Chicken Poop for the Soul

In Search of Food Sovereignty

Kristeva Dowling

Food sovereignty goes beyond addressing the need to secure a daily food source. Food sovereignty means having the right to determine where your food comes from and how it is produced. In 2008, alarmed by the impact agro-business was having on Canadian food quality and security, Kristeva Dowling decided to take control of her own food source. In an attempt to achieve 100 percent self-sufficiency on her small holding in BC’s Bella Coola Valley, she ploughed under her land, converted her garage to an intensive care unit for chickens and learned to hunt, fish, gather and preserve her own food.

In the tradition of the “back-to-the-landers” of the ’60s, Dowling sheds the habits of her urban life and, with no agricultural background, begins an emotional and political journey towards independence.

Dowling’s story is a witty, humorous and often bizarre journey of trial and error. Between rendering maple syrup, mothering baby chicks, canning hundreds of pounds of preserves, tracking wild game and growing her own wheat, Dowling finds time to reflect on her new-found tangible skills, her intangible problems and the politics and legislative barriers that face BC’s small farming community.

Chicken Poop for the Soul is about a common dream: to leave the city and return to a simpler life. It is a story of success, failure and determination, that is guaranteed to make you laugh, shake your head in disbelief and get damned angry.

One day in January 1997 I found myself standing in a grocery store in Prince George, BC, looking with dismay at the bare produce section. The grocery store truck drivers had just gone on strike, and as I stood there I could hear snippets of conversation as people filtered past me: “How bloody long is this going to last?” “When are they going to get some decent stuff on these shelves?” “How dare those strikers do this to us?” “They shouldn’t have the right to strike!” “I need a pineapple for this recipe, but I’m not going to buy any of these. Look at them! They’re disgusting.”

While the shoppers vented their outrage, I turned to look outside at the falling snow. There had to be three or four feet of it already on the ground and it was forty below zero. It was going to be a long while before we would see green grass again. I began to wonder, What will I do if the strike continues for a long time? It will be June before I can even plant a garden, and July or August before I can harvest anything from it. I don’t really have a stocked pantry. Boy, I could starve to death before the strike is over! And there it was: I realized then just how dependent I was (we all are) on North America’s food production and distribution system.

I was also shocked that day by my fellow shoppers’ lack of awareness and surprised by their attitudes. In reality there was still a lot of food on the shelves if you could be flexible about  that pineapple and find a recipe that calls for apples or bananas instead. It was this revelation that made me begin to question the necessity for Canadians to have pineapples in January. While the people around me were revealing their impatience and total dependency, I started making mental notes about my “wants”—that is, what I’ve grown accustomed to having—versus my “needs.” I began a plan to reduce my family’s dependency on others for our basic necessities, specifically food.

I soon realized that before I could even begin this project I had to ask myself some probing questions, which to my astonishment  were difficult to answer: How much food do we eat each year? In what quantities? How will we produce, acquire or preserve this food? What if the hay we have on hand doesn’t last for the goats? What if our supplier stops making hay each year? When I thought seriously about how I would feed myself, my family and my animals, I realized just how dependent I was on the system. I was humbled and somewhat unnerved.

Chicken Poop for the Soul is, in part, a personal journal documenting Kristeva Dowling’s quest to take more control of the food she consumes by spending eighteen months growing, foraging, bartering, hunting, and fishing for enough food to be self-sufficient. It is also an important contribution to the literature on local food and farming… Dowling provides a window through which urban dwellers can view the trials and tribulations of becoming a farmer, and the lifestyle of a newly aspiring ruralista in British Columbia; but the subtitle, “In Search of Food Sovereignty,” is perhaps the more important part of Chicken Poop… Chicken Poop for the Soul is a good introduction to the subject of food sovereignty as it relates to both the producer and the consumer.

BC Studies

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… She does a great job, in particular, of unpacking the assorted challenges posed by BC’s legislative and administrative restrictions on local food production.

book addiction

While the title Chicken Poop for the Soul: In Search of Food Sovereignty is a  bit of a retread of the popular Chicken Soup series, the content definitely is not.

Author Kristeva Dowling penned what she sees as the “next step” to the 100-mile diet over an 18-month period at her home in Hagensborg in the Bella Coola Valley. Her goal was an attempt at “food sovereignty.”

Williams Lake Tribune