on April 3, 2008
I already read this book and can't wait to buy my own copy and read it again. Barbara Kingsolver makes the topic of food riveting. Her family's journey to eat wholesome, local food is inspiring, informative and humorous. I laughed so hard reading about turkey sex. My friends and I talk about her book often and many of us are trying things that she wrote about; raising chickens, growing asparagus and more. The sections written by her husband and her daughter add greatly to the book. I especially appreciated her perspective on eating meat - I have struggled for years with wanting to be a vegetarian (which I was for 6 years) but not being able to feed my family well that way. With the Union for Concerned Scientists stating over and over that eating meat contributes to global warming, it was great to finally be able to distinguish for myself the difference between meat raised through large-scale agriculture vs. meat raised on small farms. It's a HUGE difference, one I wish the scientists would publicly acknowledge.
on May 31, 2007
I was surprised to learn that Kingsolver's latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, was non-fiction, and was very interested to find out how her novelist skills would translate to the non-fiction genre. In a word? Brilliantly.
This latest book is timely, engaging and eye-opening. Although Kingsolver's story revolves around her own family and their move from their southwest home to Appalachia, the message of becoming socially conscious about ones food choices can be applied universally. Kingsolver makes the tough decision, not only to move her family to a completely new environment, but experiment with eating entirely locally for a year. They go about this by growing almost everything themselves as well as supporting their local farmers' market. It's not an easy experiment, and they all face their challenges. Kingsolver's husband, Steven, adds interesting facts about the state of the American food industry and their teenaged daughter Camille's contributions, which include delicious-sounding recipes, are fresh and engaging. What fans of Kingsolver will enjoy is her clever turn of phrase. She can make even produce and farming sound exciting, even whimsical.
A fantastic read and highly recommended. It made me think twice about mindlessly adding tropical fruit to my grocery cart and lead me to plant asparagus for the first time in my garden! It is my hope that readers will be encouraged, as I was, to support our local farmers by eating seasonally and reap both the environmental and health benefits of conscious eating & living.
What a delightful book this is! It is about food, of course, but also about much more. Kingsolver very skilfully combines an entertaining memoir of her family's year of living on local provisions, mostly home grown on their farm in southern Appalachia, with humorous and serious reflections on rural life, the food industry, the environment, health and local farmers' economics. Given her science background and success as a fiction writer, she is best placed to captivate her audiences.
Roughly following a monthly rhythm, we learn what crops to plant and when, how to mix and match what grows best together in the fields and how to deal with the vegetable abundance at one time or another. She shares the ups and downs of yearlong fieldwork in a personal and charming way that even non-gardeners will enjoy the walk. There are birds to observe, chickens to raise and Bourbon Red heritage turkeys to nurture without being adopted as the mother hen. Kingsolver and her family literally dig in to realize the growing plans they had made to ensure feeding themselves throughout the year. The periods of abundance when canning and drying and other methods of preservation become essential, are followed by less rich harvest when they have to rely on the pantry and eat what they have saved. For one month the kitchen may be covered in red: it's tomato season, another one in green when the surplus of zucchini results in experimenting with daily new recipes. Daughter Camille brings to book and the table a delightful range of easy to follow recipes that celebrate the fresh produce from their garden and fields. She also adds her own personal touch with reflections of a young person experience on family life on a farm. Friends, neighbours and the local farmers' market play an important role in any hobby farmer's life. There are produce to exchange or buy and there are experiences and lessons learned to be shared. The values of family togetherness and neighbourly community take center stage in the description of their experience. Without these ingredients, the experiment would probably not have succeeded.
While describing the ups and down of living through the year on their farm with wit and warmth, both Kingsolver and husband Hopp address some serious questions regarding the food we choose to eat. Issues range from protection local seeds and biodiversity to industrialization of our food system and the environment impacts that we are facing today and in the future. We also are encouraged to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our own approach to food, where it comes from, how far it traveled to reach us, and how we make important economic and environmental as well as health choices every day. References to reading sources and useful organizations as well as a website with all the recipes and more complement the book. It should be widely read and enjoyed. [Friederike Knabe]
on May 16, 2007
Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life is enough to make me think seriously about starting a garden and a compost pile. But is it enough to make me actually do it?
The premise of the book is that for one year, Kingsolver's family pledged to eat only what it could procure from within an hour's drive from their home, with a few exceptions for things like flour and coffee. Although the book is certainly more preachy than Kingsolver's early novels, the tone reminds me a lot of "Prodigal Summer". It doesn't cross the line into straight evangelism, always retaining the ability to entertain as well as inform. Even the message is not a monolithic one, being composed of forays into other philosophies as well as the main "eat local" one.
In one section, there's even what seems to be a tribute to an early advocate of the (mostly reviled) corporate attitude: Sanford Webb, the first owner of the Hoppsolver (conflation of Kingsolver's surname and that of her husband, Steven Hopp) homestead. This turn-of-the-century entrepreneur brought in refrigeration (now the tool of the long-distance transporters of produce), and bought trees rather than getting them from his neighbours like everyone else. Not only that, but these were grafted trees that wouldn't breed true If planted again from seed - and he got the whole neighbourhood doing it. I'm not sure whether Webb is absolved of being anti-local-food because of the period he lived in, or whether he's just there as a picturesque portrait, and not meant to be representative of anything modern.
In each chapter, the variety of voices kept me interested. There's Camille, with recipes and snippets from the new generation's perspective; Steven, with informational sidebars and references to look up for still more information; and Kingsolver's own several voices, lecturing us in some parts but always rewarding us with anecdotes from her year of local food.
Camille's voice is refreshing and authentic; clearly she is one of those young people it is a surprise and a delight to meet, who have opinions and beliefs unexpected in such youth, and admirable in anyone. Many of her recipes are now on my list of things to try - much like the recipes in Jeanne Ray's "Eat Cake", they sound almost too good to be true when described in such lovely prose earlier in the chapter.
When the turkeys and their reproductive challenges entered the story, it was clear that they were going to become symbolic somehow of the outcome of the project as a whole; would they succeed? would they only come close? would they fail outright? This suspense story, while it seemed a little bit tacked on at the end, kept me reading avidly right to the end. And Kingsolver certainly doesn't condescend to her audience, but points out the symbolism and allegory herself, not pretending it's an accident. Though she follows up with one of my favourite lines in the book: "Maybe the zucchini are just zucchini."
Finally, the book succeeds by adopting a tone that is wry, not sanctimonious, friendly rather than angry, and by invisibly winning us over with Kingsolver's beautiful, flawless writing. I may not plant a quarter-acre of garden and can enough to last me through the winter, but I'll certainly think harder about where my food comes from, and what I can do to shorten that distance.
Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle combines a gripping and often humourous account of her family's year of living on their Virginia farm and eating only local food with serious reflections on conventional eating habits, the endangered status of small farms and the provenance of most North American produce. Month by month, Kingsolver shares her knowledge of which crops to plant when, how to tend to growing vegetable plots and how to manage both abundance and dearth. Her daughter, Camille, contributes thoughtful essays from a teenaged point of view and adds simple recipes that celebrate seasonal produce. Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp, brings a series of scholarly snippets to the book, which discuss such heated issues as GMOs, pesticide use and farm labour. The book is warm and witty but also thought provoking as it encourages readers to ask fundamental questions about our approach to food: Where does our food come from? How far has it traveled to reach us? How much energy has it used? Kingsolver makes us aware that, every time we eat, we make choices that effect global economics, the environment and our health.
on February 21, 2011
This account of going back to the land by Barbara Kingsolver and her family is a well written glimpse into a family's attempt to move to a farming community and try to live and eat in a way that is more healthy for themselves and also for the community and beyond.
Barbara Kingsolver handles the narrative in her usual engaging style while her husband and older daughter add their own bits to round out the book. It is fun to identify with the family and their attempts act upon their dream. The sidebars by Stephen Hopp (the husband) provide information about the current situation in regards to food production and marketing in the United States. As a Canadian, I found that much of the information provided rings true for our grocery aisles as well (especially the larger chain stores). Reading this book has made me think very critically about the distance which food has travelled to land at my grocery store in Chilliwack B.C. and more and more, I find myself opting for the produce and meat that is grown locally. The daughter, Camille Kingsolver, adds meal plans and narrative about taking her new eating habits away from home. Her description of how she gets as many greens as possible into her diet is not preachy, as these types of books can become. Clearly Camille has her mother's gift of narrative!
I have decided to read this book season by season rather than straight through. Being spring, I am enjoying the descriptions of early crops, especially asparagus and I am watching with a more educated eye as the first imported spears appear in the market. I am waiting for the local crop and I now know what to look for!
on June 4, 2010
ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE is entirely inspiring. It has enough facts about the food industry to make you think, but not the gross-out shocks that some other local-types seem to focus on. As Barbara Kingsolver and her family got through the year of eating local and home grown, I felt like I was growing with them. The monthly summaries about what plants were shooting their heads out of the ground when were delightful, and made me think about what I'm really getting when I go to the grocery store. By the end, I felt like Ms Kingsolver and her family were dear friends, and I was pleased at my efforts of growing a few veggie plants in containers and shopping at the farm market more often. I read a copy from the library, but I'm going to buy my own as soon as I can. Highly recommended.
on January 3, 2013
I absolutely loved this book; it was very inspiring. It is a story detailing the day-to-day lives of the Kingsolver family, but also featured recipes and scientific pieces. The book is written by three members of the family, though I preferred chapters written by Barbara the most. The book paints a beautiful picture of the farming and do-it-yourself food-preparation lifestyle. It made me yearn for a garden and to own some chickens myself!
on October 24, 2015
I wish I had found this book years ago. After reading it, I promptly went to my local farmers market to buy some vegetables and have just made a big pot of soup and have a stew in the slow cooker! I am inspired and motivated to make some changes in my own support of the environment and local farmers! I like her writing a lot....this did not disappoint. I was educated and entertained at the same time. That is a talent!
on March 3, 2012
This is a very Informative book. Love the recipes at the end of each chapter. It really makes me want to get in the garden and grow. I do not have a lot of space and our growing season is not as long, but I plan on growing what I can for the summer season. I hope to can and freeze a portion of my produce. We will see what happens!