Barbara Kingsolver – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
109. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (2007)
Length: 370 pages
Started: 29 August 2010
Finished: 02 September 2010
Where did it come from? A friend who is the opposite of a book hoarder who was cleaning off her shelves.
Why do I have it? She knew I loved Kingsolver and that I hadn’t read it yet.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 August 2008.
Welcome to my stop on Barbara Kingsolver’s TLC Book Tour! This tour is primarily to celebrate her newest book, The Lacuna, but hosts were free to review something from her backlist as well. Since I’d had Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on my shelves unread for two years, I figured this was the perfect opportunity! Don’t miss the information on the giveaway below the review, and be sure to check out the other stops on the tour!
Summary: After realizing how divorced the average American is from the source of the food that they eat, how we’ve become used to purchasing any produce, from anywhere in the world, in any season, and how much gasoline goes into growing, processing, and shipping most of the things we eat, Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to try an experiment. For one year, they decided that they would eat only local food: things they could grow or raise themselves, or that were produced within a hundred miles of their home. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of that year, organized into chapters by month, and peppered with short factual pieces contributed by Kingsolver’s husband and recipes and menu planning tips by her daughter. It’s a story of farmers, of cooks, of waiting for the first shoots of asparagus that signal the beginning of spring, of being overwhelmed by zucchini, of convincing turkeys to breed without human assistance, of the best way to fail spectacularly at making pumpkin soup, and of celebrating the tiny miracles of life by paying attention to the food we use to sustain it.
Review: I didn’t want to read this book. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my top three favorite authors, possibly my favorite author, and yet I did not want anything to do with this book. The reason is a simple one: I hate to be made to feel bad about what I’m eating. It’s the reason I try to avoid dining with militant vegetarians, people who talk about their Weight Watchers points, and anyone who is horrified that I grew up eating (and still prefer) ketchup with my pork chops. I’ve been lectured at about food many times before, and I can’t stand it, and no matter what anyone told me about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was convinced that it was going to be more of the same… and as a result, I wanted no part of it.
So imagine my surprise when I finally (and grumpily) started reading it, to find that not only was it not lecture-y at all, but that it was also completely fascinating, actively inspiring, and compellingly readable. Kingsolver’s fiction will always be my first love, but she’s an accomplished non-fiction writer as well. It didn’t hurt that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was written in my favorite style of non-fiction: mostly memoir-ish personal experiences blended seamlessly into the more journalistic factual sections.
An added bonus was that the setting for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was in rural southern Appalachia, which is an area of the country that I know and love, as well as being the same setting as Prodigal Summer, my far-and-away favorite Kingsolver novel. In fact, it was almost immediately clear upon starting Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that the fictional Widener family farm, setting of the “Moth Love” chapters in Prodigal Summer, was drawn almost entirely from her real-life homestead. So even if the tone of the book got a little too lecture-y, at least I was on familiar ground.
But the thing was, I rarely felt like I was being lectured at. Kingsolver’s obviously very passionate about the topic, but she lays out her arguments logically and persuasively, appealing to the scientist and pragmatist in me. What’s better, although the rational argument underlies everything, the prose dwells more on the personal immediacies of the issue: the small “miracles” of the title, the joy of eating cherries right off the tree and the wonder of holding a newly hatched chick, rather than the important but substantially less tangible benefit of saving the environment. Kingsolver’s prose is as rich and wonderful as ever, equally adept at evoking a field of tiny green asparagus shoots, a hunt for mushrooms in the Appalachian forests, and a homey kitchen full of tomatoes to be canned.
“Nothing is more therapeutic than to walk up there [to the garden] and disappear into the yellow-green smell of the tomato rows for an hour to address the concerns of quieter, more manageable colleagues. Holding the soft, viny limbs as tender as babies’ wrists, I train them to their trellises, tidy the mulch at their feet, inhale the oxygen of their thanks.” – p. 177
Despite how warm I found Kingsolver’s prose and how accessible I found her argument, I had a hard time turning off the part of me that hates feeling guilty about what I eat. Even when I was absorbed in the story, there was still a small part of my brain that kept up a constant litany of complaints that sounded obnoxiously whiny, even to me. “But I don’t wanna give up tea and grapefruit and Oreos! I don’t wanna spend every free minute of the summer slaving over a steaming canning bath! I don’t wanna never eat an avocado again unless I move to the Southwest, and I don’t wanna move to the Southwest!” I couldn’t shut this voice up, despite the fact that Kingsolver never once suggested that I do any of those things. In fact, she’s very sympathetic to the fact that becoming a dedicated locavore is not an easy undertaking, that her family is unusual, and that not everyone has the time, money, or acreage to produce all of their food themselves. (On the other hand, she does such a good job of describing the joys of growing and making your own food that I often found myself wishing for a house with space to garden, and I’m seriously considering attempting to make my own cheese.)
The thing was, despite my whining and my resistant heel-dragging, I kept running up against a factoid that was presented early on in Chapter 1: if every U.S. citizen ate one meal per week from local, organic food, we would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. Just one meal. 1.1 million barrels per week. One meal. I can do that. And Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has convinced me that it might even be enjoyable. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Anybody who’s ever bought tomatoes in January, bagged lettuce in November, or bananas anywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer. Also, obviously, anyone who’s interested in food and food culture, anyone who’s concerned about our planet’s dwindling supply of fossil fuel, and anyone who likes Kingsolver’s writing style.
Links: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle‘s official website, complete with resources and recipes.
First Line: This story about good food begins in a quick-stop convenience market.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 351: “Lily ran outside to gather a handful of grass while I approached with a cup of water, holding it close enough for her to get a long drink. She accepted détente and settled down.” – a relaxing of tension, esp. between nations, as by negotiations or agreements.
Giveaway: I’ve got gently used copies of three of Kingsolver’s books to give away: a copy of The Lacuna bequeathed to me by the same bookshelf-clearing friend who gave me my copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, plus two books that I found at the local library booksale:The Bean Trees (Kingsolver’s first novel), and Prodigal Summer, which is one of my favorite novels ever (as you may be able to tell by reading my love letter to it.)
The Lacuna is hardcover, so I’m going to restrict that one to folks from the US and Canada, but the other two are open worldwide, although I ask that international folks have a Bookmooch account (I’ll smooch the points back to you.) Enter here by Monday 20 September.
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