Kristeva Dowling, Chicken Poop for the Soul

I wish Kristeva Dowling luck with the inevitable lawsuit, if it wasn't already resolved before the publication of her new book Chicken Poop for the Soul: In Search of Food Sovereignty. Or maybe the good folks at Chicken Soup have a sense of humour about this sort of thing. In any event, Dowling's book is good-hearted enough that it's certainly not a drag on the brand (with which, I hasten to say, her book is completely NOT affiliated). If you're a locavore or wannabe, or if you've wondered about moving to somewhere wild, and you want to spend some time with someone witty and open and usefully provocative, this just might be the book for you.

Dowling writes openly and directly here about her social and philosophic concerns, her material planning, and her many disagreements with the regulatory bodies governing small farms in British Columbia. Rare for a book with a food-driven audience, Chicken Poop raises all sorts of issues that might seem a long way from growing your own veg. Marketing boards, abattoir regulations, eating wild animals, killing wild predators: the great advantage of this book, to me, has to be the breadth of Dowling's careful thinking about her multifaceted subject. I'm not sure I'd've sampled everything she did at the local Rod and Gun Club potluck dinner (cougar? beaver? really?), but I'm genuinely impressed by the effort she's gone to in this attempt to think through the implications of cold-weather and wet-climate food sovereignty.

She does a great job, in particular, of unpacking the assorted challenges posed by BC's legislative and administrative restrictions on local food production. I'm busily trying to figure out some ways around them now, just because someone should, even though I've got some family connections that mean I'm automatically in a circumvention loop; I've always known enough about the restrictions to be annoyed by them, but Dowling's cranked the mechanism a little tighter by providing both information and commentary.

Plus the recipes look excellent, I laughed several times about one story or another, and some of the events approach the moving. Some of her neighbours are real characters, and I felt for her struggles: you laugh with her, and you worry with her.

On the downside, Chicken Poop feels something like an older self-published volume: glossy paper, longer than it might need to be, each chapter more scattered than you'd think an editor would support. She doesn't have the prose of Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, or Wendell Berry, but who does? Really, I kind of liked what felt like a DIY aesthetic, even in the unlikely event that the generally wonderful Caitlin Press was behind some sort of cunningly faux-DIY packaging.

Don't let appearances put you off, if you happen to see Chicken Poop in a bookstore and waffle about buying it: give it a try, because there's a lot more to this book than there is in your typical volume of "I am (new) gardener, hear me roar!" Maybe some of the DIY comes from its origins on her blog, which by the way is worth a read in its own right - though you should consider kicking some money Dowling's way anyway....


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