May 29, 08
Recommended to Miriam by:
organic farmers, environmentalists, people who enjoy feeling guilty
Read in May, 2008
My favorite cameo of all times from The Simpsons features Ed Begley Jr with a non-polluting car that runs on "[his] own sense of self-satisfaction." As I read this book, I couldn't help remembering that scene. Is Barbara Kingsolver a talented writer? Undoubtedly. Her descriptions of food are wonderful, and she makes her life on the farm sound idyllic, although she is realistic about the work involved. However, throughout it all,the undercurrent of self-satisfaction makes it hard to take. It's a pity, too, because I think her message is important.
Have a lot of Americans lost a connection with the land? Yes. Do many of us eat far too much processed food? Yes. However, Kingsolver can't seem to find one redeeming virtue in the life that so many millions of Americans live. At one point she mentions throwing the baby out with the bathwater in terms of the poor food choices Americans make, but with her all-or-nothing perspective, she is doing a little baby-tossing of her own. She sings the praises of Europe while stating that the US has no food culture. I've lived in every time zone in the continental US, and in every place I've found a different food culture. The US is a nation of immigrants, and despite McDonalds and Taco Bell, many features of this cultural blending are still alive and well.
The essays and sidebar articles by her husband and daughter are really what caused me to give the book two stars. The recipes her daughter writes about sound delicious, but the overly earnest prose is obviously written by a teenager, albeit a very intelligent one. The sidebars, like most sidebar articles, are too brief to really tell the full story. For example, in one article, Kingsolver's husband mentions that over 2/3rds of the families in Moscow grow their own food. This was true at one point, although anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that this is no longer the case, but he doesn't mention that in Western Siberia, a lot of people can no longer garden because encephalitis-bearing ticks have taken over their land, and they get closer and closer to the cities every year. The government used to spray for these ticks once a year, but they stopped spraying during the lean 1990s, and the ticks have taken over. A lot of families can no longer grow vegetables to supplement their diets, and the percentage of encephalitis-infected ticks grows every year. This is one example where the benefits of pesticides might outweigh the risks.
Long story short (too late, I know), this was in many respects a good book, and I enjoyed parts of it a lot. It was the feeling of Kingsolver's contempt for the majority of Americans that made it so hard to take.