Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver, 2007
Pages: 384, ISBN: 9780060852559
Reviewed by Jeff Ross, Master Gardener, Maricopa County, AZ – 2007
“Our highest shopping goal was to get our food from so close to home, we’d know the person who grew it. Often that turned out to be ourselves as we learned to produce what we needed, starting with dirt, seeds, and enough knowledge to muddle through. Or starting with baby animals, and enough sense to refrain from naming them.” — Barbara Kingsolver
Master Gardeners have a diverse set of interests and concerns some of which may be directly connected to gardening. I have always had a respect for nature and science and how they relate to the various methods involved with successful gardening, i.e. composting, vermiculture, pest management, etc.
It was because of these attractions that I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver first got my attention because she lived in Tucson and did her fair share of desert gardening. This book, however discusses her journey from the desert southwest to “a place that could feed us”; Virginia. Not only did she and her family change their geographic location, they took this opportunity to revise their lifestyle to adapt their lives to creating as small an environmental footprint as possible as a one-year experiment which could be extended.
She readily admits that what she and her family embarked upon is not practical for some and may be difficult for others. The book, however, is an attempt to encourage most of us to think about how we obtain our food and water and whether we can do so in a way that is better for our health and the health of our planet.
Barbara Kingsolver does not attempt to force this lifestyle on the reader. Throughout the book she simply says this is what I am doing and you can do it too. There is no preaching, just an explanation of her methodology and environmental philosophy. The author makes note of the trade-offs. Naturally some of the adjustments will not work in other geographic areas or meld well with certain lifestyles. The main takeaway is that most of us can probably do better and work smarter to help ourselves and our environs.
The reader follows along as Kingsolver and her family raise their plants for both immediate consumption and preserving for out-of-season use. The sections related to raising animals for family meals may prove a bit more difficult for some to appreciate. Even turkeys are cute when they are chicks, but this does not shield them being served on a dinner platter in Kingsolver’s household once they become adults.
This book does not portray the family’s adventure as a panacea and we suffer along with Kingsolver and her family as they deal with a variety of pests, blights and animal infertility. Through it all she exhibits her witty take on the entire situation as only she can do. Injecting humor into serious topics proves to be one of her fortes and makes the book immensely enjoyable even as she refers to the slaughtering of animals using the euphemism of “harvesting.”
Not only do we read the thoughts of Barbara Kingsolver herself, but also those of her husband Steven Hopp and her daughter Camille. Camille focuses on the nutrition aspects of the family’s locavore inclination and contributes recipes for us to consider. Steven offers a deeper dive into the science and business-related aspects of their new lifestyle and how it contributes to their goals.
One of the last chapters of the book discusses her ordeal with trying to raise turkeys who are generally artificially inseminated for this process, but she is determined to encourage her charges to do it the old fashioned way. We follow her trials and tribulations thorough this ordeal. It is perhaps the most poignant and satisfactory section of the book.
To make the book and subsequent message more enriching for readers, the author(s) have created a website to add to and enhance their story in hopes of helping all readers to consider some of their suggested lifestyles modifications.
NOTE – The website, http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/, is divided into several sections: The Book (a few brief excerpts), Farm Tour (seasonal happenings), Recipes (downloadable format), Harvest Table Restaurant and more.