Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
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Cannonball Read V: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

By sonk | Book Reviews | May 28, 2013 | Comments ()


Why I Read It: I've recently been really into reading books about food: different movements and dietary lifestyles, how the choices we make about what we eat impacts our bodies and the world around us, nutrition facts, etc. As I form my own views on what qualifies as "good" eating--or at least, the right way of eating for me, as I don't believe that there's a one-size-fits-all, universally applicable diet--I find it helpful to draw knowledge from others who have spent a lot of time considering the same things that are on my mind these days.

My Rating: 5 stars

Summary: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of one family's decision to eat (almost) entirely locally-grown foods for a year after moving to the Appalachians from Arizona. While they make a few exceptions for things like olive oil and coffee, almost all of the food they consume from their own county. Not only that, much of it is grown in their very own backyard. Kingsolver both explores her personal experience with self-sustainable eating habits (killing chickens, growing mountains of zucchini, making homemade cheese) and profiles people that she's sought out and created relationships with who are doing cool and unique things in the world of locally-based food (an Amish family simply following centuries-old tradition, for example). Kingsolver's husband and daughter also contribute, in the form of more fact-based sidebars (often highlighting a specific issue, law, or scientific concept that needs more explanation-factory farming, GMOs, etc.) and small sections on seasonal, local recipes and local eating from a younger generation's perspective.

My Review: Over all, I adored this book. Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors to begin with, mostly because of her wonderful voice and her amazing lyricism-she can describe things like no other. While I've read much of her fictional work, I'd never read her nonfiction before. She doesn't disappoint though. This book is more a series of personal essays, each of them doing exactly what a personal essay is supposed to do: draw you in, make you laugh and make you cry in the span of a few pages, intrigue you, and stun you with perfectly-written images. I assume that most people who pick up this book already have at least a passing interest in responsible eating, but I think Kingsolver's prose could convince even those that don't care about it at all. She presents the issue logically and with humor: clearly, eating locally is best for our bodies, our communities, and our planet.

I also think she does a good job of recognizing her privilege. The family is obviously well-off, and so their ability to own acres of farmable land and to buy livestock and tractors and other agricultural necessities are not realistic for the average American. She does mention how lucky she is, and is careful to include tips for those of us who don't have the space/resources to grow all of our own food. She also makes it clear that her project is just that: a limited-time experiment to see if it can be done. At the end, she is open about the fact that living like that is not realistic for the world we live in, and that's okay. Her message is about conscious and responsible eating, not self-deprivation and sanctimony. She never comes across as preachy, which is an easy line to cross.

In terms of the sidebars, written by her daughter and husband, I had mixed feelings. I loved her husband's short sections, because they really fleshed out Kingsolver's ideas and presented some concrete evidence to ground the narrative. He did a great job of synthesizing some pretty complex concepts and making them clear and easy to read. The daughter's pieces, though, drove me crazy. I thought she was kind of full of herself and came across as judgmental of those who don't eat the way she does, plus she just wasn't a very good writer. Her recipes were good, though, so just skip the lead-up and focus on those.

Should You Read It? Absolutely. If you have even a passing interest in the local foods movement, this is a must-read.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of sonk's reviews, check out her blog Sonya's Cannonball Read V.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Cazadora

    This book inspired me to take up vegetable gardening and to make a stab at trying to eat locally. But it is a JOB to do this and I'm just trying to feed myself, not a family of four.

  • Sonk

    I can't even imagine growing food on the scale that Kingsolver does--it was a bit discouraging (despite also being a really inspirational/informative book overall) because I know I'll never have the time/resources/space to grow the way she does. I'm a renter right now so a garden is sort of out of the question, but my boyfriend and I set up an indoor grow light and have been growing our own lettuce and fresh herbs all winter, which has been awesome.

  • Cazadora

    I'm amazed at how much herbs elevate the simpliest dishes. I've even used them on a Lean Cuisine!

  • Eva

    I love the concept of this book, but I found it to be a little unnecessarily preachy and geared toward people who are newcomers to the local food movement. But I feel like people who would be interested in reading a book like this in the first place probably have already read a bit about the environmental reasons that importing industrialized food is incredibly destructive. I was so interested in her day to day experience raising all her own food with her family, but all the article type parts which details things like the huge carbon footprint of transporting food long distances and how stupid it is that large numbers of people live in the desert which requires importing massive quantities of water to turn the landscape into something it isn't, etc, etc, was all stuff that I had already read before, and practically word for word. I didn't need to be convinced that what she was doing was the right thing for the planet, I am already a passionate convert to the local, homegrown food cause. And I also found the tone to be very preachy at times. So I ended up skipping huge chunks of the book because of that.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    She might have felt that because she writes popular fiction, her audience might be more her regular readers than subject matter readers.

  • Sonk

    I agree that those article sections were probably unnecessary for anyone who is already familiar with the local food movement (which I was, and which many of the people reading this book probably are) but I do think that they were well-written and succinctly sum up the issues/relevant information in a clear and engaging way. They'd be useful for someone who didn't know much about those topics, so while I didn't think they were breaking any new ground, I didn't mind them.

    I think Kingsolver toed the line with preachiness but generally was pretty good of recognizing how lucky her family is. I do think she could have talked a bit more about how this kind of lifestyle is difficult (if not impossible) for lower-income families, or people based in urban areas/food deserts, because she kind of glossed over that issue and that bothered me a bit. I thought her daughter's sections were incredibly preachy, though, and I hated those parts--she was snobby and pretentious and really annoyed me.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Well, hellooooo future gift for my sister-in-law. Thank you for this review!

  • Sonk

    Glad you enjoyed it! This a really good read--I hope she likes it!

  • LurkeyTurkey

    I also really loved this book, and was particularly impressed with the down-to-earthedness of Kingsolver and her family. Thanks for the great write up.

  • Sonk

    Me too--they made this kind of lifestyle seem really doable (although maybe not on the same scale as theirs) and they were so refreshingly relatable. I love how game Kingsolver was for just about anything! And I'm glad you liked the review :)

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