My book club recently read ‘The Dirty Life’ by Kristen Kimball. The book follows Kristen on a year (ish) long journey from travel writer in New York City to farmer’s wife in upstate New York. We follow her through her whirlwind courtship to Mark, and through first year on creating organic, member-funded farm.
This book has its ups and downs. The beginning starts off with what is essentially food porn – wonderful descriptions of fresh farm foods prepared in ways that made my stomach grumble on the Metro (and as I write this). Long descriptions of the elaborate meals they make from food directly from their fields, and the masterpieces they create out of meager, end-of-winter, bottom-of -the-barrel scrapes make my normal cooking look pathetic.
The story is a story of two people falling in love and embarking on a dream to create a farm in a way that hasn’t been done for years. Everyone thinks they will fail – both on their farm and in their relationship. But they push through, conquer the ground and create their dream out of nothing.
But often the book felt like a string of stories pinned together by nothing but time. There is a linear storyline, but it’s interjected with this story and that story and the point of the chapter gets a little lost. There is nothing connecting one story with the next. Sometimes they flow together nicely, other times, I had to stop and re-read to catch the thin conneciton.
Despite this, the story is an inspiring one. Mark is the ultimate believer/dreamer. He envisions a world without plastic, without a cash economy, and without things he couldn’t make himself. And he sets out to make that world possible, at least within the acreage of his farm. Kristen, on the other hand, is the reluctant believer, wanting to believe but held down by practicality and the pull of ‘normal.’ How many of us have had that dream of being totally eco-friendly but feel so tied to the way life is that we can’t break from certain habits? How many of us have felt that the world we envision is the perfect world and then immediately assume that it is not possible, that it could never really work?
‘The Dirty Life’ functions on the idea that those dreams are possible. And it’s inspiring. While her descriptions of recipes to cook bull testicles do not leave me wanting to eat balls, her commitment to truly use every piece of the animal makes me want to try something different, or at least leaving the yucky parts in to cook (and maybe stop teasing my mom for eating blood sausage). It makes me recommit to heading to my local farmer’s market. It makes me reconsider what to eat and when, and what constitutes a meal – or even what constitutes food.
Kimball added a few too many descriptions of slaughtering a cow for me too want to give up my apartment and head to work on a farm, but I think that’s her point. We’re so disconnected from our food and where it comes from, that that becomes a barrier. I can’t ever really be connected to what I’m eating if i but pre-packaged foods that bear little resemblance to the real thing. If we really want the world to change and become the egalitarian economy reconnected with the earth, we have to do more than just write or talk about it – we have to live it.
So pick up ‘The Dirty Life’ (or get it from your local library!) and get a good reminder of where your food comes from – just don’t get lost in the storyline.