The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
October 5, 2007

Recommended: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I just finished listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,iconby Barbara Kingsolver, on BART tonight. I purchased the unabridged audiobook from iTunes and downloaded it onto my iPod. This audiobook, which is read by the authors, Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven, and daughter Camille, has been a pleasure to listen to.

The book is all about their family’s year of eating locally, growing a lot of their food on their Virginia farm, and purchasing almost all of the rest of it from local farmers. It begins and ends with asparagus and in between are bushels of chard, zucchinis, tomatoes, and some pretty funny turkey sex. This book, as well as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, have really gotten me thinking about where my food comes from and who I’m supporting with my food choices.

After work tonight, I stopped at Safeway. (Much more on Safeway in a future post.) I saw avocados for sale and knew, based on a discussion with a vendor at my farmer’s market two weeks ago, that they could not be local. Sure enough, they were imported from Peru. We won’t have local avocados again until January. I also saw asparagus and knew, based on listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that it also could not be local. And sure enough, it was also imported. Asparagus is a spring-time plant.

What does this have to do with plastic? Maybe nothing. But it has everything to do with petroleum. The further our food has to travel, the more petroleum is used and greenhouse gases emitted. And often, storing produce for the long haul does involve plastic. Think bagged salad greens and spinach and broccoli.

Barbara Kingsolver’s family ate really well all year round. They just didn’t eat anything until it was in season. And for me, living here in the abundant San Francisco Bay Area where winters are mild and we have year-round farmers’ markets, eating locally should not be hard at all.

What it requires is preparation. A little weekly planning. Which I’m not used to. In the years before Fake Plastic Fish and my growing awareness of how my actions affect the world around me, planning my meals was not an issue. I’d stock up on frozen Lean Cuisines for the days when no one in my office felt like ordering pizza or Chinese. Now, feeding myself takes a little more effort.

This week has been tough, plasticly speaking. I’ve been doing a few too many things and not getting enough sleep, which always spells plastic trouble. Yesterday, not having brought the best meal to work with me, I went in on the group sushi order and ended up with an unexpected Styrofoam clam shell! (Even after specifying that I wanted cardboard.) And today, in a fit of hormones or something, I asked someone to bring me a chocolate bar and ended up with a plastic Hershey’s wrapper.

I do need to slow down and breathe. But I also need to give myself a break. One of the most inspiring parts of the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle audiobook comes at the very end during an interview which is tacked on after the actual book reading is over. Kingsolver says,

It’s not an all or nothing proposition. As Steven said in his first sidebar which he called ‘Oily Food,’ ‘If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically-raised meats and produce we would reduce our oil consumption in this country by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.’ That’s a huge change…. So small changes have enormous impact, and small steps in a particular direction enable more steps for yourself and others, so anything you do in a direction that feels sensible, that feels sustainable to you is a step that you should honor….

Every single thing you purchase, whether you eat it or not, has an impact on the world you live in. You can attend to how it was made and what happens to it after you throw it away…. Attending to your cleaning products, your lawn care, your electrical consumption… all of these things are related to a way that you want to live in the world, whether or not you believe it will make a difference in the long run, it will make a difference for you.

My dad asked me a few weeks ago how I could do this blog and not feel completely defeated. He likes to send me doom and gloom e-mails about the state of the world. The truth is that we don’t actually know if any of our actions will stave off some of the more dire predictions. What matters is right now, how we are to each other and the planet in each moment. Living in the present rather than the future. And the proof is in the plastic. When I get going too fast and forget the present moment, plastic bombards me from every direction. It’s the ultimate symbol of disconnection and mindlessness.

The antidote is awareness, presence, connection. Let’s help each other to wake up.

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10 Comments on "Recommended: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

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John<a href="">Sporting Goods Fishing</a>
7 years 3 months ago

Very interesting reading.
Where I live there is a lot of promotion to re use your plastic shopping bags, take them back to refill. However I do get dismayed when I see imported meat or vegetable products undercutting local produce at the supermarket.

8 years 8 months ago

Beth, love your comment at the end. I often feel defeated. One day I heard Wangari Maathai, Kenya’s green belt movement leader, on the radio. She was asked whether she felt dis-heartened about her tree-planting effort given the environmental destructions all around her. She said something like, with knowledge came the burden of responsibility. She didn’t have a choice. It really stuck with me. So whenever I feel that individual actions do not matter, I ask myself what else would I do? There is no way back to B.K (before knowing) :)

Deb G
8 years 8 months ago

Guess those pears are delicate :)

Seriously, it was the fruits and vegetables in plastic that disturbed me the most.

Our farmer’s market has a fair amount of plastic too, but it’s pretty easy to leave behind. I’ve brought reusable containers to pour berries in for my trip home and left berry baskets behind. A couple weeks ago I saw two individuals putting peaches in reusable containers too!

Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank
8 years 8 months ago

Hi Deb G. I also thought that buying locally would mean less plastic. But then I saw how much plastic was used at my local farmer’s market and was really dismayed.

Agreed, Trader Joe’s is one of the worst offenders. I also think that their growers do not get well-compensated. And why do Asian pears need to be encased in plastic?

Deb G
8 years 8 months ago

I’m about half way through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (started reading it for the Crunchy Chicken group too). Lot’s of interesting thoughts in that book!

I do think it ties in very well with plastic as a topic. Local food is not packaged in tons of plastic usually. This past week I went into a new Trader Joe’s that opened close to where I live and was so dismayed by how much plastic they use….

Bob Uva
8 years 8 months ago
Great post! I’ve read Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and it did change my lifestyle. We now subscribe to a weekly organic produce delivery service which delivers lots of fruit and veges from farms within about one-hundred miles of Portland, Oregon, where we live. And I switched from cow’s milk (although it was organic) to a rice milk drink to have with my morning cereal. But what I especially liked about your post was the last paragraph, where you said: “What matters is right now, how we are to each other and the planet in each moment.” and “Let’s help each… Read more »
terrible person
8 years 8 months ago

Yes, the goal should not be perfection, but awareness. We should try not to be like John Travolta or Jake Gyllenhaal — and break out of our plastic bubbles!

8 years 8 months ago

Your recognition that your plastic use goes up when you are having a bad day (or week, I’m sorry) is a really good one. Thank you for pointing that out.

It’s like keeping a food diary – a lot of us consume in relation to our emotional state, both food and stuff, and just becoming aware of that can help both the overconsumption and the emotional ups and downs.

8 years 8 months ago

aw so proud of this blog!! and im excited to be seeing you in a few hours!!

Rejin L
8 years 8 months ago

Beth, I appreciate your thoughts on local food, and your effort to do what you can and not worry about what you can’t.
Your plastic project seems to be about making thoughtful choices, mindfulness – not mindlessly accepting that things are the way they are, so there is no point thinking about the consequences. If everyone was as thoughtful about their daily actions and choices, we might not all reach the same conclusions, but I think the outcomes would skew more towards sustainability.