Barbara Kingsolver.  Small Wonder
Faber and Faber Ltd
June 2002
ISBN: 0571215769

Pages 109-130, 109 and 112-13

Lily's Chickens

My daughter is in love. She's only five years old, but this is real. Her beau is shorter than she is, by a wide margin, and she couldn't care less. He has dark eyes, a loud voice, and a tendency to crow. He also has five girlfriends, but Lily doesn't care about that, either. She loves them all: Mr. Doodle, Jess, Bess, Mrs. Zebra, Pixie, and Kiwi. They're chickens. Lily likes to sit on an overturned bucket and sing to them in the afternoons. She has them eating out of her hand….

With the coop built and chickens installed, all we had to do now was wait for our flock to pass through puberty and begin to give us our daily eggs. We were warned it might take a while because they would be upset by the move and would need time for emotional adjustment. I was skeptical about this putative pain and suffering; it is hard to put much stock in the emotional life of a creature with the I.Q. of an eggplant. Seems to me you put a chicken in a box, and she looks around and says, "Gee, life is a box." You take her out, she looks around and says, "Gee, it's sunny here." But sure enough, they took their time. Lily began each day with high hopes, marching out to the coop with cup of corn in one hand and my twenty-year-old wire egg-basket in the other. She insisted that her dad build five nest boxes in case they all suddenly got the urge at once. She fluffed up the straw in all five nests, nervous as a bride preparing her boudoir.

I was looking forward to the eggs, too. To anyone who has eaten an egg just a few hours' remove from the hen, those white ones in the store have the charisma of day-old bread. I looked forward to organizing my family's meals around the pleasures of quiches, Spanish tortillas, and souffles, with a cupboard that never goes bare. We don't go to the grocery very often; our garden produces a good deal of what we eat, and in some seasons nearly all of it. This is not exactly a hobby. It's more along the lines of religion, something we believe in the way families believe in patriotism and loving thy neighbor as thyself. If our food ethic seems an unusual orthodoxy set alongside those other two, it probably shouldn’t. We consider them to be connected.

Globally speaking, I belong to the 20 percent of the world's population-and chances are you do, too-that uses 67 percent of the planet's resources and generates 75 percent of its pollution and waste. This doesn't make me proud. U.S. citizens by ourselves, comprising just 5 percent of the world's people, use a quarter of its fuels. An average American gobbles up the goods that would support thirty citizens of India. Much of the money we pay for our fuels goes to support regimes that treat their people-particularly their women-in ways that make me shudder. I'm a critic of this shameful contract, and of wasteful consumption, on general principles. Since it's nonsensical, plus embarrassing, to be an outspoken critic of things you do yourself, I set myself long ago to the task of consuming less. I never got to India, but in various stages of my free-wheeling youth I tried out living in a tent, in a commune, and in Europe, before eventually determining that I could only ever hope to dent the salacious appetites of my homeland and make us a more perfect union by living inside this amazing beast, poking at its belly from the inside with my one little life and the small, pointed sword of my pen. So this is where I feed my family and try to live lightly on the land.