Renee's Reviews > Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
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's review
Mar 17, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction-adult
Read in March, 2008

I was so excited to finally get my hands on this fantastic story about one family's year long experiment in growing & raising most of their own food. I love reading about people who think differently, act differently and live differently than the norm.

I think the grow your own philosophy of this family is extreme for our culture but I am so attracted to it because it's a life lived with intention and deep conviction. In comparison I found our own family's efforts in supporting our local agriculture fairly piddly. This was a reality check since I can sometimes get on my high horse because I belong to a CSA and visit the weekly summer farmer's market.

My basic criticisms of the book are two. Firstly, Kingsolver spends a fair amount of time writing about being a working mother. How she's managed to have a career and still can tomatoes. But from my farm & gardening experience I have a hard time believing that during the course of their grow-your-own year both she and her husband worked full time, yet she leaves readers with that impression. Or at the very least she doesn't exactly expound on her daily goings on except for what she's picking from the garden and special events celebrated with family and friends. What I want to know is how do you raise animals, plant, weed, pick, can and preserve the garden, butcher the animals and cook a home cooked meal every night? All while parenting, cleaning house, doing laundry, running errands, ya-da, ya-da, ya-da AND working full time?? These questions are never answered. And yet growing at least some of your own food is presented as achievable for the American family. I believe that unless the average American family undergoes a shift in priorities to spend less, drive less and work less the grow your own mentality is largely unrealistic. But hopefully books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will be a part of the movement that changes our popular fast food, fast life culture. So that realistically more families will choose to grow more gardens and shop for local, in season food.

That brings me to the second criticism or perhaps observation. As a plant based eater living in Northern New England if I chose to eat only locally grown foods I'd eat a lot of potatotes and go crazy with summer blueberries (not a bad thing). Our family has chosen to base our diet on plants for improved immediate health and longevity, we want to be hiking with our grandkids. Eating a variety of foods from around the globe (at times) makes this possible. And for many, many people the only way to achieve the health they want in northern latitudes is to eat fruits and vegetables grown elsewhere. A bit of a conundrum if you believe in local sustainable agriculture - which I do. So, I'm thinking this one through. Trying to think of all the healthy foods which are grown here, how we can maximize our consumption of those and perhaps decrease the food we eat that is shipped from long distances.

Overall, the book was a fantastic read . Kingsolver is engaging, funny, convincing and just an all round excellent writer. The book is an eat your local veggies & meat mantra but the narrative of her family keeps it personal and interesting.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Rhonda I really enjoyed this book, actually I am ready for a second reading after some time off to "digest" the information the first time through. But I definitely agree with your comments. I live in northern New England, too, and would miss the fruit from more tropical areas. But I also feel like easy availability of these tropical fruits has encouraged movement away from more native species, things like rhubarb and rose hips, and the wealth of blackberries, raspberries, black raspberries, strawberries, and elderberries, just to name a few. But if you are going to have these things available year-round all of these things require a lot of time and effort, not just to pick in the first place but to preserve during the very short growing and harvesting season, much more than the trip to the grocery store for a banana or orange. And most of us are really hard-pressed to find the kind of time needed to dry and can and freeze, etc. Or would just much rather spend that time in other pursuits.

Having said that, I am finding myself more and more drawn toward spending time on those kinds of efforts. Trying to learn to make jelly (have tried rose hip and apple-blackberry so far). Growing a small garden and trying to eat from it a little each day. Drying a few herbs and using them throughout the year. And I'm finding that these efforts provide a kind of satisfaction I don't find anywhere else. So even though I may never get as far along the local food road as the Kingsolvers, I'm planning on a second read of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for more inspiration and really appreciate that they made the commitment not only to try the local food route, but to write about it so lots of other folks could be inspired, too.

Lisa I enjoyed your review. When Kingsolver talked about working and running the farm, I assumed her work was writing and her project for that year was AVM. That would mean, write in the winter when there is less to do on the farm and use the rest of her time on the farm.
A large portion of my yard is a garden and I have no animals and have never lived on a farm. I do the best I can to be self sufficient, but I never will be. Doing something is better than doing nothing. I will buy bananas all winter long and enjoy them!

Michelle I really enjoyed your review. I am a little over halfway through the book now, and overall I am enjoying it. As a vegan, there are obviously a couple of points in the book where I have grumbled out loud at her anti-vegan comments, but her overall message about supporting local agriculture (plant and animal) is wonderful. I was also wondering about how she was managing to work while doing all of her at-home work as well. I was going on the assumption that as a writer she worked from home and had the flexibility. I am definitely enjoying the book overall.

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