Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver (2007)

Last year I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, a thoughtful and surprisingly entertaining examination of where our food comes from and how it gets from the farm to America’s table. If recent high gas prices haven’t been painful enough at the pump, the rising cost of food (due to the rising cost of fuel used to produce and ship our groceries) is sparking greater debate about what we eat and the distance it travels to get here.

Pollan’s book was a wake-up call but identifying the issues at hand is only half the equation. Learning ways to address them on an individual level is the next logical step and that’s where Kingsolver’s book comes in. The author uses her own family’s experimental year of eating local—living off what they produced on their own farm or purchased from local growers in their North Carolina area—to illustrate how it really is possible to eat healthy, delicious and affordable food throughout the year, that hasn’t been shipped from around the globe.

The locavore movement is a return to eating whole foods, preferably organics, grown in a nearby region (say, within a few hundred miles give or take depending on where you live) and, most importantly, eating what’s in season. Taken to the extreme, this requires more effort than a weekly trip to the grocery store but the benefits are many, including preserving summer-fresh foods to eat in the dead of winter and a family togetherness centered on the preparation and dining off their bounty, and as Kingsolver demonstrates, it’s not as difficult as you think.

Granted, not everyone has the ability (or the inclination) to work their own land but chances are your community supports a farmers market and at the very least, you don’t have to buy apples from New Zealand in the middle of winter. Things taste better when they come from “your own backyard” (which in my case extends to Wisconsin and Michigan) and in the end, it’s better for the planet as a whole.

Kingsolver’s book spans a year on their farm, detailing the activities, challenges and harvest month by month, which in itself is an interesting tale. Woven throughout are insights, tips, recipes, and advice on how even the most urban of dwellers can incorporate a more homegrown perspective into their diet.

As someone who is already part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), purchasing a box of organic produce from a local organization of farmers each week, I found inspiration in Animal, Vegetable and Miracle to get me to the next step of eating better—making a concerted effort to eat (or preserve) foods in season and from within my region. No, I won’t be plowing up my backyard to plant a mini-farm and I’m not going to give up wine from France, but I figure there’s no better time than now to finally try my hand at freezing veggies, drying herbs, canning tomatoes in August, and storing up winter squash in fall. Who knows, I may get crazy and give cheese making a try.

3 thoughts on “Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

  1. Knowing you since yolu were a college “kid”, I’m so proud of the way you have changed your eating choices.
    I left behind my canning kettle when I came here. Karen has it–and some experience. Easy effort to can tomatoes in any form.

  2. I want to read this. I’ve read Michael Pollan’s book, and we have his “In Defense of Food,” which I have been meaning to read.
    We are part of a CSA this year, and I’m seriously thinking about planting a few vegetables next spring.
    Thanks for the extra push to read Barbara Kingsolver’s book!

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