It’s the weekend! Relax and read ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’
February 16, 2008
The secret hideaway of a long-forgotten goat, the flowers of a peanut plant nosing their way into the dirt, the lost art of turkey sex: New York Times bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver takes readers to places they never dreamed in her first book of narrative non-fiction—places she has found in her own kitchen and her own backyard.
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver chronicles the year she and her family ate only locally produced food, much of which they grew or raised themselves.
“Our family set out to find ourselves a real American culture of food, or at least the piece of it that worked for us, and to describe it for anyone who might be looking for something similar,” Kingsolver writes. “This book tells the story of what we learned, or didn’t; what we ate, or couldn’t; and how our family was changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the same place where we worked, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air.”
During the one-year cycle, they ate seasonally, consuming foods only as they became available in their own garden or from neighboring farms. “Our highest shopping goal,” Kingsolver explains, “was to get our food from so close to home that we’d know the person who grew it.”
For Kingsolver, a novelist who trained as a biologist, the colorful events of the year provide the springboard for deeper exploration of the larger issues at stake. Agribusiness has changed the way we Americans eat, selling us ingredients we may not want, or even recognize. Every calorie of processed food we presently eat has used dozens or even hundreds of fossil fuel calories in its making and transportation, she points out. By eating locally, even just part of the time, we can save millions of barrels of oil as we consume a healthier and much more flavorful diet. Kingsolver investigates what was lost in the century when most of us forgot the tastes of fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.
As the family makes its way through the year, they reap the benefits of their hard work in the quality of their meals and a deeper connection with their habitat and food chain. A road trip through sustainable farms and local produce markets of New England and Canada and even of Italy provide other views of a quiet but burgeoning revolution.
As Kingsolver makes clear, this was a family project from the get-go, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle reflects that communal spirit. Informative sidebars by biologist husband Steven L. Hopp offer, in his own words, “fifty-cent buckets of a dollar’s worth of goods” on many of the topics that Barbara touches upon in the narrative. Daughter Camille offers a nineteen-year-old’s perspective with short, reflective essays and a slew of tried-and-true family recipes for planning seasonal eating. Lily supplies the eggs, and a charming youthful willingness to chip in.
Part memoir and part investigative journalism, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is vintage Barbara Kingsolver – wry, candid, levelheaded, wise, humble, intelligent, rueful, and undeniably entertaining. Both timely and timeless, this absorbing book will surely be embraced as a manifesto for better living through a return to the things that should matter most – good food, a culture of family and community, and a sensible path to consuming our world’s resources.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver