May 19, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: Review

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When I first decided to start reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I was curious but pretty sure it wouldn't be helpful to me. I figured if I had done a year of only eating what I grew myself, I'd surely die. Nothing grows here in February, unless you count icicles. So, it's fair to say, I had a few preconceptions.

First of all, Kingsolver didn't rely on herself alone. She bought much of what her family ate from local farmers. She also prepared her family for this experiment of eating only what they could find locally well in advance. It wasn't a spur of the moment thing. Plus, she must have had a really, really big freezer, since she froze a lot of food for the winter months. No one ran around eating bark. It might not be convenient but it is doable. In fact, it is because we've become slaves to convenience that this adventure began.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is Kingsolver's account of how her family decided to eat local produce and meat for one year. The family moved to Virginia from Arizona for ecological as well as personal reasons. Already accomplished gardeners, moving to a farm with acreage provided the perfect environment for not just growing vegetables but raising chickens and turkeys as well. They also spent a lot of time at their local farmers' market and made friends with the farmers who sold them what they couldn't grow themselves.

I found this book both intriguing and educational. Not only does Kingsolver give us the highs and lows of her year but provides some rather shocking information on modern agricultural practices. Grocery shopping yesterday was a different animal than before I read it! Not to mention, I noticed how far most vegetables had to travel to get here. We've become so accustomed to eating what we want when we want it that we give no thought to where or how our food was raised or grown. In the last few years, I've noticed recalls on things like strawberries, spinach and tomatoes. Who would think that making a salad might kill you?! She has a point about taste too; a pale grocery store February strawberry is nothing compared to a juicy red one out of the field in July especially one still warm from the sun where you've picked it. There are so many things I look forward to throughout the year: local strawberries, wild blueberries, and Honeycrisp apples. These treats can't compare to grocery store fare and they only come once a year.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle wasn't preachy. What I got from the book was that this was a choice she made for her family and the reader has to make his or her own decisions. She just encourages us to know what we eat and where it comes from. She also encourages us to support our local farmers as part of being good neighbours. If the crowd at my local farmers' market is any indication, then we are quite neighbourly here! Our famers' market has vendor's selling everything from baked goods, produce, meat and fish to fair trade coffee. People hang out and talk to one another. Instead of piped in Musak there is a live fiddler. It's a different experience than the grocery store.

Kingsolver is an award winning novelist which shows in the writing. I felt like she was telling me a story about her year not just reading non-fiction. The educational pieces were woven in seamlessly. I also enjoyed her husband Steven Hopp's essays and her daughter Camille's recipes and commentary. It all came together nicely. At times, it was touching and often funny. (The zucchini adventure had me laughing. Zucchini was the only thing my Dad grew well and it takes over everything. We had summers up to our ears in the stuff!)

For myself, I don't think my neighbours would appreciate poultry in my backyard but I do have enough room for a vegetable garden. Hopefully a few peas, carrots and tomatoes will manage to survive under my care.


This is my raised bed garden. My husband made it for me from cedar. I have thyme and parsley planted already. I just sowed in lettuce. Tomato plants are in pots in the back: Big Red, Carolina Gold and Window Box Roma.
The rest of my seeds are growing in my mini-greenhouse. Here are some peas.

Obviously, I recommend the book, though it might not be for vegetarians. A good companion for Animal Vegetable Miracle would be Marjorie Harris's Ecological Gardening: Your Path to a Healthy Garden. Read for The Eco Reading Challenge.

23 comments :

  1. I've had this one on my TBR pile at home for at least a year, and this season seems like the perfect time to pick it up, especially since hubby is growing some veggies at home now.

    What kind of mini-greenhouse do you use? We've been using a BioDome and loving it. Thanks for a great review and a reminder to pull this book off the shelves sooner rather than later.

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  2. I tried reading this almost 2 years ago now if I remember correctly. I couldn't really get into it and put it back on my shelf. Maybe I'll get it out again. Espeically since I've been eating out of my herb garden already this year.

    Thanks for the review.

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  3. I really enjoyed this one too! It made me re-think how I spend my grocery dollars too. I actually bought a cheese making kit and have made mozzarella cheese several times.

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  4. Rebecca- I'm not sure what kind of greenhouse it is. Canadian Tire sells them. It's old and I need a new one soon.

    Nik- Maybe the 2nd time you'll get into it.

    Onion- Cheese! Now that part scared me a little. Is it as easy as she says it is?

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  5. I read this over the winter and it was a big part of the motivation in creating a veggie garden this year. Want to try some of those recipes later, too, even if our garden doesn't produce.

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  6. You know, I've been curious about this book and now I think I'll read it after this review :) And I love your veggie garden!! Oh...by the way...go stop by the Dewey's Books challenge blog ;)

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  7. I have been wanting to read this and hesitating because I know I'll feel guilty next time I eat bread from Pepperidge Farm... Seriously, it's on my list. Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma covered some of the food-production horrors, and changed how I think about food forever. Even as a vegetarian, I still have to think about how I can avoid terrible food-production practices.

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  8. That was a great book. It really affected my buying habits. I now go to the local farmer's market onces a week and I also planted my own garden this year. In fact, it looks a lot like yours! And I already have a few tomatoes growing. It's really exciting to see the food I planted growing and know that pretty soon I'll be able to eat it.

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  9. What a great little garden you have! I wish you much luck growing things there. I grew up far out in the Danish country side surrounded by endless fields, gardens and all that, and moved to the capital city as soon as I was old enough to do that (and also moved around the globe and lived for a while in Washington DC and for a while in one of the largest cities in the world, Cairo), and if there is one thing that doesn't interest me at all, then it has got to be gardens ;o)

    I do like Barbara Kingsolver though, and the experiment is interesting, for sure.

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  10. It would be such an interesting experiment to eat locally for a year. We're in a colder climate so I wonder how easy it would be in winter months. Loved the pictures of your garden - reminds me we need to get our veggie plants in (we cheat and buy them as young plants).

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  11. Yay! It always makes me smile when another reader loves this book. It was my favorite read a year or two ago, and I'm itching to revisit it. Good luck with your garden! I sincerely wish I had enough room for a box or two on my patio here at the new condo. Blarrg!

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  12. This is one of my favorites. it's the book that made me wish Barbara Kingsolver was my neighbor LOL

    We've lived the "locavore",sustainable lifestyle for quite awhile, so for me, the book was just a testament to what I already practice & believe as my lifestyle choice. It always feels good to read something that emphasizes your thoughts on certain things,especially her thoughts on non-vegetarian diet.

    Good luck with your garden! :-)

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  13. I have this on my TBR pile but I haven't got around to reading it! One of these days... It sounds interesting!

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  14. This book sounds interesting, I've had it on my list of books I'd like to read for awhile, but haven't been able to find it in my local libraries. I'd love to grow my own vegetables, but I'm waiting until my boys are older so they can help me!

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  15. Texas- It's great that it inspired you to start a vegie garden.

    Chris- Thanks! I hope you try it.

    Teabird- Yes, she touched on that. It's difficult for vegetarians because of all the soy products. I must read The Omnivore's Dilemma too.

    Heather- It is exciting to see those first sprouts of green!

    Louise- It's an interesting book with good points on thinking about where our food comes from.

    Belle- I do some cheating too. I don't want to have to babysit tomato babies. They are such work. I bought the plants.

    Andi- I loved it too!

    Jupiter- It's great that you've been doing that. I'm definitely going to look for more local produce.

    Kailana- It really was!

    Michelle- Mine was a library copy so it's a shame you can't borrow it. Keep trying!

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  16. Great review...I've been wanting to pick it up but was worried it might be too preachy for me. I'm glad to hear it was well balanced! Thanks for the review!

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  17. One of these days, I have to read that book.

    I was a bit surprised at how far our Farmer's Market's vendors traveled. Closer than Chile, true, but not exactly local.

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  18. Oh, now I feel guilty. My husband asked me earlier this spring if I'd like to increase the size of my little veggie patch. He offered to dig up and build a sizable raised bed garden. I thought long and hard and said--no. The truth? Since I can't predict the weather and really, truly hate temps over about 85? If we get a hot summer, and we usually do, I'll ignore the garden. Pathetic, I know.

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  19. I just read this one, too.
    Here is my review: http://imlostinbooks.blogspot.com/2009/05/review-animal-vegetable-miracle-by.html

    I love when you say, "I didn't think the neighbors would appreciate poultry in the backyard." Probably not, lol! But I agree that I look at the produce section of the grocery store much differently than I do now. I am thinking of going back to the library and writing down which veggies came in when because I found myself thinking, now is the season for peppers?

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  20. I didn't think this book sounded interesting until reading recent reviews. It sounds like it has a lot of great information about food! Thanks for the review.

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  21. I've been longing to read this so I'm going to see if it's at the library or hit up some used book shops when I go home for a visit! It's just been bumped up on my TBR pile especially since she's one of my favorites. The seeds are looking good!

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  22. I really liked this book as well! Your garden looks great - I hope you have great success with it.

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