Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

For us foodies, this recession has become the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. Families everywhere are tightening their belts and economizing. How can I buy organic now? Organic foods typically cost atleast double of conventionally produced foods.

The other mantra of foodies is buy local, be a locavore. Reduce the carbon footprint of your food. For a while i took this really seriously, I even maintained a map of some of the food sources of the vegetables that I commonly bought from my farmers market.

Turned out I was unwittingly buying vegetables and fruits from Peru, Mexico, Italy and some frozen foods even from India. Then came an article in NYT where the whole "carbon footprint of my food" angle became complicated. Just because something is local doesnt necessarily mean its carbon footprint is lesser. Economies of Scale do make sense. It takes less petrol to cart stuff from somewhere far away than near, simply because of volumes.

At the end of this,I was scratching my head. Whats a politically conscious foodie to do?

Reading this book,"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver(visit the books website here) could not have happened at a better moment for me. At a time when external and logical stresses make the path of organic and local food difficult, this book is a timely reminder of the reasons why we should choose to eat organic food in the first place.

This book is the account of one ordinary middle class American family's decision to live for one year on only the food that they grew themselves on their own farm. An incredibly brave or stupid decision you might think but the insights that emerge from this process are incredible. We in the US have become used to buying whatever vegetables whenever we want. Our consumption of fruits and vegetables is not tied to location or season, because even if tomatoes cannot be grown in your frozen North eastern American soil, they can be easily imported from Mexico or the Caribbean.

The book follows the family through the months as they sow seeds and plant using organic practices, plan for the coming months , enjoy the harvest and finally put away vegetables and seeds for the winter. The book is packed tight with useful information on all sorts of related topics in little posts that populate the pages.All through out she makes a very, very, very strong case for eating organic food.

One very simple example she provides are eggs. Most hens in America are fed ANIMAL WASTE. Yes you read that right. Bits and parts of cows, pigs and poultry that remain after butchering are fed to hens in order to eliminate waste. These hens are crowded in to industrial sized sheds and then fed antibiotics to eliminate the diseases that emerge from animal overcrowding. Imagine the horror of cross contamination of animal diseases - mad cow disease jumping from cows to hens. In my minds eye, the simple act of feeding my daughter eggs bought from my nearby walmart became almost poisoning.

This is not really over dramatization, cross contamination is a reality of Industrial food growing today. Just remember the peanut butter, tomato and spinach recalls that have happened in recent months.

The author rues the death of a home cooking culture in America, which she posits as the main reason more people are eating fast and junk food. Even the worst home cooking is healthier than any processed foods we may buy outside. I can only filter this book through my Indian ness. As a community i think we retain a strong home cooking culture, my mother's idea of a woman leaning more towards a superwoman type of person - some one who is a professional and who tends to home and hearth. And to some extent, Barbara Kingsolver seems to fit that extreme - atleast in the book. She even makes her own cheese and butchers her own turkeys in this account - of course with the complete help of her husband and children.

In India, i think we are not as divorced from the soil as when we are here. Our families still pay heed to the harvests of rice and wheat and oilseeds. Buying them after harvest and storing them away for the whole year. Vegetables available in the market come from nearby regions and always are in season. You cannot buy a ripe alphonso in India in December. But Indians living in America do as the Americans do, we buy mangoes in winter, eat at the local McDonalds or Burger King and pass on to our children our love for Pepsi and Coke over water.

This book provides a compelling logic for a food culture that is aware of its time and place and points out the dangers of the Industrial farming culture of America.

Thanks to commenter Ann for recommending this book - I really enjoyed it.


JFI Chickpea Round up

Hi all, a very big thank you to everybody for the wonderful response to JFI Chickpea. I was overwhelmed by the effort that all participants put in. A big shout out to Indira at Mahanandi for dreaming up this wonderful event.

First vital statistics, I received a total of 88 entries - 14 of these were Chickpea curry recipes. Thanks to all who took the time to send in several recipes.

The protein packed round up is in two parts, the first part is of all the versions of Chickpea curry or chole and the second is of all the other entries categorized by course and chickpea type used.


The following JFI Chickpea participants sent in various Chickpea curries,

1.Neivedyam :: Kadala Curry
2.The Budding Cook :: Peppery Chickpeas
3. Tasty Treats :: Black Chana Curry
4.Aroma :: Paneer Chole Makhani
5.My Experiments in Kitchen :: Sanagalu
6.Adlaks tiny kitchen :: Chenna Masala
7.Mom's Cooking :: White Chickpea Curry
8.Tongue Ticklers :: Chhole
9.Whats for lunch Honey? :: Spicy Chicken legumes
10.EasyNTasty :: Channa Paneer Masala
11. Seduce your tastebuds :: Chole
12.Experiments in Kailas Kitchen :: Kadala Curry
13.Monsoon Spice :: Lauki Choley
14.Poonams Kitchen :: Chana Sukke
15. Indira at Mahanandi :: Chole Cheddar

There is chole, theres is kadala curry with kootu, kabuli channa with paneer. So many chickpea curries, that your head spins. What is their common theme? Where do they vary?

My head was spinning just going through the JFI Chickpea curry entries. So I put in the 15 chickpea curry recipes from the participants above in to a Many Eyes Data Visualisation which highlights the most common ingredients with bigger font letters :

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I thought it was a fun and interesting way to highlight the themes and variations in something as simple and complex and wonderful as a chickpea curry!! You could click on the image above to interact with the visualization as well.


Now before you throw stones at me for being the biggest nerd of the blog world , here are the wonderful entries highlighting the different forms in which chickpeas have entered and stayed in our plates. There is desi or black chickpeas, white chickpeas and green fresh chickpeas which I was surprised to find in many delicious curry recipes and of course there was besan the ground flour of chickpeas - various desserts and even a bread made of it!!


Get your own blist widget

I have put up a database of the entries with the course type, type of chickpea used, photographs and links to the post. A mouseover the photo should show an enlarged picture.

I also had a lot of fun making Chana chor garam, Green chana puli kootu and Besan Potato Sev for this event.

I have gone through my emails twice, however if I have left any entries out, I apologise- please email me and I will be glad to update the roundup. It was fun hosting this edition of JFI- Do checkout JFI Cauliflower hosted by Paajaka.