Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m surprised, actually, that it has affected me this much. But it re-enters my consciousness often, such as when I’m planning my next meal or walking down the block to the farmers’ market.

The book chronicles the Kingsolver family’s efforts to eat locally and seasonally for a year, while simultaneously weaving factual information about food production into the narrative. They grew and produced as much food as possible on their Appalachian farm—in addition to fruits and vegetables they raised a flock of heritage turkeys and egg-laying hens—and bought other necessities from local farmers’ markets and purveyors to fill in the gaps.

Even writing the book was a family affair. While Barbara Kingsolver was the primary author, informational sidebars were written by her husband Steven L. Hopp. Recipe plans and additional perspective into the project were provided by eldest daughter Camille, a student at Duke University. Youngest daughter Lily wasn’t old enough to sign an author’s contract, but she is a lively presence throughout the book, even starting her own egg business.

The informational anecdotes about subjects such as commercial meat processing, high fructose corn syrup, and the importance of CSAs didn’t interest me much. To be honest, I found them a little repetitive, similar to what I’d already read in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should note, though, that for those unfamiliar with these issues, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle would be a suitable introduction.

What resonated with me more were the personal stories about the Kingsolvers’ efforts to live off their farm. The work is hard, but the author’s description of her family’s dedication is inspiring. They learned how to do everything, from making their own mozzarella and caring for their hens to butchering their own turkeys and freezing vegetables for the winter.

Now when I sort through my CSA produce, I find myself wondering how the Kingsolvers would prepare beet greens or what they would think of purple basil. I remember Camille’s seasonal meal plans and recipes, where she let nothing go to waste. While preparing my homemade tomato sauce last week I thought back to the chapter on tomato season, and envisioned the Kingsolver kitchen filled with jars of canned tomatoes.

I don’t have a farm or garden to call my own, but the Kingsolvers’ story has encouraged me to think in new ways. Obviously I’ve been interested in cooking, food, and food issues for some time, but I thank the Kingsolvers for sharing their experience and inviting me into their world. It’s a wonderful one to be in, and thanks to their website, I can return often.


6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    J. Manning said,

    I absolutely love it when a book continues to “haunt” me days later – it’s a fantastic feeling. I think you’ve compelled me to add this to my reading list. Thanks for the engaging synopsis.

  2. 2

    Christina said,

    Hi “J”! I’m glad you enjoyed the review, and I hope you like the book! I agree, it’s the best feeling when a book continues to have an impact, even weeks or months after finishing it. Books that do this are few and far between. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. 3

    Chou said,

    Thanks for the link to the CSA, we’re new in the neighborhood and I’m excited to get in on next year’s bounty. 🙂

  4. 4

    Christina said,

    Hi Chou! I love the Carroll Gardens CSA! It’s definitely worth it. Welcome to the neighborhood!

  5. 5

    maggie said,

    I really enjoyed this book too. Though it frustrated me a little since I’m in Manhattan with NO storage space—a lot of what they did (ie lots of freezing) is not really an option for me in my pint-sized kitchen…

  6. 6

    Christina said,

    Hi Maggie! I know what you mean about freezer space! After I read the book I was inspired to freeze all sorts of sauces and pestos for winter. I was able to fit a few containers into my tiny freezer, but nothing like the amount of food the Kingsolvers stored away! That’s Manhattan and Brooklyn for you! Thanks for your comment!

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