My food reading journey has come around again. It started with Omnivore’s Dilemma, Book 40 of 53 of the last “Book a Week” series — a real eye opener about what’s in most of the food you buy from the grocery story. I followed that up with Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer, which was the LAST book of the last series, and a book I give out as gifts.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)by Barbara Kingsolver (with experts by her husband and daughter) is about living a local diet for a year. She and her family swear of just about everything that does not come from the area around the Apalacia home (save olive oil, coffee, and a few other things). They start in early spring, race through summer, eat the bounty of fall, and survive off what they’ve frozen, canned and stored all winter long.

I did a little of this last year, putting up peaches and corner that I’ve used in baked and cooked dishes throughout the winter. One of my favorite childhood memories is going with my mom to the blueberry farm, buying flats and flats of the good Jersey stuff, then washing it all when we got home. I’d eat so many that my poop would turn green (sorry for the grossness, but it’s the truth). We did a U-pick-em with strawberries once, too, though I was more fascinated to watch the blueberries being brought in off the farms, sorted, and into packages we’d stack in the back of the van and bring home.

Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)has inspired me to do more this summer. I plan to make some of the recipes in the book (a rhubarb and strawberry crisp for this weekend), and bring back the blueberry freezing tradition this year. Today I’m making bread bought with ingredients from our local health food store. Along with freezing peaches and corn, I hope to can tomatoes and tomato sauce, freeze zucchini and squash, and make some sun dried tomatoes. I might even roast peppers. I’m also going to turn a basement room that used to be a coal shoot into a cold storage cellar (it’s not doing much now except holding extra AC units). It’ll take time, sure, but I can’t even explain to you how good those Jersey peaches tasted in the dead of winter. Once I get things going, it’ll save me money, too, and keep in local, nutritious food through colder months.

One thing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)has NOT inspired me to do is grow a garden. I wish I could. Let me correct that: I probably could. But I hated gardening as a kid when I was forced to pull weeds form my grandmother’s plot. I loved shucking peas, making zuchinni bread, and harvesting tomatoes, but the nitty gritty stuff? Pass. Instead, I’ve planted a tree in my backyard for birds, and hope to expand to some bird friendly shrubs. I’ll invest my money in shopping the Collingswood Farmer’s Market instead, and raiding the roadside stands in the inland parts of Cape May. I’ll still get the best of Jersey Fresh but also be supporting farmers — and don’t have the urge to tear my hair out.

A few other random notes:

1. I wrote my review of Omnivore’s Dilemma after I’d passed out at a wedding from poor nutrition (among other things, one being an afternoon wedding in the hot Arizona sun). I read this book while away at Key West. Our airport meal upon return was fries smothered in bacon and cheese. Tasted great for a while. I was sick the next day. I don’t know if I can process that stuff anymore or I’d overindulged over the weekend. I was so glad to see the fresh greens my mom had bought me while I was away, and ate a monster salad for lunch to repair the damage.

2. Kingsolver writes what I have found the best explanation of why writers — even busy shore writers — need to do something other than write for their health and sanity. She writes this in relation to farming. I feel this way when it comes to running: “It is also noiseless in the garden: phoneless, meditative, and beautiful. At the end of one of my more ragged afternoons of urgent faxes from magazine editors or translators, copy that must be turned around on the dime, incomprehensible contract questions, and baffling requests from the IRS that are all routine parts of my day job, I relish the short commute to my second shift.” Gardening isn’t my second shift — running is. And no matter how impossibly insane work can be, I need that break of no phones, no emails, no knocks on the door to keep my writing right.

3. The book address the issue of cost. A lot of people think that buying local and fresh is far too expensive. It doesn’t have to be (how many people want to GIVE away zucchini in the summer?). But Kingsolver points out that American spend the least amount of money on food of any developed country. Is locally grown foods a few bucks more? Sometimes. But we spend money on ipods, cable, the latest and greatest cell phone, “throwaway” fashions, and hot dog toasters. What’s more important — a gimmicky appliance, or what you eat — especially when what you buy local is more nutritious and flavorful than what’s imported from elsewhere. Take, for example, strawberries. I think it’s a CRIME that Wegmans is stocking California strawberries when it’s strawberry season in New Jersey. Why buy something that tastes like cardboard when you can get this?

These strawberries were picked today and sold to me an hour ago. They come from a Jersey farm and were sold at a mid-week Farmer’s Market that Collingswood sets up near the PATCO commuter train every Wednesday in the summer. The woman who sold them to me noted that I hadn’t been at the market that week — not an accusation, but wanted to know if I’d gone on a trip (I had). I salivated the whole way home, and ate almost an entire basket standing up at the kitchen sink. In the winter, I dream of strawberries, but I can’t bring myself to buy the cheap immitations. I happened to be in Tampa during Florida’s strawberry season, and bought two pints that I ate on my drive from Tampa to St. Pete Beach. It’s not any strawberry I crave, but fresh and local ones. Are those strawberries pricey? A bit. But I’m more than happy to live without cable and an ipod to have them in my kitchen.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Mark on May 22, 2009 at 11:17 am

    I liked Kingsolver's book (I like all of her books) & Pollan's "In Defense of Food" but I found Marion Nestle's "What to Eat" the most practical of the genre. She goes over good vs. evil vs. undetermined, but at the same time realizes that most of us (even us who go to the Collingswood Farmers Market!) still have to do most of our shopping at the supermarket.

    Despite its title, the book is not exacting or preachy, and is laid out in a way that lets you easily skip foods that don't interest you.

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