May 18, 2009

Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

BOOK #: 38
CHALLENGES: Book Buddy Blogger Challenge, In Their Shoes Challenge
RATING: 4 Stars

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the true story of author Barbara Kingsolver and her family's decision to eat only locally grown food for a year. The book is basically a diary of they went from city-dwellers who buy packaged foods and whatever is in the grocery store to farmers who go to the farmer's market in the freezing cold to buy whatever their neighbors are selling and raising their own chickens. Yeah, chickens.
I applaud this family's commitment to this lifestyle change, particularly the two daughters. I never would have gone for this when I was a teenager or younger. But I also like how involved in the process the daughters were. They helped choose which seeds to buy from a catalog to begin growing their own food and the youngest, Lily, even raised her own chicks. Pretty impressive.
I also liked the way Kingsolver weaved important issues into the fabric of her family's story. She touches on environmental issues, endangered foods, and the economic struggles of farmers in Appalachia, where Kingsolver grew up and where they now live. Kingsolver wrote one of my favorite books, The Poisonwood Bible, and this is the only other book I have read by her thus far. I was curious as to whether her interesting writing style and beautiful word choices would be present in this nonfiction, but I was not disappointed. She speaks of "the case of the murdered flavor" in reference to the standard vegetable varities sold in most stores. She shares how they worked in mud "so thick it made our boots as heavy as elephant feet." She also said this about picking cherries:
"Standing on ladders and the roof of the truck, we picked all afternoon into dusk, till we were finding the fruits with our fingers instead of our
eyes. The next day our hands were still stained as red as Lady Macbeth's."
Couldn't you just picture that beautifully in your head? I learned a lot reading this book. I learned the true seasons of each vegetable. I gathered new recipes on everything from asparagus to spinach. She explains why tabacco farming is such a huge deal in Appalachia (I never understood it until I read this book) and she explains how "certified organic" does not necessarily mean "sustainably grown, worker-friendly, fuel-efficient, cruelty-free, or any other virtue a consumer might wish for. Free-range can include a door to a yard that's not open for most of its life." She explains how knowing the people who grow your food is like basically a spiritual connection. You are helping each other survive.
"Farming is not for everybody; increasingly, it's hardly for
anybody. Over the last decade our country has lost an average of 300 farms a week. Whatever farms are still living, it's due to some combination of luck, courage, and adaptability."

It's not just farms we are losing either. Kingsolver talks about the thousands of varities of potatoes and peppers and more that have been eliminated altogether because of the lack of global demand.
Kingsolver's husband and daughter both get in on the authoring with their own short blurbs spaced throughout the book. Steven's are more informational, including such topics as Is Bigger Really Better? and Looking for Mr. Goodvegetable. Camille's are more for entertainment and curiousity value. Growing Up in the Kitchen and Eating My Sister's Chickens were 2 favorites of mine.
Overall, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a testament to the importance of making a more sustainable living and of the ability of an ordinary family to make these changes. I leave you with one last quote from the book that sums up a lot of what the purpose of the book is:
"Eating has become the boring act of poking the thing in our mouths, with no feeling for any other stage in the process. It's a pretty obvious
consequence that one should care little about the product. When I ponder the question of why Americans eat so much bad food on purpose, this is my best guess: alimentary alienation. We can't feel how or why it hurts. We're dying for an antidote."
To learn more recipes that the Kingsolver family used during the course of this book, visit

Other Reviews of This Book:


  1. This author's writing style sounds incredibly descriptive. My family and I recently planted our own garden (the first) this year. This book sounds like a very interesting read. Thanks for the review!

  2. I've read The Bean Trees and Small Wonders by Kingsolver and loved them. I'm joining to add this to my list.Great review.

  3. I loved this book and ordered the cheesemaking kit after I read it. I've made mozzarella cheese several times and it sure beats the store bought stuff.

  4. Nice review of this book. I didn't make as radical a change as Kingsolver did (I recall thinking that her radical change was most likely contrived to make fodder for a book), but it did inspire me to eat more local in-season fruits and veggies and be more aware of where my other food is made.

  5. I picked this up at the library today for the second time. I never got to it the first time around, maybe this time I will.


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