Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Author: Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver 
Country: USA
Year: 2007
Pages: 370
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

At one point towards the end of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver claims that her year-long journey as a locavore family (eating only local foods) was not purist. They had a hard time finding a local flour mill, and continued to use a few products, such as olive oil, spices and coffee, from other parts of the world. She came pretty darn close, however. This book is a chronicle of her family's journey during that year.

Eating local foods for a year is not a project that Ms. Kingsolver jumped into ill-prepared. Her family owns some land in Virginia, and she has been gardening for many years. She had already engaged in some trial runs of raising turkeys, and was an old hand at raising chickens and growing a vast amount of vegetables. Therefore, her journey was not one of extreme difficulty. Which, I believe, is part of the point. 
"If many of us would view this style of eating as deprivation, that's only because we've grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything, always." (p.65)
Of course, it is not easy growing your own food organically. But, for someone in her position (ie urbanites may find it more difficult), it was not an impossibility. What she did not grow, she supplemented with food bought at the local farmer's market. And this is part of her point. If you commit to making an effort to buy some of your food locally, you will find that once you change some habits, it's really not so hard to do. And it tastes so much better.

She makes the case that not only does store-bought conventional fruits and vegetables destroy our environment by stripping the land of nutrients, killing off wildlife with pesticides and insecticides, and pollute the earth with the fuel that is needed to transport out of season produce to your local store, but organic, local foods just taste better. I happen to wholeheartedly agree. 

Over the past few years, I have slowly discovered the gastronomic delights of local, organic produce. It started slowly. First, it was strawberries, the sweetness of locally picked berries just can not compare to anything else. Next, it was eggs. The first time I cracked open an organic, free-range egg, I couldn't believe how yellow the yolk was. And, it tasted so good (cooked, of course!). I then quickly moved on to milk from a local dairy (in a glass bottle), and all other sorts of produce. Since reading her book, I finally took the initiative to find a local free-range meat source that does not use growth hormones, and made the commitment to only buy meat from this source.

There were quite a few parts of the book that covered topics I am already somewhat knowledgeable about, although it was a welcome refresher course. What I loved reading about was the descriptions of the food her family grew, and eventually ate. I loved her descriptions of what they chose to grow: Moon & Stars watermelon, Cajun jewel okra, Gold of Bacau pole beans, Georgian Crystal garlic, Speckled Trout Romaine....aren't the names of heirloom vegetables divine? I also learned what an heirloom vegetable was. The family stories of preparing their food together, and large gatherings over a slow meal made me jealous. My family just doesn't appreciate food that way, and a long, drawn out meal is almost impossible. Believe me, I've tried.

Coinciding with Ms. Kingsolver's narrative are blurbs by her husband and essays by her eldest daughter showing a teenage perspective. Also included are recipes for each month of the year, utilizing food that is in season. I tried out one of the recipes while reading the book, for spinach lasagna (I can get local spinach and other lettuces year-round from a farmer that grows it in a greenhouse), and it was delicious.

You can find all of her recipes at the book's website.


bethany said...

I read this several months back. I really liked it too! Great review!

j.c. montgomery said...

I had only heard of the author's other book, The Poisonwood Bible and in fact, have it on my TBR.

Thanks to your great review, I will be adding another one of her books!

beastmomma said...

I saw her speak at Duke about this book and have wanted to read it ever since then!

Katie said...

What a great review! I too frequent the local farmer's market, and have not only found it to be more fresh and good for us, but it's cheaper as well (obviously). Those are great reasons to buy locally, I just wish more people would catch on. I can't wait to read this book!

Teddy Rose said...

I was also liked this book, but not quite as much as you did.

My husband and I are vegan, we eat no animal products what so ever. An issue she didn't bring up was with animal farms, even local and all the green house gas it takes to raise all of the live stock. This includes raising chickens for eggs.


Not everything that is grown locally is totally local. A lot of times the feed, etc is thousand of miles away and shipped.

My husband and I eat mostly organic and as local as we can. We have great farmers markets here from May thru October, which really helps. I also buy flats of berries when there local and freeze some to have year round.

Nyssaneala said...

bethany - Thanks! I plan on also reading The Omnivore's Dilemma sometime this year. Have you read it?

j.c. I like all of her books, and loved Prodigal Summer.

beastmomma - Lucky! I would love to hear her speak sometime! I wonder if the lecture you were at was the one she mentions towards the end of the book?

katie - Thanks! I'm amazed at how many people are surprised when I tell them I pay less at a farmer's market for organic food (albeit, not certified, but when I can visit the farm and meet the farmers personally, I'm a bit more trusting), than for conventional produce at the grocery store. The only thing that is usually still more expensive is milk.

Nyssaneala said...

teddy rose - Actually, free-range chicken turkeys, pigs, and cows (although I personally eat very little beef), where I get it from, are pasture grazers, and need very little grain shipped from somewhere else.

I would tend to agree with her argument that eating ethical meat (non-CAFO), especially during winter months, is humane and environmentally sound. But, meat-eating is definitely overboard in this country. We only eat meat 2-3 times a week, and our family's don't understand how we do it. Every time we visit my in-laws, it's beef, beef, beef.

She does seem to get a bit defensive in one chapter about the vegetarian and vegan philosophy. I'm curious what you felt about her view that vegetarianism/veganism ignores the aniimal killing that takes place to grow soy (and other) crops, and what would we do with domesticated cows, chickens, and turkeys, if everyone suddenly became vegan?

And, her "ve-vangelical" comment was quite unnecessary.

Thank you for sharing your point of view!

Dewey said...

Ooh, recipes!

This book has been on my TBR pile for way too long.

I really think there's no danger of everyone suddenly becoming vegan. Even if everyone became vegan, it would not happen so quickly as to leave a bunch of turkeys and cows uneaten. It would more likely be gradual, and the turkeys and cows would gradually diminish as food sources. Meanwhile, if she mentions the animal killing needed to grow crops without mentioning the huge amount of crops used to feed food animals while thousands of humans starve, that's going to annoy me when I read the book. I'm not vegan, though I was a vegetarian for 10 years, but I completely agree with you that we eat way too much meat.

raych said...

Wow, this sounds really interesting! I think eating locally takes determination, but it definitely can be done, at least partially. I'd be curious what she has to say. Great review!

Charley said...

This book sounds lovely. I eat mainly from my garden in the summer, but during the other seasons I find it so easy to get lazy. I'd love to read this book and see how Kingsolver manages to stay on task. You're right, the names of heirlooms are divine. I think it's cool, also, that she includes her husband and daughter's perspective. Thanks for the review.

beastmomma said...

I finally finished reading this book. Here is the review:

The lecture she mentions at the end of the book is the one I attended at Duke.

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