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

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
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's review
Jun 22, 2008

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in June, 2008

I have to admit that I have a real love/hate relationship with this book.

On one hand, when the author sticks to the actual practicalities and stories of what it took to live on local food only for a year such as the hilarity of turkey sex, the pets vs food dilemma or the aggravation that a zucchini crop can cause, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read. On the other hand, when she goes the route of moralizing and fear mongering about the environment and public health, and stoops to the typical "America sucks compared to the rest of the world" it gets maddeningly obnoxious (especially the part about the evils of Halloween and Fourth of July - come on lady, lighten the hell up!). I kept alternating between being riveted and wanting to toss the book against the wall.

I can't help but think that Kingsolver, her husband and daughter present a very incomplete and one sided picture of American farming. I suspect that the truth is somewhat more complicated than Evil Capitalist Overlord Farm Corporations vs. Saintly Environmentalist Local Organic Farmers. It becomes very obvious right from the beginning that she's got an extremely narrow focus for her arguments and doesn't quite understand how economies work and how and politics and public policy have shaped where people live and what foods are accessible to them beyond the typical liberal "you're being hoodwinked by those nasty CFOs."

It doesn't seem to occur to her that not everyone wants to be a farmer, grow their own food or make meals from scratch. Both of my grandmothers grew up on farms and could tell you at length about how much being a farmer, baking your own bread and living on only "local food" can completely suck. And while claims that she's not an elitist, smug self-satisfaction creeps into passages all over the book.

Her assertion that low income families can afford to shop at farmer's markets is equally boggling. I went to my local farmer's market last weekend and discovered that local organic ground beef costs about seven bucks a pound and that the organic, free range, local chicken runs between twice and four times as expensive as it does in the local supermarket.

Finally, her argument that America doesn't have any real food culture of it's own made me almost sprain my eyeballs from rolling them so much. It apparently escapes her that 1) America as a country is extremely young in comparison to most European, Asian and South American countries and therefore wouldn't have as ingrained of a tradition and 2) the reason that most of the traditions we have are imported from other countries because, hello, we're mostly a nation of immigrants and their descendants. She takes a trip to Canada and gushes about the local French food culture - as though she couldn't find the similar of thing in any major city in the States and as though French cuisine isn't imported to Canada too.

Not that she doesn't make interesting and legitimate points; the part about biodiversity among crops and livestock as well as the the havoc farm subsidies have caused are two of the best points that she makes. And I will give her this - although I don't agree with a lot of what she argues, she has given me a lot of things to think about and I will probably put a lot more thought into what I buy to feed myself and my family. But she seriously needs to dial back on the smugness, guilt and fear mongering, and focus more on the fascinating daily life of what it means to grow and eat locally because she'd win more converts that way.
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02/28/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim If you lived here, I would so invite you to join my book club. I think you would have gotten a kick out of our discussion of this book.

message 2: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Sounds like this book fits right in with the recent trend in books and films going back to things like Fast Food Nation and Supere Size Me and then on to things like Food, Inc., The Future of Food, and The Omnivore's Dilemna.

Definitely a topic that would get you published these days.

Crystal I so agree with your review! I really felt she was way too preachy and that her analysis of the issues was too black and white in a situation that has lots of gray.

Chris Perhaps you felt Kingsolver was 'fear mongering' because you felt fear? You should be fearful, our food supply is a mess. I disagree with your characterization but that being said, just because someone is fear mongering doesn't mean there's nothing to fear.

Charlotte Larsson I felt that the description of the uncertainty of being a farmer was very powerful. It is a long time since I read this book, but I still remember the description of the bell peppers as the great hope for the former tobacco farmers, and the devastation when it didn't turn out to be the success they had hoped for. Otherwise I really enjoyed your review, even if I don't agree with you on every point you make.

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