Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve been meaning to read this one for awhile. I’m not sure why.  I have all kinds of issues with people who tell me I should do more for the environment, especially if it involves changing my eating habits.  I’ve blogged about this already and I will blog some more about it in the near future, based on the thinking I’ve done about this book.  To make a long story short here, let’s say that although I am fascinated by the concept of being a locavore (one who eats only food grown or raised in one’s immediate local area) I’m unlikely to become one anytime soon, for a variety of reasons.

However, it was Barbara Kingsolver herself (in her essay collection, Small Wonder), who introduced me to this whole idea, and as it’s since become trendy in so many quarters, I was interested to read what she had to say about her own family’s experience with this experiment.  Besides, whether she’s writing fiction or non-fiction, Barbara Kingsolver is just a very engaging and readable author, so I knew I’d have a good time no matter what I thought about her experiment.

The book was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.  It was a highly readable and often funny memoir, a well-informed rant on the state of food culture in America today, and a practical how-to guide for living as a locavore in one very fertile area of the U.S.  Much of what Kingsolver’s family did would not work for someone living in place like St. John’s, Newfoundland, and much of it wouldn’t work for me personally as I have no interest in farming or even gardening.  But I learned a lot from this book, even with the vast differences between us and the few points on which I disagree with her (I think it’s possible that having out-of-season fresh fruits and vegetables available to us may be one of the positive GOOD ways in which we use fossil fuels — kind of like flying to Italy for vacation, which Kingsolver and her husband did in the course of the book without any apparent guilt pangs).  I may not be prepared to concede that year-round bananas are a bad thing, but there are countless other ways in which we have become disconnected from the sources of our food and ways in which we are squandering environmental resources to provide food that does us more harm than good (like beef cattle from commercial feedlots).

No, I’m not prepared to become a true locavore and live and die like my ancestors did (of scurvy and malnutrition).  However, as a result of reading this book (which contains not just Kingsolver’s story but essays by her husband and daughter about their experiences, and about broader issues relating to food production and consumption — oh, and recipes!!) I am giving a lot more thought to what we eat, where it comes from, and what small changes we can make to choose foods that will be healthy both for my family AND for the planet we live on.

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3 Comments

Filed under Nonfiction -- general

3 responses to “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. Daneen

    I loved this book. I’ve loved Kingsolver’s fiction for years, and I found this book poignant as well as informative. I agree with many of the basic principles of being a locavore, even though I haven’t given up bananas (as a vegetarian, I am already doing much to help the environment, so a little splurge is in order ; ).

    I also have no talent for growing food (although I’d be open to learning more), but this book inspired me to join a local farm as a weekly produce customer. I get a box of locally grown, organic produce every week (yesterday it was melons, snap peas, carrots, peaches–first ones!–and collard greens).

    The biggest joy for me, besides the satisfaction of supporting local, sustainable farming practices, has been learning about seasonal eating. I’ve been amazed at how little I knew about when certain foods were in season and just how much better food tastes when it’s fresh. My husband can’t get enough of how tender, sweet, and delicious these carrots are, and I find myself craving the seasonal veggies–in winter I enjoyed kale, rapini, and root vegetables, and now I’m starting to get peaches, tomatoes, and light lettuces. Of course, living in the Bay Area of California helps with this idea of seasonal eating–I can understand how things might be harder in other climates!

  2. Karen Dwyer

    I loved this book too (and anything by BK really). I am from St. John’s, and I agree that it would be really really hard to live as the author suggests in this book BUT it is not impossible. And as she mentions time and again, even the small things add up. It isn’t just getting bananas to a tiny island in the North Altantic, it’s getting bananas to every tiny outpost everywhere. We can certainly pick enough blueberries to freeze over the winter!! That being said, I still have my bananas downstairs, but at least they are organic… which helps I think.

    In any case, I found the book thought-provoking and plan to put in a small “urban garden” this year. She makes a lot of really good points, trip to Italy excepted.

  3. I’m going out to buy local beef today for the first time — I’m excited about that tiny step forward!! So the book did inspire me.

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