Food, of course, belongs in my mouth and in the mouths of others. But is there a moral dimension lurking here? Is factory food an aesthetic abomination? And therefore an ethical morass? A crime against the Earth? Lately, I’ve been thinking about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life, by Barabara Kingsolver (author, also, of The Poisonwood Bible, which I found to be well-written and also irritating). The book details her family’s decision to inhabit a farm in rural Virginia and eat nothing but locally grown, organic food (with a few exceptions) for one year. Do they see this as an ethical imperative? I don’t know, because I didn’t read the book, but I would guess that they probably do. And why wouldn’t they? I mean, processed food . . . blech! Anyway, in light of this provocative statement by Kingsolver, I wanted to suggest a few lesser-known albeit engaging books that belong on the same shelf as Kingsolver’s bold (so I’ve heard) AVM:AYOFL. All of them insist on a more sophisticated, purposeful engagement with the food we choose to eat. Enjoy!
Beet: My Year in the Red, by Serge Ionatsos. A witty, freewheeling, and deeply literary account of Ionatsos’s year spent eating nothing but 100% organic beets. Writes Ionatsos, “Almost from the start, my poop turned the darkest and deepest of reds. My toilet bowl would bloom in the most glorious way almost daily. Is this, I wondered, then, how God intended our issue in its purest form? One day, I walked to the kitchen and grabbed a ladle. . .”
Travels with a Grape, by Destiny DeSalba. Manhattan native and self-described “überfoodie,” Destiny DeSalba wanted to know just how well-traveled food gets from here to there. So she packed up her notebook and a suitcase and journeyed to the grape orchards of California. Once there, she chose a single grape as her traveling companion and accompanied her grape from the fertile fields of California to a Food Lion in rural Virginia. She writes, bracingly, of her experiences with unfriendly migrant workers, hiding in cramped produce trucks, and being hit on by railroad security. Along the way, she emphasizes the responsibility we all have to know exactly where you food came from before we eat it.
What’s the Matter with Poor People, by David Hathaway-Worthington. Heirloom tomatoes and organic potatoes are far healthier than processed factory food, argues Hathaway-Worthington. So why won’t poor people eat them? Why are they always going to McDonald’s? Food advocate, Hathaway Worthington exposes, brilliantly, the political-industrial propaganda machine that keeps organic food out of poor America’s kitchens.
The History of the Great Irish Famine of 1847, by John O’Rourke. In this rather slim volume, O’Rourke packs in a wealth of details about the life of the noble Irish farmers of 19th century. Things may have been hard for them at times, but they never lost their connection to their land and their local food. Except for those who emigrated. Or died.