[ Prime ] Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life Author Barbara Kingsolver – Andy-palmer.co.uk
Author Barbara Kingsolver And Her Family Abandoned The Industrial Food Pipeline To Live A Rural Life Vowing That, For One Year, They D Only Buy Food Raised In Their Own Neighborhood, Grow It Themselves, Or Learn To Live Without It Part Memoir, Part Journalistic Investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Is An Enthralling Narrative That Will Open Your Eyes In A Hundred New Ways To An Old Truth You Are What You Eat. Dear Barbara Kingsolver,I m very sorry, but I m abandoning my attempt to read your book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which chronicles the year your family spent living on your farm in Virginia attempting to eat only local, sustainable food.I adore your novels And I loved Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore s Dilemma They even made me stop eating fast food, buy organic when I can, and give up most meat.I wanted to love your book I settled in as you scolded me for eating produce that is flown from halfway around the world You re right I know It makes no sense And then you said if I could only taste fresh vegetables, straight from the vine, I couldn t stand my bland Stop Shop tomato It s true It doesn t taste that good Tell me It s all very interesting Then four chapters later, you were still scolding me.Barbara, I would love to harvest wild asparagus in the early mornings, but I do not have a family farm or a book contract to retreat to All the CSAs near me are sold out for years I know I m a moral failure because the bananas I have for breakfast come from South America I will patronize my local vegetable stand because of reading your four chapters Can you stop yelling at me now Please oh please, write another novel,Sarah Barbara Kingsolver has long been one of my favorite writers, but this most recent book was a bit of a mixed bag for me The book covers the year she and her family spent eating only food they had either grown themselves or purchased from local farmers personally known to them Kingsolver s skill as a storyteller is undiminished, and there are some wonderful sections as she relates their adventures plotting how to foist some of their bumper zucchini harvest off on unsuspecting neighbors and how they helped their new turkey crop re learn the lost art of natural copulation The book also succeeded in teaching me quite a bit I didn t know about food and gardening As someone who was raised on heavily processed foods, I was fascinated to learn the biological secrets of root vegetables, how a mild mannered novelist harvests chickens at home, and how much better food can taste when it hasn t been subject to the rigors of corporate food production Her chapter on asparagus helped me understand why the tough, road hardened variety found in most conventional stores is only a pale shadow of an organically grown stalk picked just hours earlier her description of the succulent magic of ls made me want to take up mushroom hunting In these celebrations of the pleasures of fresh, locally grown, in season produce, Kingsolver was very effective in inspiring me to think about how to plan my menus around what is seasonally available I ll be adding her sweet potato quesadilla recipe to my menu this week, and I m looking forward to trying out her dried tomato pesto On the down side, Ms Kingsolver s charming storytelling is laced with a rather heavy dose of preaching I have no doubt that the food monoculture promoted by corporate America has had devastating effects on our health, taste buds, and environment, and the loss of crop diversity these practices have created has made us very vulnerable as a population These are important issues that need to be talked about But part of the reason I ve admired Ms Kingsolver s past writing is because she has always woven her political views so seamlessly into her stories that, in reading her books, I always learned new things without feeling like I had been force fed someone else s opinions That was not the case with this book The first quarter is particularly thick with commentary on the evils of our current food system More than once, I found myself slogging through sections that left me feeling guilty about the food currently in my kitchen than inspired to adopt her suggestions This tone made the read much less effective for me than it would have been had she focused primarily on the very real value her family gained from choosing to forgo convenience in favor of such fantastically delicious food. Wellnormally I am a Kingsolver fan I like the way she writes simple and straight forward Her stories, both long an short are well done But this book just really pissed me off It s a non fiction account of her back to the land movement with her family The book starts off well and good She describes their reasoning for leaving Tuscon and moving to a farm they inherited She talks about the trials and tribulations of trying to live off of what they can either produce themselves through farming or buy locally Each family member is only allowed one luxury item This consists of foodstuffs that can t be produced at home or bought locally It s a bit over the top if you ask me but I suppose an interesting addition to their overall movement Kingsolver makes a lot of good points about eating what s in season and offers some handy recipes However, about mid way through the book, her passion and reflections take an unfortunate turn to absolute preachiness She writes as if our understanding of the food chain stops at our understanding of how to open a bag of Doritos She proceeds to slam vegetarians apparently we do not get the concept of family farming because if we did we would eat locally raised animals She also looks down her nose at those who shop at supermarkets for food apparently people who think we are doing good by purchasing organic items are really not Ditto for those who use recycled paper towels I guess her family makes their own She gets on a high horse about, of all things, canning She maintains that us city folk could feed ourselves off the land year round if we would only can the fruits and vegetables we buy at the farmer s market in the summer and store them in our pantry Perhaps if Barbara went to a real NYC apartment, and not just those of her publisher and editor, she would realize that most of us, if we are lucky, have a broom closet and 2 cabinets If only I would be selfless enough to keep my clothes on my fire escape I guess what made me the maddest about this reading experience is that I really like Kingsolver as an author and was looking forward to her take on living off the land I also liked the premise of this particular book It reminded me of a book my father in law wrote years and years ago, only this one is a hell of a lot less funny We all have a responsibility to conserve and be aware of our impact But her assumption that we re all bumbling idiots just threw me over the edge Too bad I hope her next piece is fiction. This books is not AT ALL in my normal wheelhouse, and I m still scratching my head as to why I suddenly felt impelled to order it on and read it It s non fiction, which, nothing against non fiction, but again, not a genre I normally go out and buy I might read non fiction if it s a gift, or library book freebie, or it s our book club monthly read, but otherwise, not very likely.Also it s a whole book about the author s family s year long culinary adventure of eating exclusively natural and organic foods, and , eating ONLY locally grown or raised foods, eschewing the imported, the canned and preserved unless done by the family itself or some local business , anything shipped long distance all those fossil fuels Which, yay for that, but do I really want to read a whole book about that But someone I think in the aforementioned book club thought this book was fantastic and highly recommended it, and I really loved Barbara Kingsolver s novels The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees, so in a moment of madness I clicked over to and bought this book a used copy I m not that mad.So here was my takeaway I applaud this family s determination to stick exclusively with local organic foodstuffs only for a year They did allow themselves a few exceptions as well, like coffee, dried fruit, grains, etc., on the condition we d learn how to purchase it through a channel most beneficial to the grower and the land where it grows Even though I m not remotely tempted to try it myself, it did encourage me to be aware of what s healthy and what s not, and to try to eat fresh fruit and veggies even if they re imported from distant lands like California or Florida My favorite parts were some of Kingsolver s charming stories of their culinary adventures, especially those involving goats and chicks and turkeys Also turkey sex or lack thereof hah There are some interesting organic recipes interspersed throughout the book, though I found them somewhat daunting and or dubious from the standpoint of would my family really eat this or would there be an uprising against Mom Maybe I ll try some of them sometime.There s also a lot of scary discussion of GM foods, lack of genetic diversity, hybridization, and other worrisome trends and potential ecological disasters For some readers this will be fascinating stuff I lost interest in the book about halfway through I did get a chuckle out of the defensive tone of the part where Kingsolver was explaining why their family isn t vegetarian Eating meat is okay as long as it s organic and doesn t come from stockyards or other inhumane conditions Here again I have to applaud her family s commitment they slaughter and prepare their own chickens and turkeys for the dinner table.I think 350 plus pages was a bit much for this story, at least for my interest level in it There s a preachy, didactic tone to the writing that infuses too much of the book and got really tiresome after a while Still, it has a worthwhile message, and we could all benefit from doing a little better in this department And now I think I need to go find a local food stand and buy some fresh peaches and corn on the cob I can forgive the obvious shortcommings of this book for three significant reasons First, I believe wholeheartedly that by purchasing as much locally grown made food as possible we can solve our fossil fuel dependency Secondly, by the luck of the draw I can afford to purchase food from the weekly farmer s market And finally, our household is committed to making around 95% of our meals from scratch, which started as a response to our collective allergies nondairy, meat eaters but like the Kingsolver tribe, once our taste buds were reawakened by the flavor of our delicious made by scratch food, there was no turning back I agree with most of what she says and respect her reminder that I need to buy as much food as possible from local farmers, and I am going to try a few of her recipes I do, on occasion, enjoy a frozen Snickers bar.In general I endured this book and it certainly motivated me But the book has many problems.Several critics have said it was not her intention to convince everyone but I don t buy that When a well known author writes a book like this it becomes persuasive argument Hey, every book you write is an argument Besides, The Farmer s Market Choir is already convinced Rather quickly Kingsolver s tone is preachy, and well, whom is she yelling at but the uninitiated It reminds me of the old saying, there is nothing worse than listening to the recently reformed After all, she did spend a huge amount of time in Arizona and that other life eating and drinking Poor Arizona The only answer this evolved American author can come up with is to abandon you I was both an inspired and a reluctant reader I wish I had edited this book to help cut out some of the unnecessary fat One moment she has me right in the palm of her hand, the next she veers off, shoe horning that well warn and skewed stereotype about how the French, given their high calorie intake manage to stay thin, and how Europe has nude beaches where Americans could never show up with rolls of fat hanging out, and suddenly I feel cornered by the marginalized relative at my family reunion At first I am nodding with agreement when she argues that eating freshly prepared food is a matter of attitude, but then she says take a look at Mexico, and I stop nodding Having stayed on many a ranch in Mexico, I wonder why she fails to recognize the rigid gender roles The economic problems Then much later, on page 127, she admits that Full time homemaking may not be an option for those of us delivered without trust funds Required participation from a spouse and kids an element of the equation and well, it all comes much too late This book had the potential but missed the chance to change the minds of the other people the unconvinced the people she most needs I wanted her to stop meandering, stop arguing every counter argument and stick to her narrative nonfiction story and its strongest argument how a renewed connection to food transformed her family and their relationship with the community By purchasing your neighbors food, you can help with the fossil fuel problem AND keep their farm in business Small yet significant gestures such as buying butter from the same family in your area keeps them in business and it is a huge step in the right direction And since many Americans feel helpless, this book could show them how to help, and that s a big, wondeful adjustment in a culture where and people feel left out and powerless This plan will only work if people get on board, and if we find a way to help Arizona And YES, by eating this kind of food, many have lost weight and become heart healthy and all of that is good But instead of shrilling, tell by showing , girlfriend Like many narrative nonfiction books on the market today, the ones people in the publishing business call idea books Kingsolver s narrator tries too hard, steps into her self made traps There s so much I should love about this book, and I hope some other author takes up this subject again, and gives it a good try I d certainly buy it You have to read this book Not just because it conveys an important message about the sustainability and environmental impact of our foodways Not just because its Year in Provence style charm makes Appalachia sound as alluring as the French or Italian countryside no euros required But mostly because this is beautiful, tightly strung writing about food and what it means to nourish ourselves If you ve read a certain amount of writing on food you know, sweet and delicious though it may be, that it can get cloying A quick flip through Barbara s chapter on turkey butchering will cure you.In case you ve had your head in the sand or don t live in the Bay Area or somewhere like it, here s the book s basic premise Novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her professor husband pack up their two daughters and move from the New Mexican desert to a small farm in Virginia, where it rains and things grow, and after a bit of a weaning process that involves hard decisions about bananas, undertake a year of eating nothing but locally produced food It s a lot of hard work, since they re doing most of the local production themselves They make cheese and cook pumpkins and OD on asparagus They have slaughtering parties They come up with seasonal menus and recipes and share them with you.There s some sound political analysis of why and how our food chain has become a fossil fuel eating monster that disserves developing economies around the world while eroding our health here at home There s some preaching oh well There s a careful explanation of why and under what circumstances raising animals to eat them can be the best use of the planet s resources There s a chick hatching scene that will make you weep I still can t keep my beloved husband from buying huge flats of Costco fruit grown halfway around the world, and I m not giving up Italian truffles or French cheese or wine any time soon So I can t be smug But right now I have a big pot of soup simmering on the stove full of veggies from our local community supported agriculture box, and I feel like we re living just a little bit. This book gave me desires Deep dark desires forgardening And making my own cheese And doing things from scratch And doing them now.The thing is, these are all things I have aspirations to do anyway, but my way is rather slower than the way Barbara Kingsolver and her family approached trying to eat locally for a year I m trying to make small, long term changes, one at a time, hopefully in a way that I ll stick to it But it was fun to read about someone else s experiment, in mostly non preachy tones, and, you know, quite a lot about turkey birth, sex, and death Note The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook This book was one of my big disappointments so far this year, because I went in thinking I d really like it and wound up so unimpressed that I think I actually hated it The premise of the book is an interesting one, so interesting that I called my mother on the way back from the bookstore to tell her all about this new book I just picked up that I thought she d really like Barbara Kingsolver and her family have decided, for various environmental, political, and health reasons, to eat locally for a year and try and raise as much of their own produce and meat as they deemed feasible.Kingsolver is a good writer and I ve enjoyed Animal Dreams and The Bean Trees, so I assumed I would enjoy her adecdotes about her family s efforts to grow their own food supply What I ended up with was an essayist trying relentlessly to convert me over to her point of view America is bad, cooking your own food is good, be ashamed of your horrible non food cooking empty life I m exaggerating a little bit but not much Over and over again Kingsolver relates large scale problems in America crime addiction today to the fact that we no longer live close to our own food supplies She has some valid points, but the holier than thou attitude ended up annoying me so much I couldn t make myself receptive to her message, and instead devoted myself to picking apart her examples Also, it felt like there was a subtle sexism going on with regard to a woman s place in the home Her husband may have made all the bread in their household but Kingsolver and her daughters were portrayed as doing most of the labor and cooking, and as one point she talks about the deep contentment she gets out of Thanksgiving, all the women in the kitchen working and gossiping together as they cook, all the men outside pretending they can throw around a pigskin I think my favorite one, though, was when she said that women going into the workplace in the mid 20th Century was the reason why America s food culture devolved There was this sense that, wow, America had just been so much better a hundred years ago, gosh, why can t we all just get back to that.My new goal is go get everyone to read this book and find out if they hate it as much as I did. I had a hard time putting this down once I d started and once I d finished I wanted to give up NYC life and move to the country to be an organic farmer I m hardly joking.Anyone who eats and especially those who eat without thinking about where their food comes from should read this book Not only is it informative and a bit scary though she doesn t present anything terribly new or earth shattering to those of us who have read things like Fast Food Nation or Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf , but it s inspiring all at the same time Sure, she has the luxury of owning a farm in Appalachia and having the work schedule of an author i.e completely flexible , but many of the things she s doing on her farm are things that urban folks could and can do on a smaller scale through backyard gardens, compost bins or vermicomposting, potted vegetable plants, windowsill herb gardens, the purchase of a small food dehydrator and minimal canning equipment, or Community Supported Agriculture CSA.In addition to inspiring its readers to eat locally, the book provides funny anecdotes I completely fell in love with her young daughter Lily and her entrepreneurial spirit and offers concrete advice, links to resources, and recipes to try I plan to try my first one for homemade mozzarella this weekend.HIGHLY recommended to anyone that cares about their health and their planet.