So on page 11 of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I discovered this passage (emphasis mine),
Many bright people are really in the dark about vegetable life. Biology teachers face kids in classrooms who may not even believe in the metamorphosis of bud to flower to fruit and seed, but rather, some continuum of pansies becoming petunias becoming chrysanthemums; that's the only reality they witness as landscapers come to campuses and city parks and surreptitiously yank out one flower before it fades from its prime, replacing it with another. (My biology-professor brother pointed this out to me.) The same disconnection from natural processes may be at the heart of our country's shift away from believing in evolution. In the past, principles of natural selection and change over time made sense to kids who'd watched it all unfold. Whether or not they knew the terms, farm families understood the processes well enough to imitate them: culling, selecting, and improving their herds and crops. For modern kids who intuitively believe in the spontaneous generation of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, trying to get their minds around the slow speciation of the plant kingdom may be a stretch.What Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp, a biology professor, calls "agricultural agnostics" (he and their daughter Camille are co-authors of the book, by the way). Which of course handily echoes what I had read not too long before in The Canon (one of the bits I posted earlier today):
Farmers, too, were natural scientists. They understood the nuances of seasons, climate, plant growth, the do-si-do between parasite and host [and this is much more true of present-day farmers who farm in more traditional, less conventional methods without synthetic chemicals that kill the parasite and injure the host]. The scientific curiosity that entitled our nation's Founding Fathers to membership in Club Renaissance, Anyone? had agrarian roots. ...There's a reason this place is called Farm School and there's a reason we're not budging.
"The average adult American today knows less about biology than the average ten-year-old living in the Amazon, or than the average American of two hundred years ago," said Andrew Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard's Earth and Planetary Sciences Department.
Of course, The Canon goes off in one direction, toward science education, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, toward another. Here's a hint:
When we walked as a nation away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial. Now, it's fair to say, the majority of us don't want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints. Except as straw-chewing figures in children's books, we don't quite believe in them anymore. When we give it a thought, we mostly consider the food industry to be a thing rather than a person. We obligignly give 85 cents of our every food dollar to that thing, too -- the processors, marketers, and transporters. And we compalin about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might send back more than three nickels per buck back to the farmers: those actual humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn castin gtieir shadwos upon our sustenance. There seems to be some reason we don't want to compensate or think about these hardworking eople. In the grocery store checkout corral, we're more likely to learn which TV stars are secretly fornicating than to inquire as to the whereabouts of the people who grew the cucumbers and melons in our carts.Much as Michael Pollan did last year with his Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Kingsolver urges us to rememember that we are what we eat and reconsider what we put in our mouths. Kingsolver does it by eating locally and tending her own patch of earth as lyrically as she writes.
Which reminds me of this article, on farmers who write, from last week's New York Times (I think it's a pesky Times Select story, so if Bug Me Not doesn't work, email me and we'll sort things out). To even things out, here are some free recipes from the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website.
Now off to the farmers' market with you!
* Also in the package -- thanks, Pop -- and on the go at the moment:
The Fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left by David Crystal, inspired, as you can no doubt tell, by Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Unfinished Canadian: The People We Are by Andrew Cohen