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Should We Fear Our Food?

A Year of Sustainable Eating

Tired of living on food that traveled hundreds to thousands of miles — and guzzled gallons of gas along the way — to reach their home in Arizona, awardwinning author Barbara Kingsolver, her husband, Steven L. Hopp, and their two daughters, Camille, 20, and Lily, 10, decided to embark on an experiment. When they moved to their farm in the Appalachian Mountains to be near family, they also made another change: For one year they followed a local/sustainable diet, eating only what they grew themselves or bought from area farms, markets, and food makers — no fast food, no excuses. Their new memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, details how this family learned to think globally and eat locally.

Q: What inspired this experiment?

A: We were pushed into it by our discomfort with so many things about the industrial food system — the additives, the environmental costs of agribusiness, the loss of small farming. At the same time, we felt the pull of a simpler, healthier approach to our mealtimes — we loved eating from our garden and the farmers' market, and we began to wonder whether we could walk away from the big industrial food pipeline altogether.

Q: What were the hardest foods to give up?

A: Ironically, what we missed most was a very healthy item: fresh fruit. We can get local apples in the fall, but no other fruits ripen until strawberries in May. We sometimes looked longingly at those Chilean grapes in the grocery, but we also considered how much fuel gets burned pushing these fruits around the globe.

Q: In learning about agriculture, what lesson surprised you most?

A: Did you know that standard white turkeys sold in the U.S. have been bred so successfully for factory farm conditions that they can't even mate without human intervention? This seemed wrong to me.

Q: Now that the experiment is over, how has your life changed?

A: We had so much fun and ate so well, I forgot to notice the day the experiment ended. By then we had a completely new way of looking at food: Is it in season now? Get it, enjoy it, then move on. We still organize our meals around our garden and the greenmarket. Sometimes I'll see Alaskan wildcaught salmon and realize, Oh, I could buy that now. And occasionally I do — as a splurge. It's indulgent to consume something that was flown here on ice from 5,000 miles away. Globally speaking, we should think of longdistance foods as akin to our husbands bringing us roses: Okay, smile, be joyful! But don't expect it every day.

How to Eat as Nature Intended

Largescale food technology is almost impossible to avoid — unless you shop the oldfashioned way: from an actual farmer. "Food that's raised and sold locally doesn't have to be engineered to grow fast or ship well," according to Guillermo Payet, founder of LocalHarvest, an organization based in Santa Cruz, CA, that promotes community agriculture. As a result, less technology and manipulation is needed to extend shelf life or supply megasupermarkets, and that can help make food safer. Fortunately, buying local isn't difficult — whether you live in the suburbs or in a big city — with these five simple steps.

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