Saturday, April 25, 2009

BOOK: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, 352 pages

Celebrate the Author; Herding Cats; Dewey Books

Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, and her family decide to spend a year eating only food from their area, mostly on the farm they move to. This book is the chronicle of their journey, and was a real family affair - daughter Camille adds recipes and short essays to the end of chapters and husband Steven Hopp adds some more technical and fact-driven sections. I was worried that this book would make me feel guilty for every banana that I eat, or every package of granola bars I buy. And while I certainly will think twice about the food that comes into my house, Kingsolver keeps the story low-key and simply her families journey. She doesn't preach and the book is a gradual awareness of the fuel necessary to bring me watermelon in April and lemons whenever I want them.

I think more people are aware and tend to eat local that live in more rural areas. If I lived in the city, there would be less options for me to get my food, but the rural area I live in, and the suburban lot I live on, provides me with access to local and fresh food. And in some ways, we do eat by the season, when we can. We gorge ourselves on strawberries when they are ripe here, and freeze bags for later in the season. We plant a garden and live on our tomatoes and green beans and peas in the summer. My inlaws plant a sustaining garden, and always have, and provide as many vegetables and apples and raspberries as we, and their neighbours want. So I spent much of the book thinking - I try to do a lot of this, just on a very small scale.

The plight of the local farmer has been a topical issue in my province, and a farmer group has opened up a small store with local products, including a meat market. It's mostly root vegetables this time of year that are local, and they bring in some vegetables, but lots of meat and cheese and dried herbs and beans. I won't be growing turkeys and gathering eggs from chickens anytime soon, but buying most of my meat from these 'neighbour farmers' is the best I'll be able to do in this regard.

Kingsolver and her family tried an extreme situation for a year, and she doesn't advocate that everyone do this. They prepared for several years to be able to live on their land, and it wasn't an impulsive decision. Her point was to see how much they relied on food that had travelled far distances. Awareness and thinking about the food we eat is the first step. Great book, with some neat looking recipes to try.


  1. I read this book about a year ago, and it certainly increased my awareness of my own food buying habits. I had just started my own veg garden (nowhere near Kingsolver's scale!), and began shopping our farmer's markets more regularly. It would be very difficult to buy everything we eat locally, but every little bit helps.

  2. I read it last year too. I felt kinda guilty after reading. I still think about shopping more local but I never get around to it.

  3. One of my goals this year is to read more food books, and this is one of the main titles on my list. Glad to see from your review that it's worthwhile.

  4. I'm glad you liked this book! "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" is the reason I shop at farmer's markets now. In fact, I can't wait until the one around the corner from me opens up. Kingslover is right about one thing: fresh food does taste better.

  5. laura - I agree, every little bit helps. My rhubarb is just poking up now. We would be quite a bit behind you in the gardening season.

    shannon - I was worried about the guilt thing, but every little bit helps, even if you just look at the labels and pick the one that came from closest to you.

    charley - enjoy the book, there's recipes too. It can really change your thinking. Instead of buying a can of kidney beans, I bought the dried ones from the farmer's market and will soak them. It is a bit more work, but they looked so beautiful, dried in the bag, and they didn't have to travel far.

    jspeyton - fresh definitely tastes best! We grow peas every year, but we only eat them fresh out of the pod, in the yard, because nothing tastes as good. They are so sweet they don't even taste like the same vegetable.

    We have a farmers market that runs all year on Saturday, and then two days a week in the summer. It's packed all the time!

  6. I've held off on reading this book because I was afraid it would get too self righteous and annoy the stuffing out of me. In the past we lived on several country acres and had a huge 1/2 acre garden. I canned and froze what we didn't eat. After this we moved to the high desert and grew nothing, although we tried to keep some herbs in pots. (Water was the issue - I have a personal problem justifying using the water it takes to grow things in the desert.) Everyone mourned when we used up the last jar of our homemade salsa.

    Now we're back in a verdant area but haven't bought a house yet. I want enough yard to grow tomatoes, green beans, salad greens, etc. but perhaps not a huge garden. I simple refuse to feel guilty over buying lemons or bananas when I know I can and will grow other things, eventually. Good review!

  7. I'm going to read this one for my Eco Reading Challenge (subliminal- please join). I'm going to attempt a vegetable garden this year. I bought my seeds already! Yay! Wish me luck.

    And strawberries...I have to get to the U-pick up the road this year. I love making jam!

  8. This is a wonderful book. I haven't wanted a banana since.

  9. I've been wondering about this one, but I think I'll get it after reading your thoughts... I try to eat locally too, but I don't want to give up my bananas and mangoes either! I'm glad the book isn't preachy...

  10. I've wanted to read this book ever since it first came out in hardcover. I think I'll nominate it to my book club for upcoming nonfiction read. I'm glad to hear it isn't preachy. Kingsolver has a tendency to get up on her soap box (the final chapters of The Poisonwood Bible are a prime example of this).

    Our farmer's market opened this past weekend, but I didn't get a chance to head down and get any veggies. Not only do I love the produce and flowers, I have a great time snapping photos for my photo blog. Can't wait to go this Saturday!

  11. I am reading this book right now. Got it from the library. I am not very far in and I have already filled half a notebook page with little bits of wisdom that I want to remember!


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