Book Review - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver and her family set out on a journey to live a year eating locally, and they did just that!  Not only did they achieve this gastronomical feat, but they've told a compelling story for aspiring locavores everywhere.  Kingsolver, with her husband Steven and daughters Camille and Lily, takes the locavore lifestyle to the extreme in her newest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life.

The Kingsolver family packs up and moves from Tucson, in her words “a bountiful source of everything on the human-need checklist,” to Virginia, a plan in the making for many years.  The main reason for leaving their Arizona home is that Tucson “might as well be a space station where human sustenance is concerned.”  In her mind, human sustenance is more than a trip to the grocery store or a meal at a chain restaurant.  Sustenance for her family means being able to grow food themselves, to buy food raised by their neighbors, or to know they could do without it.

This is a beautifully written account of the year in which her family did just that - they grew most of the food that they ate, or bought their food from local farmers, either directly or at the farmer’s market.  The story is told by Kingsolver, who is a willing and determined locavore.  Her husband Steven Hopp is involved, not only in the process of growing food on their farm, but also in writing the book.  He contributes facts about local eating which are welcome bits of reality in this slightly unrealistic set up of theirs.  He gives us information on the Farm Bill  , an overview of what pesticides and herbicides are doing to the environment, and more.  Their daughters also participate in this locavore family affair, one contributing essays and recipes to the book, while the other starts a business selling eggs.

The “slightly unrealistic set up” refers to the idealistic way in which this year comes together for the Kingsolver family - a point that Kingsolver notes in her book.  Moving from a city to farm land capable of growing vegetables enough to support a family of four, is not a luxury many of us have.  They have intentionally arranged their lives so that making pasta and cheese and raising turkeys is essential to their existence.  But their point is well made and inspiring, and the rest of us can pick and choose which lessons to incorporate into our lives when we have time.

Kingsolver makes the hard work sound inviting and peaceful (minus beheading the family turkeys) and backs up her family’s local eating with information that all should know. It’s about getting back to basics, teaching kids (and adults) where their food comes from, how it grows, who grows it, and how it ends up on our plates. This very important information seems to be missing in our culture.  Kingsolver quotes a friend who said, “Wow, I never knew a potato had a plant part!”  It is this food blindness that she demystifies by sharing her year of food with us.

Kingsolver’s year of extreme eating makes the point that it can be done, and it also educates her readers as to why it should be done.  If you aren’t inspired to start reading labels and thinking about the consequences of food miles, or raising your own chickens for eggs, maybe you will be inspired to at least seek out the closest farmers' market.

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