Barbara Kingsolver — The Ethics of Eating
July 15, 2010

Kingsolver describes an adventure her family undertook to spend one year eating primarily what they could grow or raise themselves. As a citizen and mother more than an expert, she turned her life towards questions many of us are asking. Food, she says, is a "rare moral arena" in which the ethical choice is often the pleasurable choice.

(Photo: Rick Scully/Flickr)

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Selected Readings

The Last Wild Food

In this essay, the famous restaurateur and slow-food advocate Alice Waters describes her experience of a bouillabase in France and how it influenced her shopping habits and seafood selection on the menu.

Your Voices

Your Approaches to Eating

Many of us are asking new questions about the food we eat: "Where does it come from?" "Is it nourishing in body and in spirit?" "Are my choices helping others?" Read fellow listeners' approaches and share your perspectives and experiences on the ethics of eating.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

1

A meat-eater in a vegan household reevaluates her held and lived values — and her recipe box.

1

A guest contributor shares his reflections about reconnecting to the earth in an urban environment.

Krista reflects on the listener response and skepticism following the 2008 rebroadcast of the Barbara Kingsolver interview.

About the Image

A Vermont couple spent an evening shelling a bushel of peas from their neighbor's garden, with a tabbed copy of Kingsolver's book on the table.

(Photo: Rick Scully/Flickr)

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I believe that God is creation and that creation is God. That God provides, through creation abundantly. It is humans that (pardon the expression) screw things up and create scarcity. God does indeed provide for our daily bread—our daily needs. We just need to figure out how to receive our daily bread. Greed and wastefulness gets in the way of that. It is only through an attitude of thankfulness and generosity that our collective daily needs can be met.

The more I understand that God is creation, creation is God, the more I understand that God is present within the food we eat. Thus, food preparation and the eating of food becomes a sacred thing—a form of Holy Communion.

My decisions about food have been changing toward whole foods, fresh foods, locally grown foods—in general a healthier diet—also, foods that require preparation. Part of this is to become more mindful of where foods come from—closer to creation—part of it is to be healthier.

Through food, we are most intimately connected to God in a physical way—connected with God through creation. The abusive use of food is an insult to creation—to God. We need to be more mindful of where our food comes from and the consequences of making bad decisions concerning the production and consumption of food.

When you view your body as a temple, it becomes clear that it should be nourished by only the highest quality food. Our bodies are temporary vessels, loaned to us. We should take care of them as if they actually belonged to us! Life is supported on Earth by two things: Father Sun (energy) and Mother Earth (matter). Modern civilization has become unbalanced, worshiping our father to the exclusion of our mother. To that end, we try to eat food that is balanced — organic and without undue proportions of energy, whether from fertilizer (natural gas), mechanized agribusiness (diesel), or transport.

This has been an evolving situation; a smoldering realization that has only recently burst into flame. Yet, Permaculture is all about "transition strategies." When you stop changing, you're dead. So we believe that our food choices will continue to evolve, with an emphasis on organically grown, as close to home as possible.

I've written a short story on the topic of our way of life, with vaguely earth-based religious overtones: http://www.beyondpeak.com/scenarios/steinman.html.

If God made it, it is inherently good. In fact, the Incarnation says the physical is good, including wine and sex. It's the choices I make about how to use food that gets into values.

I've been growing a garden almost all of my life. Put a seed into the soil, up sprouts a plant, I eat part of the plant, and I live. Pretty simple message. I'm part of the earth, and, like other food matter, will be until I decompose.

I'm leery of purchasing any food from a store where employees are unhappy. If the store treats employees badly, then it will treat its customers badly.

Food in itself is not a value. It's the human choices surrounding it that gets into values. I'm concerned that this topic is confusing means and ends.

My values lead me to attempt to lead my life in a sustainable fashion so that the world will be able to sustain the generations to come — including all species, not just humans — and so that the world they inhabit will be one worth living in.

As my concern for the environment has increased so has my desire to choose foods that are grown, processed, and delivered in a more sustainable fashion. This has led me to seek out organic foods, foods grown with less impact on the environment, and foods grown and processed locally.

I am a university-trained horticulturist. As such, my feelings about our place in the universe tends to differ from most people. I am keenly aware of the miniscule number of people in this country who grow any of their own food and believe that people like Ms. Kingsolver are doing a great service by focusing attention on the subject. Merely a century ago, nearly everyone grew at least a portion of their own food and not for religious or spiritual reasons, they did it because they wanted to eat. I feel bad that we have embraced consumerism in this country to the point where few people can produce.

The science involved in horticulture is pretty comprehensive; one needs to know about plant science, soil/earth science, entomology, chemistry, among other things. There is work involved and some art. When a horticulturist becomes comfortable in the discipline, it can take over their life, consume all the free time and become a way of life. I know I look at things in the produce aisle differently now than I did when I was younger. I know how many of those fruits and vegetables are produced and where they might come from during the winter. I know that locally produced food is better for everyone than food that is produced and shipped from far away locations. But I also know that we are in a bind in this country where not only are we increasingly dependant on fewer and fewer food producers, we will soon have the added specter of those producers burning our food supply (corn-based ethanol) to deliver the food to us. It is unsustainable, but all of it is heavily subsidized by the government.

I grew up in the inner city of Boston. Until I was seven and went to the dairy festival on the Common, I must have thought that food came from machines in the basement of the grocery store. As a teen, I worked in a grocery and was amazed by the volume of food that passed through that one store each week, but never gave it much thought of the where and how. I was not unlike most Americans who ate fast food, packaged processed foods as my children grew up; it was the expedient way to go. It wasn't until I was fifty and thinking about retirement that it occurred to me that I was 50 pounds overweight, pre-hypertensive and likely to develop type II diabetes. I lost those 50 pounds on a low-carb regiment, began a daily exercise routine and re-enrolled at the university to complete my BS in horticulture. I am now 56, retired, still slim, still exercising and looking for a plot for a blueberry orchard. There is nothing pressing about my search, I have plenty to do right here.

While I can't say that I'm all-organic, I do maintain a compost and over the years I have produced enough to enrich this small patch of earth from nearly beach sand to a high degree of tilth my plants enjoy. It is a legacy that few people would understand. Photosynthesis is a truly remarkable process and is what makes life possible on this earth. Sunlight converted directly the carbohydrates we need to eat and oxygen for us to breath. We are truly stardust. I am having a real hard time with real estate speculation and the rush to grow corn by farmers pricing people like me out of the market for land for my orchard.

My wife did a needle point for me some time ago. It says "Who plants the seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in god." That pretty much sums it up; the sounds birds at first light, the majesty of a summer thunderstorm, the appearance of the epicotyl archs of beans just before they stand up, the first and last frost and all those smells are just some examples of a power greater than I that allows me to be and experience and grow. I can feel within me, it is not in any book and certainly not kept in any building.

I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons); I have been all my life. I was baptized when I was eight years old. Before I was baptized, I promised God that I would never use tobacco, caffeine, or alcohol; that I would eat a balanced and healthy diet; and that I would stay away from all sorts of fads and extremes that would distract me from those promises. I am now 52 years old. I have filled many responsibilities in the church, including serving a two-year mission in Arizona. In all those years, I have faithfully kept those promises. I have never regretted them—especially back in the '60s, when a lot of junior high and high school students were smoking, drinking, and experimenting with drugs.

I have stuck to those promises all these years for two reasons: (1) I made a promise to God, and God is one Person I don't want to P.O.; and (2) because doing so keeps me healthy and better able to enjoy life. All of my food choices are guided, both consciously and unconsciously, by the promises I made Way Back When.

The first question I always ask myself is: is eating this food in accordance with the promises I made God? Next question, how healthy is this choice going to be? (Now, admittedly, I do indulge in the occasional cheeseburger, but still...)

When I was 20, I had the opportunity to study Old Testament Hebrew and Jewish thought under and Orthodox rabbi. Although we never really discussed the dietary requirements in any great detail, still, the rabbi's quiet example and the strength of his beliefs have led me to keep kosher where I might not have before. (To this day, I can't look a package of pork bacon in the face. Turkey or beef bacon, fine, but not pork.)

I very strongly believe that God wants more than anything else for us to be healthy and happy. To that end, He gives rules and laws that our intended for that purpose. When we live the laws, we prosper; when we don't, we nurse monster hangovers on Monday mornings and die at the age of 30 from cirrhosis of the liver.

My immediate family are agnostic. This means that we cannot depend on a God to take care of the earth or our personal health. We must be careful which foods we choose to eat to protect our health and to encourage the kind of agricultural practices that do the least damage to our environment. We must make our own decisions about food and take full responsibility for those decisions.

I don't think about food choices in connection with religion or faith, but I do refuse to eat veal because of the way in which the baby calves are raised (if you can call it that). Chickens have a terrible life as well, being forced to share a small cage with several others for the entirety of their lives although I do eat chicken. For me, the higher the level of consciousness of the animal, the more pathos I feel for it. I do eat meat, but it does bother me when I consider the circumstances of the animal's death. It's really everything that leads up to the death that concerns me and not the fact that an animal has died to feed me. I think cattle feel a sense of impending doom when suddenly rounded up and driven through a narrow gate to be led to slaughter. There eyes are full fear and panic…that is the worst possible feeling in the world and no living thing should ever feel that.

I'm not a religious person nor am I particularly spiritual, but I have a deep and abiding respect for all living creatures. I'm deeply disturbed at the treatment of animals raised by large companies to be slaughtered for human consumption. There is no good thing about confining large hordes of animals in an unnatural way and depriving them of the joy of living. It's intrinsically wrong, but has nothing to do with God, religion or spirituality. It has to do with care and respect for nature. The Bible says man was given dominion over all the animals, but this is not a license to treat them as we do. Ironically, some of the worst offenders tout themselves as good Christians given the right by God to do with animals as they please. Keeping baby calves in a crate so small they cannot move and are therefore crippled just so we humans can eat tender muscle tissue. Is this really what God meant?

I was raised in a small community in West Virginia where nearly everyone had a garden and a few animals. My grandparents had a big garden and always had a milk cow, a hog and some chickens. All our animals lived a good life and were treated with dignity and respect. My grandfather was very kind to his animals and always showed compassion toward them. He even put lights in the chicken coup to keep them warm. He said you could tell what a man was like by the way he treated his animals. Simplistic as it is, I have found it the most accurate way to size up a person. So I think about food in terms of how it was raised and what care was put into it. I have high regard for those who raise food in a thoughtful, caring way.

My decisions about food have changed as I have become more aware of how food is grown or raised commercially. And since I grew up in an environment that allowed me to participate in the growing, tending and caring of plants and animals, I have a perspective not everyone has been given the opportunity to have. But it is a perspective that everyone should have.

Everyone should witness the planting of onion sets by large groups of migrants in the fields of the southwest. To watch "illegals" spend an entire day bent over from the waist planting individual onions only to earn a few dollars would surely make anyone question what business they have declaring these people criminals. They are tireless and are abused by our system in so many ways. The whole system of organized commercial growers should be made visible to all Americans. This would be a start to help educate those who cannot seem to tolerate foreign workers.

I can no longer buy meat of any kind that isn't raised as ethically as possible. I can no longer buy food that isn't raised organically (if possible) because of my Christian faith that says that God created the earth and everything on it as good and that I am called to be a good steward of that creation.

I often pray for the workers who pick the produce and I am concerned for their health, which is why I try to buy organic as much as possible. I also am not ready to become vegetarian but I want to know, as much as I can, that the animals have a good life before being killed to give me life.

I used to think that there was little to no connection between my faith and how I ate (and ultimately treated my body). I've grown to realize that was wrong.

I believe God gifted us with an abundance of plants and animals to sustain us. Therefore, I don't have a problem with eating animals. I do, however, believe that our food has become far too industrialized. So much thought has gone into how to process and deliver food more efficiently that hardly any thought at all goes into where our food actually comes from or how it is treated along the way. I want to do a better job of choosing foods that are closer to the earth—organically grown, locally produced—so that I can be a better steward of God's gifts.

I don't believe that God intends for us to manipulate nature to the point that we are no longer really eating natural foods. I have trouble with the fact that 1/5 of petroleum consumption in the US goes into the manufacture and transportation of food, because I think this represents terrible stewardship of our resources—both fossil fuels and food. I believe that God created a world in which we all can be fed well, not a world in which some have far too much food available and others suffer starvation. I wish there were better ways for me to share the bounty I enjoy with those who don't have enough.

I am currently reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan at a friend's suggestion. What I have learned from this book already, along with other information from this same friend, is beginning to have a big impact on my choices about food. I am reading ingredients much more than I ever have, and I am looking for minimally (or not at all) processed foods. I'm much less inclined to eat fast food now, and I think more about where the food on my plate came from, whether at home or at a restaurant.

The foods that are the absolute worst for us, in terms of fat and sugar content and artificial ingredients, are the cheapest at the supermarket. Because of this, the people in our society with the least amount of resources (and the least health insurance, usually) end up with the worst health problems. I don't believe this is right. I think it is an injustice that needs to be corrected on a huge scale.

My spiritual philosophy revolves around the fact that matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed, It simply moves from place to place. With every breath I take and meal I eat, I change, slightly, the makeup of that which I understand as my Self. Because of this intimate connection to the world around me, I truly believe that my actions and choices affect others as much as what I take into my body affects my self. This understanding of the universe leads me toward a diet that consists only of plants and animals that I believed to have had a good life. I take to heart Christ's words, "That which you do unto the least of them, you do unto me." I cannot support agriculture that neglects the wellbeing of the earth, the plants grown in that soil, or the animals raised on its pastures (to say nothing of factory farms). To the words, "love your neighbor as yourself," Gandhi added, "and every living creature is your neighbor." I truly believe this in my heart, and therefore must support an agricultural system whereby the land, plants, and animals thrive before gracing my dinner plate. I am committed to nonviolence, and I view the mistreatment of animals and neglect of our land as violent actions.

I used to cook primarily for thrift and ease. In my early twenties, I started cooking for personal health and nutrition. Now in my thirties, I welcome the opportunity, every night, to give thanks for my food and where it came from. I take great joy in preparing meals for myself and my partner, knowing that the awareness, gratitude and love mixed with fresh, healthful ingredients will always yield a meal that is tasty, nourishing, and conducive to good conversation.

I am a born again believer, but my faith doesn't dictate what I should or should not eat. I am not under the Levitical law but under Grace. However, that doesn't give me license to eat foolishly if my health dictates otherwise (watching fatty foods, etc).

Food is God's gift. I am very grateful for what He provides for me and my family, and I try not to abuse it (such as overeating or hoarding or wasting it).

My views on food have changed much from the past because i had bulimia/anorexia. Food was like an enemy, and my body image was very distorted. When I came to believe that God through Jesus Christ can deliver me and my disease, and can restore my mind and my thoughts into His image, then my feelings about food changed. All foods, not just certain ones, are good. My body and image was perfect in God's eyes. It was and is a process, but not longer am I in such a bondage over food, weight, image. etc. Because I have the Living God and the Holy Spirit loving me and helping me in this journey.

Faith is irresponsible irrationality. Food choices should be rational. Are your cows grass-fed, thus providing better meat and milk, or are they ghettoized in a feedlot where they are forced to eat grains which make them sick and increase the transmission of E. coli? Are the chickens and eggs pastured so that they make more Omega 3 fatty acids? Industrial methods of food production are making people obese and causing diabetes. Since I don't have "a spiritual belief system" my thoughts of food revolve around nutrition and taste. Is it good for you and does it taste good? Eat It!

The more I read science based studies of food, the more clearly it becomes evident that genetically modified organisms introduced in the food chain are a detriment to nutrition. I recommend reading Michael Pollan's "An Omnivore's Dilemma" and Nina Planck's "Real Food".

Know where you came from and where you are going. We come from dust and decompose into dust. Do you want your dust laden with heavy metals and carcinogens?

By profession, I'm a philosopher, and I write and teach the philosophy of food. I begin from the assertion that philosophy is the study of meaning and value in human life, and that food is one of the most concentrated sources of meaning and value we have in our lives.

Food carries this weight because it unavoidably connects us (perhaps more than any other single substance, any other single aspect of human life) to a wide swath of beings, living and nonliving. Our eating inevitably involves us in the lives of people, animals, plants, and the soil. We cannot opt out, nor can we exercise full control over all these connections. But rather than seeing this as a burden, I suggest that we see it as one of the most significant opportunities with which we are presented.

While I can offer a laundry list of the particular kinds of decisions I make about what to eat and why I make those choices, what is most important to me is that food be understood to be such an opportunity, a chance to make value choices. Its potential as a source of meaning and value must not be overlooked. It is a locus for moral, ethical, and political reflection.

I sometimes fear that the various alternative food campaigns that we launch in this country end up amounting to a kind of moral litmus test. "To be morally praiseworthy, you must eat vegetarian/eat organic/eat local/eat biodynamic/eat fair trade/eat...." I applaud these efforts to transform our agricultural system; I do not applaud our tendency (as Americans?) to reduce our moral lives to a set of rigid choices we make that can "make us good people."

Michael Pollan speaks of eating being a vote we cast several times a day; I would broaden and deepen this to suggest that activities involving food (growing, procuring, cooking, eating) give us the opportunity to engage in ethical and social reflection numerous times a day.

To make some observations about what I actually do: in all my shopping, cooking and eating of food, I try to ask "to whom or to what does this activity connect me? Can I make these connections as productive of growth, as productive of thriving of those beings as possible?" Unfortunately, the answer often seems to be "no," because frankly our choices are limited in very problematic ways in an industrial food system. But I think this is a good question to try to ask, and to try to answer.

I think I tended to be a "litmus test" person, say, twenty years ago or so (when I became a vegetarian and when I started writing about food). Now, I tend to be much more inclined to think that reflection upon choices is the important thing. I tend to think much more contextually and systemically—and to make my choices not according to a set of principles, but by examining a set of relationships.

For me, the ethical must always be considered in connection to the sociopolitical when one talks about food. Justice is always an issue. Right now, in the midst of the local food boom, it seems like issues like farm workers' rights, and the working conditions of factory laborers aren't very interesting or cool. But unless and until we connect these various issues, we don't really create the conditions for a just food system.

I believe that every choice that we made, whether the job we chose or the meal we eat should be affected by our faith. God desires us to seek Him in all the areas of our life. Whether big or small, He is interested.

God created everything and He told us that it was good. He did give us dietary requirements at the beginning to protect us from harm. Then at a certain point God removed those restrictions and gave us the freedom to eat all things under the covering of the Lord. We must be wise in our choices so we can remain healthly and continue to be able to serve God.

I was raised in a mixed religious tradition, in that my father was Protestant, and my mother was Roman Catholic. We followed the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, including not eating meat during Lenten holy days and on Fridays. Although I am now an Episcopalian, and do not have the same strictures placed upon me about Lenten fasting, I do try to comply with meatless Fridays and foregoing excess. I believe gluttony is a symptom of societal disaffectedness. So many people cannot afford to eat healthy foods because these items are very expensive and can be difficult to obtain in some areas.

Our government does not encourage or subsidize healthy foods, and particularly so with regard to safe, ethical farming methods. Upton Sinclair's expose, "The Jungle," was not far off the mark about the barbarity of the meat processing plants, and our meat factories are little different today. Then, the hormones and other chemical additives contained within our food group have led to a number of unhealthy behaviors and accelerated pubescence in our children. I will not eat veal (unspeakably cruel), nor lobster. I would love to eat kosher products due to the strict rules governing the slaughter of the animal, as well as the strict standards for cleanliness and care for the meat or other products produced for the consumer.

Family farms have been nearly wiped out by the Big Box farm factories, just as conglomerates such as Walmart have driven out most of the local stores, and the mom and pop grocery stores that used to be an integral part of our lives. Sadly, I am forced by my own lowly pay as a teacher to have to shop in a Big Box store because most local stores are too expensive for me.

I believe our bodies should be respected more than they are. I am certain that many of our children are obese and unhealthy because not enough emphasis is placed upon learning about the danger of too much sugar, caffeine, and the like.

I think recess, physical education, and food education should be instituted in each school in the United States (and elsewhere, if possible). Many people are completely ignorant about food and its healthy preparation, and too often schools are influenced into buying Coke or other snack products by the promise of funding, etc. It is easy for the government and others to promote healthy eating, but until the public is given a strong incentive to change, it will not happen.

I live according to the belief in the interconnectedness of the material and spiritual. I trust in an incarnated universe and find deep inspiration in the fact that Jesus truly walked on this earth. I am excited by Karl Rahner's simple observation: "Two thousand years ago someone died on the cross in all the darkness of his death out of love for the Father. And this took place from the very outset in a sphere which is my own reality." I interpret Rahner's observation to mean that my everyday reality has the potential for divine meaning and purpose. While I believe there is spiritual potential in everything we do, I am especially aware of a divine presence in all things involving food and meals. For me, food has tremendous spiritual importance: it brings people together, allows human beings to feel satisfied and comfortable, connects us with the earth, provides us with health, and is basic for life. The Bible is full of stories about food and meals. Jesus spends much of his time sharing meals with people. As a Christian, my belief in the incarnation and the significance afforded to the material world by the incarnation, gives me reason to be intentional about my food choices. By intentional food choices, I mean thoughtful consideration given to the food's source and how it was produced.

While there are many aspects of industrial agriculture that do not square with my belief in an incarnated world, factory farming is one that I cannot, under any circumstance, tolerate or support. Factory farming warehouses animals in intensive confinement for their entire lives, denying many of them even the most basic natural movements. It is surely not in the spirit of the Incarnation and the sacramentality of the earth. These farms are marked by violence, cruelty, pollution, profitability, and total disregard for sentient life. Animals produced by these industrial systems are denied even the slightest bit of mercy. These massive concentrations of suffering and inhumanity clearly fall outside of God's intent for creation and the meaning of the Incarnation. It follows then, that it is the Christian's responsibility to begin to end suffering by reducing the consumption of these products, refining selection to humane alternatives and replacing them with sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. For more information please visit this page at the Humane Society.

The Eucharistic meal was at the center of faith for the first Christians. Shortly after Jesus' death and resurrection his followers set out to establish a unified faith and to codify what they had seen and heard into a tradition that would continue to edify present and future followers of Jesus. There were, in fact, several sects of what is now called Christianity, all trying to establish a tradition in the name of Jesus. It was a period when ritual practices were in flux and liturgy was emerging. Early on, a group of Jesus-followers decided it would be a good thing to eat together and share a meal of thanks for the promise of new life they had just received. Food and meals provided a way to follow Jesus' teachings without a tradition or a church. Eating was both a fitting first step in the development of a cohesive community and an opportunity to establish a ritual for daily practice. Of such is the development of liturgy: "liturgy interprets our life outside the time and place of ritual, while our life outside the liturgy shapes and interprets our ceremonial ritual. Life and ritual become, in fact, one liturgy." Thus, the Eucharistic meal shaped Eucharistic liturgy and subsequently the Christian community, all the while remaining intertwined with the Christian's daily life through food.

Christianity has a rich food tradition wherein the Eucharist is a primary example. The gospels are full of stories about food whereby Jesus eats with sinners and outcasts, feeds the hungry and shares meals with his close friends. His parables are replete with food imagery and the theme of justice is often connected to images of abundant food. It is no small matter that Jesus spent his last evening sharing a meal with his disciples or that the Eucharistic meal was the first communal expression of faith for the early followers of Jesus. Indeed, food has a spiritual purpose and a ritual meaning in Christianity and we ought to acknowledge its potential for nourishing both our souls and our bodies.

I hope that Christians work to remove all residues of anxiety from the Eucharist and learn to laugh and be joyous at communion. For gaiety belongs at every meal shared in community. That holiness cannot get along with laughter is a later invention of Christianity. Similarly, it is a later invention that the Eucharist is a meal only in a symbolic sense, that you don't eat and drink in order to be filled. The meal to satisfy one's hunger and the meal of the Lord were therefore separated from each other. Communion in Corinth, the evening meal and the early church's Eucharist is a joyous common meal; there is bread, and barley porridge, eggs and vegetables, wine and water.

In my view, the foundation behind any spiritual practice, religion or faith is it's ethical principals. I try to evaluate the choices I make, including the food I eat, based on the underlying ethical implications, which necessarily includes considering the impact of my food choices have on animals, personal health and the health of the planet.

The ability for higher reasoning is what is often sited as the trait that distinguishes human beings from other animals. The true expression of higher thinking is the ability to think beyond oneself and to choose compassionate actions. To make war, cause horrific suffering to billions of animals and destroy the planet does not grant us higher status. To that extent, I choose to eat a vegetarian diet which does not actively contribute to the mass torture and slaughter of our fellow beings, destroy the environment and have a grave impact on global warming.

I'm not a particularly radical or politically minded person. My food choices in the past followed convention. I ate meat and dairy products because it's what I grew up doing, as most of us have. As I became aware of the suffering and abuse of factory farmed animals, I made the connection between my compassion for animals and the food I consume and stopped eating the creatures I love.

I have so often heard people say that they can't view graphic imagery of animal abuse because they love animals and it upsets them too much. Yet many of these same people eat animals on a regular basis and thereby perpetually support the gross suffering which they claim to abhor. Although I too resisted looking at photographs and video footage at first, ultimately, these are what made me wake up and change my ways. It was as if my conscience was bleeding and I knew I needed to do what I could to do right by my fellow earthlings. No one is helping the animals by avoiding confrontation with their reality. To avoid confronting animal abuse is to protect oneself with the false sense of not being culpable as long as it is not seen. I remind myself that whatever horror I feel in seeing graphic footage is nothing compared to what the animals suffer. It is time to grow up and make conscious choices that reflect our convictions. I encourage everyone to look, watch, learn and change.

Here are a few quotes from famous people on the subject of human and non human animal relations.

"In fact, if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people." - Ruth Harrison Animal Machines, 1964

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they are only animals." - Theodor Adorno, German philosopher and sociologist

Ever since I was a little girl and learned that I was eating animals when I ate meat, I have experienced an inner conflict. I couldn't eat chicken without thinking about my pet bird and was horrified when I went to college in Italy and realized I was eating rabbit (I brought an Italian dictionary to the cafeteria and learned I was also eating tripe). As I grew older, I gradually found myself eating less and less meat and now I don't eat meat at all, which seems to "fit" better with my inner belief system.

One day early in my marriage I was having a philosophical conversation with a friend about eating meat and mentioned that I can't buy meat that looks like an animal (with bones, wings, etc). It made me physically ill. I remember saying that if I had to kill an animal for survival, then I didn't think I would be able to. He looked at me and said, "Then I guess it is OK if someone else does the killing?" That conversation haunted me for many years to come. I began cooking less and less meat. I also learned delicious ways to prepare vegetables from my (then) mother-in-law who was born in Italy. They were often too poor to buy meat.

Finally, I came to peace with myself about this issue and chose not to eat anything that I wouldn't be able to kill myself. I eat eggs because they are not fertilized and I eat other dairy products. I eat fish because I grew up fishing and cleaning fish with my father. I think I could do that if I had to.

This has been a life-long process for me and no one should pass judgment on people who choose to eat meat or a different kind of diet. Everyone does this according to what they have learned and lived and what they have come to believe (if they give it any thought). I try not to be a fanatic and occasionally will eat meat not to offend a particular host or hostess. Most people are aware of my preference because I am not ashamed of my choices.

The few times I have eaten meat in the past 10 years I find that my digestive system can no longer tolerate it very well (especially beef). A friend "surprised" me with a beef barbecue for lunch a few months ago and I ate some of it because I didn't want to hurt her feelings. My stomach was not the same for about 2 weeks.

I choose foods which assist my self-healing abilities and assist my spiritual growth. I choose foods which I can make and bless and feed to others in a heart-filled way, knowing this food will assist them in many ways. And sometimes God, in the form of food, chooses me.

I'm an all-beings communicator, so I speak with the spirit of whatever I eat. I bless my nourishers for the gift of their lives to aid mine, and I know I'll be returning my body to the earth so that other beings can gain nourishment from it at some point. Talking with trees, food plants, herbs, and animals — it's the God-in-all-life who speaks with me. I'm an omnivore. After eating a mostly vegetarian diet for several months and suffering physically from it, I received a message from God: "You have to eat meat. That's the way you're made."

I'm now shifting out of the last of the delusions ingrained from infancy through the dysfunctional family habit of "fixing" things with comfort foods—especially desserts. My diet for the last several years was already simple except for that; and now I'm releasing even the occasional sugar/white potato/white flour indulgence in order to heal what may be insulin resistance. It's been interesting to follow the sugar thing spiritually. As a universal channel and shamanic healer, I have the experience of being embodied by other-than-human beings sometimes. Angels love sugar! When I saw the movie Michael a few years ago I was blown away by the scene in which he pours a huge amount of sugar on his bowl of cereal. That rang absolutely true to my experience of angels.

At 64, I value my very good health and high energy level, which I attribute to staying away from processed and refined foods and eating organic and local when possible. My values extend beyond the personal. I will not let corporate food processors use my body for processing the chemicals they add to their sad concoctions. Industrial processing (really, adulteration) of food is yet another aspect of unchecked corporate power over our society. I believe we should be as concerned with corporate behavior that pollutes our bodies the same way we are concerned with corporate behavior that poisons our environment.

I am an atheist who believes in the sanctity of all life, so I am a vegan. Before the fall, in the Garden of Eden, it was forbidden to eat animals. To achieve a state of grace and be in alignment with all life on this planet, one must not eat other animals or animal products. Humans are the only species that drinks the milk of another animal. Isn't it strange that when we refer to human milk, we call it "mother's milk", but cow's milk is just "milk." We should be calling human milk, "milk" and cow's milk "cow's milk."

I eat to live, not the other way around. I grow some of my own food and enjoy it knowing it is not contaminated by chemicals. I used to eat meat, but now I'm a Vegan. I believe it is bad for me, the planet, and for humans to eat other animals and animal products. The epidemic of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes is directly linked to the consumption of dead animals and animal products.

Sustainability and fair trade are the most important things to me. I cringe when I hear about people who only want pure things (organic food) to go into their bodies. We don't see the effects here in the USA because our waste stream often ends in majority world countries. I have been shopping at food co-ops since I managed one in the 1970s. I have been trying to shop locally for decades.

My ex-husband was ahead of his time about 17 years ago when he moved in with me and we started buying local and from sustainable agricultural businesses. He said over a decade ago that with our trade policies and purchases we've polluted majority world countries in order not to pollute the USA. I learned decades ago that food shipped in from Mexico was maybe a little bad for me with all the insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides on it, but it was far worse for the Mexican farmworker who sprayed the chemicals onto the fields in ignorance of the harmful effects on themselves while not being supplied with even minimal protective equipment.

My sister is completely different. She is a fundamentalist Christian and shops all the time and buys the cheapest things she can. She has so much stuff! She only cares about the people in her little church. She certainly doesn't care about farmworkers in Mexico or sustainable agriculture anywhere in the world or fair trade for cocoa or coffee or anything, because caring about other people costs too much money to her. I am disabled and don't have a good income, but I feel strongly about sharing what I've got. I volunteer a lot, for example. I guess that's a spiritual thing. I don't say a prayer before I eat. I don't thank God for the food. Hmm, I guess you'd say I'm not very spiritual. I have thought I'm a secular humanist, but I feel very strongly about not making other people suffer.

In the 1990s, I became disabled and divorced and had to start using a food shelf. I didn't have the option of being a vegetarian at that point, and there were no fresh fruits or veggies. I decided that I wanted to have more choices for my son and myself, so I changed my spending habits. Even at the same income I was able to shop at my local co-op. My income is even lower now but I never eat at restaurants. I've eaten at restaurants just a few times in the last eight years. That saves a lot of money and means I get to make my choices.

Shortly after my mother died I went to a place in Michigan called the Creative Health Institute. I knew about it because a friend had gone there when she was challenged by melanoma cancer. I had been staying in her home, helping her with day to day chores until she went there for several weeks. She lives.

When I received an inheritance, I took the opportunity to experience "eating raw" myself. It was so weird and so exciting. I recall feeling my body change as I detoxified from meat and felt food enzymes, still alive, do their miraculous things in my body. It was a spiritual thing that happened to me those two weeks. Returning to the world, I was drawn back into old patterns and I did not treat myself with the respect I deserved. Although I had brought a couple hundred dollars worth of seeds and all that imparted knowledge and respect for the information, I did not have the respect for myself to take the time to treat my body with the new "in"-lightenment.

I do not beat myself up over this as it would serve no purpose. I go back yearly for a two week wake up call and do better each time I come home. I eat less and less meat. Out of respect for the animal's lives and their mistreatment at industrial farms, I can not. Now, hearing of all the contaminated things coming into our food chain from China, and having no confidence that the U.S. government cares one iota about keeping me healthy and non-drug dependent, it is the straw that broke the camel's back. I now eat consciously knowing no one else cares. It is my body and my job on all levels: mental, physical and spiritual.

Imagine:
a summer of salads from farmers' markets
vine ripened tomatoes
fresh dug scallions
clean washed mesclun
—succulent fare

Imagine:
a few hundred dogs in farmers' barns
a few unsold puppies
all the old bitches
sick diseased dogs
—useful no more

Imagine:
the unwanted animals killed by the farmers
dumped in the fields
to rot between rows
of fresh baby greens
—fertilizer

Imagine:
a summer of salads from farmers' markets
vine ripened tomatoes
fresh dug scallions
clean washed mesclun
—succulent fare

In 1999, my late husband and I moved to a farm in Wabasha County from the Seattle area to begin the adventure of being organic market gardeners. We had been spurred to this action by the Earthkeepers group at our Episcopal Church in Washington state. Through the writings of Wendell Berry and Earth Ministry, we were awakened to the realities of corporate agriculture and about how we eat determines more than just our weight! Although we were not financially successful as organic farmers, we learned how important it is to eat locally and to support small, sustainable farmers. We in southeast Minnesota could grow so much of our food, but instead we grow corn and soybeans (for export and ethanol) and import our food — a potentially dangerous situation as we've seen recently with Chinese imports and the awareness that very little of our food is inspected as it enters the U.S.

Fortunately, more and more people are seeing the light, as farmers markets are becoming more popular, and many restaurants are sourcing local foods where possible. Even in the eight years I have lived in the Rochester area, I have seen the farmers market grow and retailers are supporting local farmers. I buy as much local food as I can and do my best to support these wonderful young farmers and spread the word to my friends.

I gladly pay more (when necessary) for local, sustainably grown food. It's worth more, so there is tremendous value in eating this way. I try to eat more in season, and will not serve strawberries in January. It can be a bit of a challenge sometimes to find ingredients in Rochester, and I usually take a cooler with me to the Twin Cities and shop at the co-ops there.

We gain so much by eating locally. By allowing farmers to earn a living wage (without government subsidies), our nearby land is kept as farmland and is less prone to development pressures. Also, if there is some type of disaster, we don't have to worry about transportation of our foodstuffs. I can't see anything more scary from a "homeland security" aspect than outsourcing our food supply and being at the mercy of other countries.

When you buy locally, not only is the food 1,500 miles fresher, but you develop a relationship with the farmer and know what goes into the production of your food. Local produce doesn't have the flavor bred out of it so that it can be shipped across the country. Various preservatives and waxes are not sprayed on them. It is food that tastes like real food. If you are a meat eater, you can determine how well the animals are treated and that the pound of hamburger you have purchased is not made from 100 different cows from who knows how many countries. It is a win-win situation of the highest order.

As someone who is in the process of turning my home into a place that raises all our own food for ethical reasons, I am very much looking forward to Barbara Kingsolver's forthcoming piece on the ethics of eating. I have been inspired for several years by the ministry of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, which has had its Ethics of Eating program for some time. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has been influential in American Catholicism since the 1930s and was a major center of the liturgical renewal that influenced the Second Vatican Council's reform of the liturgy.

I am looking forward to hearing the interview with Barbara Kingsolver regarding her new book. I would like to hear Barbara discuss her travels to Heifer International projects in Peru and Nepal. I know you probably didn't have time during this interview to discuss it, but Barbara has first-hand experience as a witness to the remarkable work that Heifer does, particularly with women.

Heifer is often considered for alternative gifts during the holiday season — Barbara would be a great spokesperson on why giving to Heifer is an investment that hits the mark in long term sustainable development. I think your audience would be particularly receptive to this information.

Horaah, the write up of this story is so fantastic not only because the subject matter is so essential for us to discussion in a public forum but also because Krista makes very down-to-earth suggestions for how each of us can make little changes that could make a big difference. Thank you for this unique type of journalism and for implementing what you learn in your own life. I've learned so much about things that matter from Speaking of Faith!

When I heard the promotion for your upcoming show with Barbara Kingsolver, I was excited to tune in. I trust Speaking of Faith to bring important moral questions to the forefront, and I looked forward to a dialogue on an issue near and dear to my heart. Unfortunately, your interview with Ms. Kingsolver left me disappointed (and at times downright troubled), particularly in relation to her take on animals. While I commend her and her family's efforts to participate directly in the slaughtering process, I found her equivocations about the use of the words "kill" and "murder" as they pertain to non-human creatures dishonest and arrogant. To hear her say she "knows" that certain animals do not want to live to a ripe old age , that they do not have significant attachments to their children, was to hear a rationalization made righteous, and it frustrated me to no end. And to hear you flatter her overconfidence with complicit giggling was a real shock. Kudos to farms and families that treat animals with kindness and care before their deaths, but the purposeful act of taking a life, regardless of context, is still (rightfully) called "killing", no two ways about it.

While I know not every issue can be tackled in a one hour interview, I hoped this episode would have made more out of our relationship to the animals we eat. If a show as thoughtful as yours cannot address the question of killing sentient beings for food on an episode devoted to the ethics of eating, where will it happen? I urge you to follow up this issue with a guest like Peter Singer or Matthew Scully ("Dominion") or an investigation into how different faiths around the world deal with the question of how to treat both the earth and our fellow earthlings. I am a great fan of the work you have done thus far, and have every hope you will expand your search for answers on this topic.

I moved from Canada to Vermont in 2002 to marry the man I fell in love with five years earlier. During our back-and-forth courtship between Ontario and the States, I also fell in love with Vermont. Before my move, I lived in and near Toronto, a city with enormous soul consciousness regarding food. Ethnicity in this large metropolitan center manifests as humus, souvlaki, rosti potatoes, and countless other delights; the city offers a global feast with each opening of its myriad eyes. In time, all that food and all those people began to pale and I moved into the more rural parts of southwestern Ontario to meet the people I thought were growing most of the food we were eating in big cities like Toronto. What I discovered unnerved me.

Local, small farmers were losing their farms to huge conglomerates. Food grown in one place was being shipped hundreds, even thousands of kilometers to other places. Communities and the land itself were suffering terribly. Before long I began to discover small farmers who banded together to support Community Shared Agriculture farms (CSAs), no-till farming, and no-pesticide practices. I also learned of Wes Jackson's Land Institute in Kansas, an educational treasure exploring the viability of prairie grasses as food and fuel sources. Throughout this process of discovery, mostly in my native Ontario, I would go to our large supermarkets and ask for local, organic foods. Over time, and very slowly, I began to see change happen as organic sections opened up (mostly supporting Californian growers initially, but eventually the locavore movement took hold and people found small farm gates and rural markets and of course farmers' markets for the food they wanted to eat and the growers they wanted to support).

The process of understanding our food system began for me in 1993, with my first visit to the CSA Resource Centre in Wroxeter, Ontario. In 1996 I published "Transformation in Canada's Deep South," a summary of the hopeful movements springing into being that will protect our land and water and air, as well as our communities. As Barbara Kingsolver suggests, this way of eating is a spiritual pilgrimage into place, one we are ever on.

I have given up coffee although I do drink fair trade tea and sometimes cocoa from time to time. I eat seasonally and locally as much as possible; that means no bananas, no oranges, no grapefruits. We buy local blueberries and strawberries in season and stock up on frozen ones for the winter. (When I visit Ontario, I treat myself to a Niagara Peninsula peach, the best in the world, and an Essex County tomato, but only when I am passing through these small facets of paradise.) A vegan (no meat, no dairy, no eggs), my food choices are plentiful especially here in Vermont. We have a thriving organic food network, local farmers who do CSA, and co-ops which link our food system to the many worthy peace and justice causes our times demand people of conscience involve themselves in. We also have a brand new soy milk, Vermont Soy, made in Hardwick from soy bean s in our local/regional growing area. This means Vermont upper New York, and Quebec, a geographical community that defies the border. As an international citizen, Canadian with permanent resident status in the States, I like this! Our North East Kingdom community blossoms with friendships, skills, and peacefulness because of our growing awareness of our place, our farmers, and our artisans. We have a thriving, diverse community here where every kale and chard leaf, every tomato, and every beet contain nourishment, education, and joy.

David and Andrea Craxton, Roots n Fruits in Dalton, create beauty in display of organic produce at the Lancaster Farmer's Market. During farmer's market season, we eat fabulous food. The bread guy moved and we sure miss him. He had long lines at the farmer's market. His bread from stone hearth oven is better than mine from electric stove oven. Storing food is my next step. I eat from the entire world in the winter and try for local in farmer's market season. Local in winter takes time for food prep in storing and growing plants inside. I haven't made the effort.

Global warming speaker, Patrick Miller, told White Mountain Regional High school students climate in northern New Hampshire would look like northern Virginia. Hard to imagine. I've seen glaciers calving off. For the last four years peak leaf change has been later than in the previous 15 years I'd been here. On April 20th in Coos County, northern Virginia sounds decent.

Shopping at farmer's market is no sacrifice. Very wonderful experience. Gearing up the schools for local food will require some regional root cellars. Now the school kitchen has maybe space for 50 pounds of potatoes at a time. Change in schools is the right path. I am grateful for sodas out of schools. Water in bottles is a whole social civil rights issue too. We haven't even started on that. The diet sodas especially are evil. All the junk in them. Some reports say now that diet soda feeds the wanting of sweets.

Our daughter Ashley, aged 19, was killed just over two years ago by a drunk driver. Since the accident I have begun a journey of "enlightenment" that has had a profound impact on my life, from personal growth and understanding of who I am through to my physical well being and general health including the food that I eat. Listening to Krista's guest Barbara Kingsolver this morning is yet another moment in my life that I truly believe has been put before me by my daughter Ash to consider and introduce into my new way of living. I don't believe in the near future I will pack up my present way of life and move onto the land to become a self-sufficient food provider, but I do believe, as Barbara has attempted in her book and experiment, and as Krista acknowledged, that we sit up and take cogence of what we eat and how it came to our table, we will then be at the beginning of a journey that can only be beneficial in the long run for the world community.

I was very interested to hear Barbara Kingsolver's comments on growing her own food as well as supporting local farmers. She found abundance rather than lack. The industrial farms in our country now are using up most of the farm subsidies and single farmers are left out. It comes down to politics and big business influence again. I hate to see that happen with our food supply. Not all of us can grow our own food. For me with a full time teaching job at some distance from where I live, that life would be impossible except for the summer. But I have more awareness now and I think I will try some of her methods. But I could never kill a turkey or a chicken by myself and so would become a true vegetarian.

I really thought it was significant when the ladies were talking about our American culture being "pridefully or cluelessly wasteful." It really made me think about how much food we don't eat, such as what is left on our plates after dinner. However, taking that a step further, what about all the food we consume that we don't necessarily need? What if Americans ate to live instead of living to eat? In a way, we are being wasteful even when we don't put the extra food into the garbage can. I really appreciate what I heard in the podcast and for the diverse thoughts it brought to mind.

Please more about the killing of animals. Living beings, which Barbara Kingsolver spoke of (with great reverence and tenderness) as harvesting —that the individual animals embraced their deaths. Can this be so? I thought all individual animals wanted to go on living, if given a choice.

I think it is time for your very fine program to include a conversation about the spiritual and ethical values involved in NOT eating other living creatures. Unfortunately, Ms. Kingsolver, a person I admire in so many ways, has had to accept the cultural rationalizations for the eating of sentient beings in order for her to be able to eat those sentient beings.

I notice that other non-human animals fight to live. They have survival instincts. They suffer. How could it be ethical or spiritual to end a life for our own pleasure, to cause suffering in another creature when we simply do not have to? Saying that others give up meat, while she gives up bananas is equating a being capable of feelings and able to suffer with a fruit. I was truly stunned when I read those words, and the insensitivity they portray.

In addition, both the United Nations and the University of Chicago have released studies demonstrating that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, threat to our atmosphere is from the methane emissions from livestock. They suggest that not eating meat does more to help our planet than driving a hybrid.

Please — create a program to present another viewpoint. One in which the spiritual and ethical principles inherent in a deep respect for non-human animal lives can be aired and discussed.

I am dismayed, shocked, hurt.

I grew up working in my family's rural resort hotel in the Catskills. Killing a chicken is killing. I killed a lot of chickens so I know the difference.

Harvesting a chicken is an insulting euphemism which just puts the lie to all the other granola on this program about food. Harvesting corn tomatoes soybeans and baling hay is just not the same as killing a chicken and saying so is a lie.

I have always trusted this program and now I feel hurt. Granola religion doesn't work. If Jesus is just pretty on Christmas, then when the crucifixions we face in life become inexplicable. It is a lie to say my growing my own fresh green beans will save the world from George Bush and Halliburton. I am ashamed, and if you can't admit you kill, you are lying.

Don't come on all wrapped in religiosity and talk about the honor a chicken gets from being eaten: that is insulting. It is not religion.

It felt very elitist to hear someone speak of how we should be growing our own food in a day and age when many can't own their own homes. I would love to garden but I rent the house I live in. It also seemed insulting to say it was this generation's responsibility given the circumstances we are forced to deal with economically.

I did not vote for George Bush and it isn't my fault our economy is the way it is. How grand to move to the family farm; as if the average American could do this. My mother spent a great deal of her childhood canning and making preserves and she didn't enjoy it. To suggest that people spend all this time focusing on surviving is unrealistic and kind of insulting.

I found your interview of Barbara Kingsolver to be pandering and offensive to those of us who are not as privileged as she to own a working farm and a large family to care for it. I am a single mother, living in a triple decker in the city and work at two low paying jobs to care for my child. We eat what ever we can afford and waste nothing. She is very arrogant to think she speaks to any people other than the wealthy.

I was fascinated that it would take only a 10-yard square to grow my own food —about the same area as my Downtown condo.

I am beginning to rejoice that gasoline is becoming so expensive. I think energy costs are slowly going to force us to reverse global warming, and part of the solution will be to eat locally grown food. I don't think we have the gumption to reverse the trend voluntarily or politically.

After listening to the first half of the show, my mind began to extend the logic of such ethical eating choices to the wider world.

So my big question of "ethical choice" is how can I do so while considering others. Not just those in my local area. Not just those who have available to them the sort of land that Barbara Kingsolver moved to in southwest Virginia. The ethical question for me morphed to "What about the others?"

The question I could not get out of my head is can this method, a large extension of the locavore ethic, work for the 6.7 billion folks in the world today?

I can see how it can work for many of us in the developed world who have the affluent means to do the sort of thing that Barbara Kingsolver did with her family.

But recall that such methods of local food production were, of course, the only means possible to the vast majority of the world in, say, 1800 and before was local food production. At that time, a significant number of the thinkers of Europe calculated that the world was reaching its productive limit around 1800 when the world population was a bit short of one billion.*

The author asks about the effects of our consumption, a good question. And she is concerned about its contribution toward global climate change, another good question.

But what will happen to the other five billion people who are alive today if those of us with the affluence to do it return to local production that is so much less productive than the world food production "system" that is in existence today? If food productivity drops, that is is the amount of human labor needed to produce each calorie of sufficient food increases, the other five billion will not be able to continue to sustain life with the local food ethic and the productive capabilities of 200 years ago. The vast exchange network that exists today, it would appears, has facilitated a much larger world population than would be possible with the locavore ethic.

To take just one example, the 28 million persons in Saudi Arabia depending on worldwide exchange of goods, and free trade of food, in order to sustain themselves.

Ms. Kingsolver asks: "Do you think you can keep doing this without paying some kind of price?"

What about the price of the potential demise of large numbers of people? Will those of us in the West who are rich enough to pull off a local food ethic be interested in "the price" of the hunger of large swathes of the existing world as worthwhile to our locavore food ethic? And if we do not, how is that, to use Kingsolver's words, "cruelty free"?

* I looked up these population numbers on Wikipedia, so they may not be absolutely correct. But the point of my question holds whatever the exact numbers are.

I especially appreciated the conversation with author Barbara Kingsolver — she seemed to be as aware as an intelligent and compassionate person can be about the need of our society to take responsibility for the earth which grows our food and the animals which give their lives for us (not me, I'm an ethical vegan). These messages cannot be discussed enough these days and I am pleased that your program is the vehicle for such an important message!

The second hearing of the program on food raised some interesting questions. While the "experiment" that one family took to only eat what they can either grow or purchase from their local community sounds good, it has some difficulties.

For starters, how much land was required to provide the harvest of vegetable and animal based food for this family? Probably more than we think, and likely more than is realistic for a family of urban or even suburban climbs to consider converting to agriculture and raising of food animals.

Then there is the question of local catastrophe — what if the people of New Orleans, or any other town that gets flooded/hit by a tornado/et cetera depended totally on locally produced food? Where would that food come from after their disaster?

While it is not something that I like to think about, the reality is that the global food market is probably a bit better than the ancient life of human-kind where one's life was circumscribed by the amount of land they can harvest for their family/tribe.

It is nice to ponder a pastoral existence that harkens back to days gone by but is not sustainable in today's world.

It is also interesting that despite the author's environmental sounding words she expressed a love of going to France. I doubt that she took a ship, or rowed across the Atlantic to get there. And once she arrived, did she have to plant a garden and raise animals in order to eat?

To be sure we can be nicer to the people who actually grow our food and they can be nicer to us but we are not going back to the days of yore when my tribe farmed our land and defended it against the outsiders.

The more I listened to the Barbara Kingsolver episode, the angrier I became. Although the mention of her being in a privileged position was given a passing mention, I turned off the radio when she explained how she tells her children when they are feeling "down" about not making a difference in the world "that black people were not allowed to go to the same schools as whites when she was young, but now that was unheard of." Ms. Kingsolver, though quite good with using words in a lyrical way, does not understand. Let's have her come to the inner city and tend to all those unheard of cases of the black people no longer subjected to discrimination.

As far as I'm concerned, she is living in a self-protected bubble. Ms. Kingsolver had the luxury of taking a year out of her life to not only spend the time cultivating pondering and practicing sustainability, she also had the luxury of book contract and getting paid for it. For whom does this show address except those wealthy enough?

I was struck by yet another program in which people are talking about the earth, environment, green living and not talking about the elephant in the room. That elephant is humans. When will there finally be a program that talks about voluntarily limiting the amount of humans in the world? I realized at an early age that our first priority is to serve the children who are here and not contribute any more people to the mix. I feel like I'm the only one who feels this way, sometimes. So if we want to talk about organic gardening or using the world's resources can't you talk about the source?

I think that the lifestyle that Ms. Kingsolver chose is great. I'm glad that she gets so much reward from it. But while she says that she's not trying to tell anyone else what to do, those words don't match with her conviction that what she's done is ethical and failing to do that is not. That lifestyle is really not sustainable for most of the rest of us. Speaking for myself, I am scarcely able to keep the grass in my yard from dying in the N. Carolina summer. So much less would I be able to grow a garden or raise livestock to live off of. Were that a requirement, I'd almost certainly starve to death.

And this is the crux of the problem: when she suggests that this is the only ethical way to live, she ignores the wealth that is created in the world by specialization and division of labor. Considering that death is the likely alternative, it's simply better for me to have someone else grow my food. I am better off specializing in the things that I do well, and buying my food from someone who is good at producing it. The economist David Ricardo called this comparative advantage.

It is really difficult to measure the benefits to humanity that accrue from trading in our comparative advantages. Human lives are saved by it. Turning back to a way of life that does not allow for this, necessarily means deciding which ones of us will die.

If we were to enforce the idea of buying locally, that would also impose a cost in human lives. How we purchase food has emerged out of a discovery process of finding those who have a comparative advantage at producing it. Trading with those who don't have that comparative advantage means making ourselves poorer and those who do have the comparative advantage poorer. This is not sustainable for either of us.

The lifestyle that Ms Kingsolver leads is glorious. I'm happy for her. But it is a luxury that she is able to do it. Advocating that we all do it would have economic costs of increased worldwide poverty. And poverty kills. I think that saving human lives is a much higher ethical priority.

I am surprised that so many people are now critical of Kingsolver's supposed elitism. She has written a fascinating well-written book that raises the important moral issues surrounding food and attempts to answer them from personal experience and effort. It's part of an incomplete roadmap that is still being drawn. As the Pat Humphries' song "Swimming to The Other Side" puts it, "... we are swimming in the stream together, some in power and some in pain..."

Everything in US culture is designed to be easier and cheaper if we don't question mass culture and its standard operating procedures. Kingsolver and her family took a vow to restrict their diet for one year by, as she puts it, giving up "bananas", food imported at great cost in energy and pollution. She did not take a vow of poverty, as many Catholic Worker activists do.

The details of her solution to the problem of living up to her vow to eat locally are interesting, but not central; there are many ways to fulfill such a vow. She is not accusing people who follow a different sustainable-food path. She did make a sacrifice in leaving the Sonora desert she loved and moving to a Virginia farm that she happened to have access to, but this was not cheating: Virginia is NOT the garden of Eden, and Tucson is not Hell, and she could afford the move. She is in the position of a pilgrim who keeps a journal of her travels and shares it with others when the journey is done. Most pilgrims do not give up their social class, give away all their wealth, etc. They take limited vows (to walk instead of riding, to pray a certain number of times a day, to spend the nights at spartan pilgrim hostels).

As a vegetarian and a relatively impoverished New Englander, I would have made different choices, and I would have had to surmount different obstacles in keeping a local-eating vow. I don't hold that against Kingsolver any more than I resent H.D. Thoreau's relying on his mother's cooking and laundry services while living at Walden.

Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read, and I am saddened that so many people found her story elitist. I think a lot of people are missing the point.

We have a responsibility to do what we can to preserve our planet and make our communities healthy and sustainable. For me, that meant giving up bananas and buying locally grown fruit instead. Later on, I discovered a bourgeoning farmers' market within walking distance of my house. The locally grown organic produce is oftentimes cheaper than what I find in the grocery store, and it tastes amazing.

Now I'm hooked. I began buying most of my produce at the farmers' market several months ago and noticed an unexpected miracle. My chronic allergies nearly disappeared. I don't get sick nearly as much; I feel generally healthier, happier and more energetic. I originally began buying locally grown food to combat global warming; I had no idea I would benefit so much personally, physically.

I appreciate Barbara Kingsolver sharing her story. It has inspired me to do what I can do to help our environment and my local community without feeling guilty about what I cannot do. I do what I can. Nothing more and nothing less.

I think about packaging, local, organic, waste, my ecological footprint, etc., all these things — every time I want to/or need to purchase something at a store or the local farmers market. They are all connected in the web of life. It's not only about food. It's about water, soil, air, and the health of individuals as well as the planet. For instance, I haven't used my dryer for over a year now. It started out as a challenge for myself to see if I could do it and now my dryer has become a storage space! Our electricity consumption went down, our monthly bill went down, and this was with the increase for signing up for green energy.

This summer we also put our washing machine outside. We use biokleen soap and stain remover so have used the water from our washing to irrigate a small grass patch (the only one in our yard that is green) and rose bushes. Living with a small ecological footprint is a great challenge that my whole family participates in and continues to find ways in which we can live simpler and with better quality. We're having a great time! People like Kingsolver and her family are great inspiration.

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Voices on the Radio

is a novelist and author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Managing Producer: Kate Moos

Senior Producer: Mitch Hanley

Producer: Colleen Scheck

Associate Producer: Rob McGinley Myers

Associate Producer: Shiraz Janjua

Online Editor/Web Producer: Trent Gilliss

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This sustainability feature is supported by the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation.