The Kingsolver family is made up of Barbara, Steven, and their two daughters: teenager Camille and baby Lily. The book begins when the family decides to leave Tucson, Arizona, and move to the family farm in the Appalachian region of Virginia.
One of the reasons for the move is that on the family farm, they will be able to eat food that does not come from many miles away, but from an area where food grows readily and where the soil is watered with real rain. Tucson is a beautiful city that offers the best community you could wish for, but which is sorely lacking in nature, as it is located in a very arid area, and so relies on food and water supplies from elsewhere.
It may seem like a superficial reason to move, but the family believe that eating the food grown on the very land on which they live is reason enough. In the United States, this is no small feat: the food found on American supermarket shelves has travelled an average of 1,500 miles, which is far further than the average American family travels for their annual holiday.
Processing, packaging, storing, refrigerating, and transporting these foods requires enormous amounts of fossil fuels, which has obvious consequences on the environment: about 400 gallons of oil, or 17% of the country’s energy consumption, are used each year in the agricultural industry. It is estimated that if every American citizen consumed just one meal per day of organically grown or raised produce, the country’s energy consumption would be reduced by 1.1 million barrels per week. This data shows how small changes in our eating habits can make a big difference.
So, the family decides to conduct an experiment: they take a ‘sabbatical year’, in which they remove all - or almost all - industrial food products from their regular diet. For one year, the Kingsolver family will only eat products that are organic, seasonal, and grown locally. In many cases, this food will be grown either on their own farm or on those of their neighbours. The objective is to prove, especially to themselves, that even in the United States, it is possible to live without being dependent on the food industry.