doesn't like my homemade sauce as much as the stuff from the store. Men.

Ch. 14 - I plant to raise animals for meat when we move. Mostly chickens. I think eating chickens we let live on pasture is much more environmentally friendly than eating bananas flown in from Brazil.

Ch. 16. I did grow potatoes this year and they did pretty well, but I didn't plant a lot since everything was done in containers this year. So we've already used up all the potatoes we grew and I'm going to end up having to buy potatoes. Same with my onions, I grew some but they are long gone. As soon as I can plant in the ground I will be growing a lot more of these things.

Kristi said...

Hi! I'm joining in a little late...

Loved the book and am loaning it to friends.

Ch. 13: I grew 12 tomato plants, and wound up with 40lbs of ripe tomatoes, and another 5 of green ones (my husband hit the tomato cages with the mower). I canned pizza sauce and salsa, and would like to make much, much more. I live just northeast of Crunchy, and we have cool summers anyway. It was rain that took it's toll on the tomatoes this year. I have to keep them covered with plastic.

Ch. 14: I would love to raise chickens, but have yet to convince my husband. I'm not sure we have room for much else and a garden. I don't have a problem eating meat so long as it was raised and slaughtered in a humane manner.

Ch. 15: Noplace in particular strikes me. I've had good and bad food wherever I've been. One meal that stands out was a wonderful goulash soup in a castle overlooking the Rhine when it was 34 degrees out and raining sideways.

Ch. 16: I grew carrots, potatoes, squash, and garlic this year. We're still eating them, although I won't have enough of all but the garlic to get through the whole winter. I grew Yukon Gold potatoes, and they were THE most flavorful potatoes I've ever had. Made the store-bought ones taste like water. I've never had luck with bulb onions, but am going to try again next year (oh my, that's soon!). I haven't bought garlic in 4 years; I'm totally self-sufficient in that regard.

As soon as all the holiday shopping is done, I'll be curling up with my seed catalogs....

Anonymous said...

First of all, Deb G: check out the Lady Godiva pumpkins at They are grown especially for their HULL-LESS seeds.

On to the book.

This year was my first attempt at growing tomatoes from seed. Unfortunately, we moved in June, so the garden didn't get started until LATE. The plants were lovely and healthy, but I didn't get a lot of tomatoes. I blame that on a lack of sunshine and a shortened growing season.

I did harvest about a dozen ripe tomatoes (red and pink and black), and about two dozen green ones that have been ripening quite rapidly in the basement. Apparently the trick is to keep as much of the vine attached as possible, because they are ripening faster now than they did in the garden!

I also canned about six quarts of tomatoes (donated and purchased from the farmer's market), which we'll eat throughout the winter. I also made strawberry jam and applesauce from farm-picked fruit, and pickles from surplus cucumbers courtesy of my parents. I froze strawberries, rhubarb, zucchini, pumpkin, pesto and persimmon puree. I made sage oil, as well as drying mint for tea, and sage and majoram for seasoning. Aside from the acerbic remarks from my sweetheart when a block of something or other falls onto his foot, I think it's going pretty well.

I am going to have to figure out something better vis-a-vis my garden next year. The terrace that is my backyard is too shady to grow much of anything.

As far as raising my own meat... sigh. I would love to have chickens for eggs and goats for milk, but I don't think I'll ever raise animals for meat. I wouldn't want to do the harvesting. Perhaps I'd eat the chickens if someone else would do the life-ending work. Funny, really, because my uncle and grandfather raise cattle for meat, and I have no qualms about eating their beef. But they don't slaughter the cows themselves, and I don't have to do the dirty work of caring for them.

Food destinations. I am a voracious traveler (the biggest challenge to reducing my environmental impact), but one of my favorite destinations is fairly close to home:

1. A feast on the Winnebago Indian Reservation can include lovely local delicacies like morel mushrooms, buffalo, milkweed soup, wabuxiti (a kind of corn pudding/bread) as well as the artery clogging fry bread and, of course, commod cheese.

2. In Saarbruecken, Germany, you can find mouthwatering sausage and liverwurst, as well as some truly fine cheese and wines.

3. Crepes at the Eiffel Tower.

4. Bulgogi in Cheju Do, South Korea. (Or anywhere else in the country, really.)

5. Poppy seed rolls in Bucharest, Romania.

6. Pumpkin soup in St. Lucia.

I could go on like this all day. Suffice it to say, local food is one of the best reasons to travel!

Next year's garden. My husband is threatening to forbid me from buying any more seeds this year, because I still have a dozen or more packets from last year. (Late move, yada, yada.)

I really want to try for head lettuce, cilantro, asparagus...and about everything else, really. I wish I had been this interested when I was a kid pulling weeds from my parents' garden in a fog of resentment.

Deb G said...

Holly, Thanks for the recommendation for seeds, Seed savers was on my list to check. I've never ordered seeds from them, but was planning on trying this year. Sorry if this is improper use of comments :) Wasn't sure where else to say thanks....

Trina said...

Chapter 13: I did grow one tomato plant in a pot and I got 4 tomatoes. There was definitely no canning or freezing necessary. However, I did buy 33 pounds of tomatoes from the farmers market and canned several quarts of pasta/pizza sauce. Next year, I am planning on a plot in the local community garden with several tomato plants. Hopefully I’ll have more tomatoes to do some preservation with.

I have never had a canning party, but I would be very willing to organize one next year. In fact, I already have plans with someone to spend 1 day a week doing canning with during the season.

Chapter 14: I think there are two sides to the issue and getting self-righteous over either side isn’t very benefiting to anyone. Personally, our family will be cutting down on fresh produce within a couple of weeks when we are no longer getting CSA veggies. We have found a meat CSA in the area, but the meat there is expensive even with the discount. I’m lucky enough to have money to spend on this. If I didn’t have enough money to buy the more expensive meat, I would probably opt for vegetarian fare instead of meat because the environmental and health costs included with eating a carnivore diet in that situation are greater than the vegetarian diet.

We raised our own meat when I was younger, but that was over 10 years ago. My husband and I are planning on growing our own meat when we find a way out of our current living situation.

Chapter 15: I have never done much traveling, so I don’t’ have a favorite food-oriented destination unless you count my kitchen.

Chapter 16: I did not grow potatoes, onions, pumpkins, or garlic this year. I might think about growing them next year when I have a bit more room to work with.

Anonymous said...

This was my first year to grow anything & the tomatoes were amazingly successful. I had always heard people talk about how much better home-grown tomatoes were, but I never really believed it. Then I grew my own. We grew only 6 plants, and had plenty of tomatoes for the summer -- I ended up giving them to neighbors too :)
Nothing beats homemade salsa -- which was also helped out by the cilantro which "appeared" in my garden (I didn't plant it)

I did not do any canning, but maybe next year. This chapter was inspirational, although it did sound like a lot of work and I would need a LOT of sauce :)