Saturday, 3 August 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver

This book gave me desires. Deep dark desires for...gardening. And making my own cheese. And doing more things from scratch. And doing them now.

The thing is, these are aspirations I have anyway, but my way is rather slower than the way Barbara Kingsolver and her family approached trying to eat locally for a year. I'm trying to make small, long-term changes, one at a time, hopefully in a way that I'll stick to it. But it was fun to read about someone else's experiment, in mostly non-preachy tones, and, you know, quite a lot about turkey birth, sex, and death.

I wanted to live like this, and want it badly. Small steps, I tell myself, small steps. You're a grad student. You have no money. One thing at a time. It's tempting to want to change everything, all at once.

But what sold me most on this book was the primary emphasis - that beyond reducing your carbon footprint, and supporting your local economy, and all those good things, making things from scratch and eating things locally and when they're in season, tastes better. I heartily agree.

We started making many more things from scratch in the last five years, because my husband tends to find that one of the major triggers for an upset digestive system is preservatives. Or something in processed food. I don't know what. But I do know that while cheese is always a trigger, processed cheese will be very painful, and good cheese will likely be not. That I can make a shepherd's pie from scratch that will bother him not at all, while one from the supermarket will mean an unpleasant evening.

Having been raised in a family where my father stayed home with my sisters and me, and turned himself into an amazing cook, I knew that homemade food tasted better, and I've come around to making so much more myself. Because it tastes so good.

A year and a half ago, we started to notice that the veggies we were getting from our supermarket were going over in a matter of days. And I'm not talking fragile veggies here, I'm talking potatoes and carrots. Which should be able to be stored for months. In theory. So either we were buying last year's potatoes and carrots, or they were storing them improperly.

Luckily, we live smack in the middle of the best agricultural land in the province, so the solution was obvious - start hitting the farmer's market more. I had assumed it would be more expensive, but it wasn't. The prices were about the same, and the market was actually closer than the supermarket, so I could do a couple of trips a week and get just what I wanted. This, it turns out, is key for cheaper groceries. For so many items, buying in bulk is such a scam.

Then this last year, I finally got brave and tried the butcher in my local market. This, I was sure, was going to be so much more expensive. Surprisingly, no. Often, his prices are about the same as the sale prices at the supermarket. And oh my god, the meat is so much better. Stewing beef that isn't the tough pieces they can't find any other use for. Beautiful chicken breasts. Smoked pork chops. Mmmm.

So, yeah. I loved this book, because it was in tune with things I'm trying to do anyway. It's a celebration of good food, good tastes, and taking the time to live in season.

I just need to remind myself not to try to do everything. Some day, I'll have a vegetable garden. Some day, I'll make my own cheese. But for today, my goal is simple - make my own bread. I haven't done it in almost a year, and today's the day. Screw the breadmaker. This'll be done by hand. And it'll smell like it did when we'd come home to the smell of Dad's fresh bread, two giant loaves to break into right away, and the three small loaves for our lunches for the next day.

Learning to make my own chicken stock, and maybe how to can tomatoes, that can wait. For a little while.

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