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

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
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's review
May 29, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: food-related-books
Recommended to Miriam by: library display
Recommended for: organic farmers, environmentalists, people who enjoy feeling guilty
Read in May, 2008

My favorite cameo of all times from The Simpsons features Ed Begley Jr with a non-polluting car that runs on "[his] own sense of self-satisfaction." As I read this book, I couldn't help remembering that scene. Is Barbara Kingsolver a talented writer? Undoubtedly. Her descriptions of food are wonderful, and she makes her life on the farm sound idyllic, although she is realistic about the work involved. However, throughout it all,the undercurrent of self-satisfaction makes it hard to take. It's a pity, too, because I think her message is important.

Have a lot of Americans lost a connection with the land? Yes. Do many of us eat far too much processed food? Yes. However, Kingsolver can't seem to find one redeeming virtue in the life that so many millions of Americans live. At one point she mentions throwing the baby out with the bathwater in terms of the poor food choices Americans make, but with her all-or-nothing perspective, she is doing a little baby-tossing of her own. She sings the praises of Europe while stating that the US has no food culture. I've lived in every time zone in the continental US, and in every place I've found a different food culture. The US is a nation of immigrants, and despite McDonalds and Taco Bell, many features of this cultural blending are still alive and well.

The essays and sidebar articles by her husband and daughter are really what caused me to give the book two stars. The recipes her daughter writes about sound delicious, but the overly earnest prose is obviously written by a teenager, albeit a very intelligent one. The sidebars, like most sidebar articles, are too brief to really tell the full story. For example, in one article, Kingsolver's husband mentions that over 2/3rds of the families in Moscow grow their own food. This was true at one point, although anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that this is no longer the case, but he doesn't mention that in Western Siberia, a lot of people can no longer garden because encephalitis-bearing ticks have taken over their land, and they get closer and closer to the cities every year. The government used to spray for these ticks once a year, but they stopped spraying during the lean 1990s, and the ticks have taken over. A lot of families can no longer grow vegetables to supplement their diets, and the percentage of encephalitis-infected ticks grows every year. This is one example where the benefits of pesticides might outweigh the risks.

Long story short (too late, I know), this was in many respects a good book, and I enjoyed parts of it a lot. It was the feeling of Kingsolver's contempt for the majority of Americans that made it so hard to take.
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03/09 marked as: read

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-5 of 5) </span> <span class="smallText">(5 new)</span>

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Chris I'm slogging my way through this book right now, and it's like pulling teeth to get through a chapter. When I got to the part where they go to visit their Amish friends, and they are heading home and she says something to the effect of "At low speeds our car is powered solely on electricity..." I literally burst out laughing because all I could imagine was this comical image of these self-important twits puttering along a country road being outpaced by rabbits and the like, and I, too thought of the Ed Begley thing. Such a wasteful, cynical American I am!

Naomi Chris wrote: "I'm slogging my way through this book right now, and it's like pulling teeth to get through a chapter. When I got to the part where they go to visit their Amish friends, and they are heading home ..."

Oh my gosh...as one that also had to suffer through this trifling piece of cow manure..you guys are making me laugh!

Todd I just didn't read the same book as you I don't think. Well, maybe a little. Self-Satisfaction? I.e., Pride? Umm... you feed your family for a year off your own land predominantly and not have a bit of self-satisfaction. I didn't hear self-importance either. And there was tons of acknowledgement that growing all of your food is not possible by everyone and that they were luckily in circumstance... but locally? That is doable by huge portions of the population.

Food culture: Visit the rest of the planet. The USA has a great food culture, but it is a pale shadow most other cultures.

As for contempt? I didn't hear contempt. I heard a mournful voice extorting actions that could be taken but probably won't be. "Even just one meal a week" was her plea.

We are, as a nation, wasteful to the extreme, and judging by just the comments of those reading the book here, even those you'd think would have a mind open to the possibility of improving things (the readers of her book)... read, then walk away. It's not contempt. It's sadness.

Anyway. It's interesting to me how two people can read a book and read it very differently. Thank you for your review.

Patricia I agree your point on food culture. I've lived in three states, and I can tell you that food culture is real in the U.S., and it's not all processed junk food. The reason we have a state-by-state food culture instead of a national one is that this is a BIG country. A lot of people don't think about that when they compare us to other countries, such as Italy.

Lisa I guess I perceive her "self satisfaction" as being more passion and commitment. And while I found the sidebars to be a bit distracting (I would finish the chapters and then go back to the side bars), I pretty much enjoyed them. Feeling like Steven Hopps sidebars gave me a bit more info if I wanted to pursue that particular subject. And Camille's were fun to read from a kid perspective. Which is important as it was a family project. Most of all, the fact that this was a family project impressed me and turned me on. That this group of varying ages could create a family culture with a shared passion. And then put it all in a family book project. I love it! All families should so lucky.

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