Thoughtful food life is not just about growing your own. Anybody who has choices about food can exercise them with more care. Every grocery store carries some things that were produced closer to your home than the backside of yonder. Anyone can emphasize whole ingredients in their meal plans, and pass up the processed junk that has so many costs wrapped up in the package. And the majority of U.S. citizens live within a few miles of a farmers’ market. In fact, these are much more concentrated in and around cities than in rural places. The fastest-growing sector of the U.S. agricultural economy is the small market grower producing food for urban consumers. City dwellers might be surprised to learn that rural America has fewer farmers’ markets per capita, and the hardest place of all to find local foods is the Midwestern corn-and-soybean belt. It’s a sad commentary on our agricultural system that the bulk of our farm produce is essentially inedible.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is by no means intended to be a how-to book for growing your own food. Our intention was to explain why food is not strictly a product, but a process. That’s the lesson our culture has lost, and why we’re so dubious of the “product.” An important step in anyone’s food security is to recover an understanding of processes – for example, to learn the differences between feedlot meat operations and pasture grazing, why one requires universal use of antibiotics while the other eschews it. Why a pasture-raised chicken lays eggs with crayon-orange yolks, full of healthy beta-carotenes. Why lettuce comes in early in the growing season, and watermelons arrive late. When to look for asparagus. Two generations ago, people knew such things intuitively, but now we may have to learn them from a book. That’s why we provided a seasonal account of how foods grow — we thought readers might be interested in the natural history of what they eat. We’ve been very surprised, and delighted, that this information has inspired countless readers to try and grow at least a few things themselves. It’s a very basic human urge, it seems, to plant a seed, watch it grow, provision ourselves first-hand. I wish everyone could have that experience.