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

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
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's review
May 13, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: foodwriting, author-get-over-thyself

I do not want to have lunch with Barbara Kingsolver. I do not want to sit across the table from this self-satisfied woman and have her gently scold me for eating imported "world traveler" foods, like bananas. I also do not want to hear any more of her stories about how awesome she and her family are, and how they were able to eat primarily off what they could grow in their backyard, (plenty of fresh vegetables!) or buy from local farmers (who are all personal friends, anyway! Aren't we cool?). I don't want to hear any more about how her family is doing their part to stop global warming by reducing food processing and transportation costs, and now they all managed to do it without fighting. Who are these people? Everybody gets home from work or school and has to go garden until dark every freaking day, and there's no fighting? There's no salmon, or packaged cookies, or Cheetos, and there's still no fighting? Even though some members of the family are 17 and, like, 10?

What I wanted most of all was to hear the stories about how she caught her daughter hiding Little Debbie under the bed, or how her teenager was too embarrassed to bring her friends over without soda to offer them. But nooooo. No such humanizing details. Some small bumps in the road, such as when the teenager craves fresh fruit in early spring, but none is in season. But -- a ha! -- easily solved, with rhubarb from the farmer's market. Give me a break. This is cheating the readers. It had to have been more interesting than this.

But, that aside, it actually was pretty interesting. She's a wonderful writer, and much of the information and storytelling was totally fascinating. I will be thinking about this book for a long time, and it really has inspired me to pay more attention to local growing seasons, (although in California I guess we're a little spoiled,) and do more shopping at farmer's markets, and cook more, and perhaps even grow my own tomatoes...heirloom, of course. I just don't want to hang out with Barbara Kingsolver. Ever. Unless she's prepared to talk about what really went down.
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01/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 62) (62 new)

Karen Great review! I felt the same way. Loved the book, but find it hard to believe even the kids were so into this experiment. If they really were that into it, and there really was no fighting, I'd like to see her next book be about her parenting (brainwashing?) secrets.

message 2: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Karen wrote: "Great review! I felt the same way. Loved the book, but find it hard to believe even the kids were so into this experiment. If they really were that into it, and there really was no fighting, I'd like to see her next book be about her parenting (brainwashing?) secrets."

I'd buy that book. I don't think I'll be reading this one.

message 3: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Yes, This book has been off my to-read list forever but I'm enjoying the reviews of it.

Sarah I absolutely loved this book, but I thought your review was hilarious, and you make some good points.

message 5: by Jen (new)

Jen Haven't read this one yet, but oh yeah, this woman can write AND guilt me more than me own dear ma.

I blame her for my garden being three times as large this year and for my sudden and overwhelming urge to raise chickens.

But then I see my kid eat a fresh raw green bean with Ranch dressing and I think "awwwww"...and then I find a brown egg in the morning and I think "wow, this is worth it!" Almost. Kind of. Maybe not.

message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 05, 2009 11:22AM) (new)

Love Kingsolver. Don't think I'll be buying the book. With a home at zero lot line in a planned community ruled over by a very powerful homeowner's association, I'm pretty sure I can't follow through on any dreams of a nutritious garden or protein-product-producing animals. My son mistook a serving of drive-through hash browns for a veg this a.m., so I could probably use a little guilt. Maybe I'll just keep reading the thread here to be inspired by those who actually make healthy changes.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Jen wrote: "Haven't read this one yet, but oh yeah, this woman can write AND guilt me more than me own dear ma.

I blame her for my garden being three times as large this year and for my sudden and overwhelm..."

(love it Jen)

Sarah She made me overcome my lifelong aversion to tomatoes.

message 9: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan That's wonderful Sarah. I love tomatoes and they're so healthy for us. Well, I guess the macrobiotic believers don't think so but just about everyone else does.

I'd love to read some of her fiction. After years of those I know begging me to read those books, I'm surprised I haven't gotten to them yet.

Sarah Same here. I have the Poisonwood Bible and I really do plan on getting around to it some day.

message 11: by Jen (new)

Jen Sarah Pi wrote: "Same here. I have the Poisonwood Bible and I really do plan on getting around to it some day."

I prefer The Bean Trees, but with Barbara, it all depends on what topics you like your guilt with....illegal immigration, the US' history with Native Americans, adoption and the law, Christian hypocrisy, the US' involvement in the Congo, parental duty/neglect...it is all there, served up in excellent prose. And I partake willingly. She really is that good. Being the potentially guilty person I am, I find that I am always ready to hear her preaching.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Jen wrote: "Sarah Pi wrote: "Same here. I have the Poisonwood Bible and I really do plan on getting around to it some day."

I prefer The Bean Trees, but with Barbara, it all depends on what topics you like y..."

Great list there, Jen. I probably do not feel as guilty as I should, therefore I get a lot of pleasure out of reading about Christian hypocrisy, for example. I am more on the "judging" side of certain issues, whether I deserve that position or not. Although parental issues....now there's a clincher on the guilt scale.

message 13: by Rita (new) - added it

Rita I thoroughly enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible and it was quite an eyeopener. I had no idea about the US's involvement in the Congo and I consider myself a relatively educated and know a little something about history.

message 14: by smetchie (last edited Jul 30, 2009 05:12PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

smetchie I am doing my BEST to get through this book but I may have to quit. If you think this book reads preachy you should try listening to it on your ipod. BK herself is narrating and OH BOY it's annoying.

Even worse: the Camille parts! (her 17-year-old daughter) I just keep thinking, "what a loser". She's missing out on being a teenager because she's obsessed with fresh vegetables. UGH.

I really like the premise and the information in this book is really great. It's all sinking in but I find myself choking on it. I sure hope this doesn't ruin her fiction for me. If I hear her melodic holier-than-thou patronizing *pat pat there there* voice in my head while I read Prodigal Summer (which I'm told is amazing) I'm going to be one angry girl!

As for her other fiction: loved The Poisonwood Bible but it's a rough read and loved The Bean Trees.

message 15: by Jen (new)

Jen Gretchen wrote: "I am doing my BEST to get through this book but I may have to quit. If you think this book is reads preachy you should try listening to it on your ipod like I am. BK herself is narrating and OH BOY..."

The woman is a writer and not a speaker for a reason. I saw an interview with her on youtube and was disappointed. I had imagined her voice to be so full of childlike wonder and warmth when what I heard was more of a prim and strained speech. Head of marble, feet of clay type reminder for me.

message 16: by Vic (new) - rated it 3 stars

Vic I'm still listening to this and I have to agree with Gretchen. I feel like half the time she's really preachy, but... the information is pretty good. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my 3 favorite books ever, and the subject of Animal, Vegetable interests me, so I will continue to listen...

Kimberly i could NOT agree more with your review. Self righteous INDEED!

Sharon That's so interesting to me that so many people find this book preachy or self righteous. I did not get that at all from this book. I have laughed with her and been a little in awe of the whole thing but it has gotten me motivated and I actually planted herbs like FROM SEEDS in my backyard last week. It's an experiment and maybe they will never grow but why not try. I don't think her point was for everyone to actually do this 100% forever - that's why they only do it for 1 year but to see what it would actually look like if we really did change our eating. I loved this book and The Poisenwood Bible is totally awesome. I think she is smart and funny, not stuck up.


anjeee i love your review. this has been on my 'to read' list for a long time, and i finally got it from the library yesterday. looking forward to it. i love your review ~ that you gave the book 4 stars and appreciate the info, but your comments about her attitude/perfectness are so funny and (i imagine, being a mom of a 12 and 13 year old myself) true! lol!!!

message 20: by Cade (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cade Completely agree with the review. There was something at the end of the book that really caught me off guard. Throughout the book she talks about how they, one way or another, made it through. They ate from their garden, or from food bought at a farmer's market. They even packed their own homegrown food for the vacation trip to New York or wherever. Then at the very end, as she is summing up the year, she alludes to some missteps. A night at a restaurant here and there, but she never goes into more detail. Granted, her experiment was a daunting task and probably unachievable. In fact, I don’t know that one would want to live off the land all the time given the option. You would go crazy, never eating at a restaurant or getting some sort of social life out side the garden. But, I thought, maybe, just maybe she did it. Then bam, she didn’t and she didn’t even discuss why. The book was quite inspirational, but left me feeling a little cheated too.

message 21: by Adam (new)

Adam You know the whole thing about family harmony totally passed me by until I read your review Kate. It's a fabulous point.

This is a chimera of a book. Kingsolver wants it all. It's a memoir, a DIY guide, a political critique, a recipe book... In a lot of ways it's tripping over itself to make a good impression on its readers, so I'm not surprised to think that she would have edited out all the arguments in order to make her choices seem more attractive and idealised.

message 22: by Cade (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cade In response to Kate's review:

Yes, exactly. I love the book inspite of itself. I want to not like it for the obvious holes (seriously, if this family is not arguing over food, there are a LOT deeper issues), but the over all substance of the book floats all boats.

Cheryl D Well, I must have missed that she was doing this for "global warming." I think she is trying to live locally and reduce the family's dependence on fossil fuel for their food. I didn't see it as preachy. I just think she did a project with her family and had some information to share.

message 24: by Marilou (new) - added it

Marilou Fun review, Kate! I'd say more but I've gotta get to Mickey D's before they stop sellin' those hotcakes and sausage!

Nicole Ha ha... I absolutely love your review. Her family is "that family" you love to hate. They always get along, like being around each other, have cool musician friends, and are incredibly into the good of the world. There has to be a pill that makes people like that.

message 26: by Jen (new)

Jen Yes, but where to get a prescription?

message 27: by Joan (new)

Joan I just took out of it what I felt I could do. Certainly not taking myself completely off the grid, but being more concious of where food comes from and who is growing it. And with Michael Pollan getting so popular with his words of wisdom this book is a good book to read in tandem with his.

message 28: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Shapiro You hit the nail on the head! I stopped reading this about 3/4 of the way in because I just couldn't stand her holier-than-thou tone any freaking more. It's easy to take a year off for an experiment like this when you are a privileged rich lady with a bunch of land. For the rest of us, not so much! And I just hated how she kept saying that this was accessible to all of us with a little effort. Definitely NOT TRUE. But yes, despite her tone, a lot of interesting stuff here. I just wish someone else had written it.

message 29: by Meaghan (last edited Oct 17, 2010 06:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meaghan I actually read the audiobook and thought that her daughter, Camille, sounded extremely sincere and even enthusiastic to be co-authoring this chronicle of their lifestyle. I admire Camille so much for being so open-minded at an age when kids are usually heavily influenced by their peers, sometimes in detrimental ways.

And I believe Kingsolver said, numerous times, how she understands that many simply cannot afford the luxury of this lifestyle for a variety of reasons--economic (have only two dollars for dinner and therefore must get cheap food), geographic (sole food vendors in area are bodegas ), occupational (work long shifts or travel and cannot cook), etc. She is not criticizing these people. She is criticizing the system. She is blaming not us as individuals, but collectively, as a culture. She is simply imploring us to think critically about our national eating habits and to, upon gaining awareness, move to change things--to the best of our ability.

I know the truth hurts. But we do what we can with the information we get, and with the resources we have. But to bury our heads in the sand is wrong.

Oh. And we could all have land. Enough to grow food for us and our families and our workers. Oh, but wait. That land is gone to cornfields (for growing the corn that will eventually turn into our twinkies and Cokes and Chips and the other sugary goods that fill well over 80 percent of our supermarkets) and golf courses, and-- oh, well, more corn I suppose...

Amander I didn't find the book self-righteous (though I did stop reading about 3/4 of the way through), just unrelatable. I live in a condo in FL, and I think I would starve if I limited myself to only local produce. I definitely love "junk food" too much, anyway, but this book did stimulate my healthy tastes and really make me WANT to eat healthier. I consider it a success for doing that. And I learned why my asparagus never compares to my friend's from the farmer's market! ^_^

message 31: by Kimba (new) - added it

Kimba J I love that you have an "author-get-over-thyself" shelf!

message 32: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate Kimba wrote: "I love that you have an "author-get-over-thyself" shelf!"

Thanks! Comes in handy. :)

message 33: by Noelle (new) - added it

Noelle I haven't read the book yet, but will be remembering your review fondly as I do :)

Larry Bassett I once considered joining forces with a couple who owned and operated a family beef farm in Michigan. I have never regretted considering that and rejecting the idea. Farming is hard, hard work. But one of the highlights of my life is that I once baked bread made from wheat that I grew and processed myself. I am looking forward to reading this book. Your review (from almost four years ago) only increases my interest.

Irene Suarez Completely agree with your review! This book has taught me a few things and make me think about a few others, but man.. isn´t she self-satisfied with how she is saving the world? Her writing is very good, and I like the additions by the husband and daughter but how many times can the same message be repeated through the 300 pages?

Laura Okay, I get your point. But did you ever think the teenagers didn't fight or get overly moody BECAUSE they weren't eating crap like Little Debbie cakes?

Carol Agree completely. You hit the nail on the head about the tone being self righteous. It was nevertheless fascinating to read about this lifestyle.

Jessica Shaddawvine fair review. loved the book, but you're right!

message 39: by Jane (new)

Jane I didn't think it was self rightous at all.
In fact my friends and I discussed the way that the author manages to say what she wanted to say without preaching.She says you don't have to go all out and farm ecologically, that every little helps. It just goes to show how one book can be received in different ways by different readers.
PS And she's right, transporting bananas, apples etc all around the world for our delight is NOT helping the planet...

message 40: by Jane (new)

Jane PS, Kate wrote her review in 2008. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

Susan Zizza Maguire Kingsolver's brilliant, poetic and prolific. I love how she loves what she does; her energy seems boundless, and she's very inspiring. Had I not seen the change in my teenaged son when I started serving organic oatmeal, local dairy farmer's milk (in bottles!), etc. maybe I'd agree with the more scoffing asides regarding kid's junk food addictions; but the opposite proved true in this house. Loved this book.

message 42: by Patty (new) - added it

Patty I love your review.....

Allison Barely started this book and I'm already feeling like you. Of course I am coming to the party late and everything about local food has already been said and written. But I have loved Kinsolving's fiction and I got this kindle book for $1.99 so I will push on through.

message 44: by Jean (new)

Jean Godwin Carroll I love her fiction and just started this book for book club. Your review made me laugh! I wonder if I'll feel the same way.

message 45: by Quynhnhu (new) - added it

Quynhnhu Nguyen A woman wrote this book. I could have gone without certain stories.

message 46: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy Your review made me laugh and want to read the book!!

I, for one, will continue to indulge in Cheetos while enjoying my CSA veggies and organic, free-range chicken eggs......which I have to purchase at local farmers' markets because I live in an apartment.

message 47: by Kimberly (new) - added it

Kimberly Holmes this is cracking me up. great review!

message 48: by Mary (new)

Mary I quit reading her when she published some book of essays.

message 49: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Thanks for the review, love books of garden essays- but not preaching. I just bought the book. Now I think I will skip it.

Laura Renee Thank you for putting into words what I was struggling to articulate as I read the book. Camille's sections were actually the worst, I thought. Yeah, I got thoroughly sick of the Perfect Family picture, even if I completely agreed with her points about farmers' markets. But I AM still eating bananas and grabbing asparagus when it's on sale, even if it's not early spring. In fact, she inspired me to buy it full price, even though it wasn't in season yet. Was still delicious.

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