Q& A: Barbara Kingsolver

Good Meals Start With A Committed Mom

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family never "did the fast-food thing," she says, but their formal pledge to live off the land and, more significantly, to avoid the corporate food world as much as possible nudged them toward an enviable relationship with what sustains them. Her 12th book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" (HarperCollins, 2007), chronicles the up-and-running results of that effort with good humor and some alarming research about the modern food chain.

"It forced us to look at the menu of what's available in season. We start with ingredients instead of recipes," says Kingsolver, 52.

They live on a substantial piece of Washington County, Va., five acres of which is used to produce most of the food they eat. Husband Steven L. Hopp had long owned the land; daughters Camille, 20, and Lily, 10, learned to cook, raise chickens and run a still-thriving egg business.

A hopeful realist, Kingsolver believes that, in light of the recent crises of contaminated foods and the unprecedented number of Americans with obesity and other health problems due to poor diets, "we're apparently realizing that we need to take a few steps back -- to track where our food comes from."

Last week, she spoke to The Post on the first day of her month-long book tour. Excerpts follow:

Reading your husband's statistics on the cost of bringing, say, aged pecorino cheese to my larder made me feel a little guilty.

No! Far be it from me to tell anyone what they should eat. There are many reasons why we should eat local food. Ultimately, there's only one reason why most of us will: because we enjoy it.

The Camembert cheese made only in Camembert -- it makes sense to see those things as a splurge. Anything from anyplace in the world in any season. . . . It's so much a toddler's approach to the world: "I want it now."

There's no law that says you have to become a purist overnight. In this case, where we're talking about problems that cause us to rethink our entire approach to consumerism and the world, it's going to be step by step.

Steven figured that if each of us ate one meal a week comprised of local organic food, it would save 1.1 million barrels of oil. That's incredible, a huge change.

Was it Camille's idea to write chapters from her point of view? Her recipes look good.

Yes. I encouraged her. Camille's perspective was valuable for readers who might be suspicious that kids wouldn't take to a project like this. She has a great interest and a thorough knowledge of nutrition. We joked for years about writing a cookbook together, since she's a great cook and we love to invent recipes.

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