Friday, July 6, 2007

Book review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

Where does your food come from? How many thousands of miles has that pink, grainy tomato traveled to reach your grocery store? A ridiculous amount of America’s food supply is trucked, shipped and flown thousands of miles from its point of origin to the point of sale. This means consumers can have iceberg lettuce and red grapes when their own cities are buried in snow, but it also means that more than 300 gallons of oil per citizen per year is consumed to get us these out-of-season edibles. When novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to move from Tucson back to a family farm in western Virginia, they also decided to cut their culinary petroleum consumption by building their diet around the food available to them locally, favoring the organic, free-range and sustainably produced. This book is an account of the first full year of their effort.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle takes the family from spring to spring as they base their diet on local sources. The farm garden and cherry orchard provide a large share of their vegetable and fruit consumption. In the poultry barns they raise chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat. Farmer’s markets, neighbors and local grocers provide meat and produce from within a 120-mile range. And they allow themselves a few items they simply can’t find within their local limit, such as organically grown whole-wheat flour and fair-trade coffee and spices. They aim not for perfection but for a significant change in their eating habits and their attitudes toward food.

The book is engaging, touching, inspiring, and frequently very funny. Kingsolver recounts long hours spent weeding in the garden, canning tomatoes, and finding ways to deal with the overwhelming zucchini harvest. She is reverent and unapologetic as she describes the September day they kill and dress the turkeys and chickens destined to be food in the coming months. She explores her own attempts to be a more knowledgeable and responsible eater, whether that means shunning meat from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), making her own cheese, or learning firsthand about turkey mating and reproduction habits. Steven Hopp contributes informational sidebars about genetically modified crops, community-supported agriculture, fair trade and food aid, and Camille Kingsolver offers reflections on growing up in a vegetable-focused household, along with recipes for taking full advantage of local, seasonal bounty.

The book packs in a lot of information and points the reader to resources for further education. Many informed foodies will already be familiar with some of the info (I already knew feedlots were bad and that egg from free-range chickens are much lower in cholesterol than those laid by battery hens), but there’s still plenty to learn. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is well worth reading, and will likely inspire you to hit the farmer’s market or the local garden center after you’ve turned the last page. I don't think I'm going to be investing in laying hens any time soon, but I am thinking of trying the recipe for homemade mozzarella.

Buy it here


sally said...

You should have seen the look on my mother's face when I told her she could probably have 2-3 chickens. She's apparently always wanted to raise chickens and had just assumed that she couldn't within city limits. But in many western cities, you can have a few hens.

She's going to go read up on the zoning laws now to see.

Amy Stephenson said...

The sections about the chickens are really wonderful (though vegetarians may be less enthusiastic about the chapter on "harvest day").

helenme2k said...

My son gave me seeds for Mother's Day. I'm not a gardener. I enjoy gardens, I support my local farmer's market, but frankly gardens are full of weeds and bugs and varmints and they take work.

Still, what's a mother to do when her 5 year old is excited about his gift to her. So we blithely planted the seeds and now I find myself growing carrots, cucumbers, and pumpkins. I threw in a couple of tomato and basil plants and, quite unexpectedly, it's all doing well.

I also have a cherry tree that's bursting with fruit and blueberry bushes that are full as well.

And, after all is said and done I have to admit that there is something very rewarding about eating food that you've grown and tended yourself.

However, if Max comes home with a baby chicken, well a Mom's gotta draw the line somewhere and I'm afraid a freak chicken accident will have to be arranged.

Amy Stephenson said...

Cherries and blueberries! I'm jealous! Start filling your freezer now. :-)

sally said...

Oh. My. God. Helen, how is it possible that Max is 5? Wasn't he born just last year? Is time really going by that fast?

helenme2k said...

I know, I can't believe Max is 5 already, because I'm pretty sure I just graduated from college, like last year. Or maybe not...

I so totally understand the quote "youth is wasted on the young" now.

:: Suzanne :: said...

Enjoyed your post. I'd like to invite you to link it to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle blogpost roundup.