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.