Wednesday, May 20, 2009

book review: animal, vegetable, miracle by barbara kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
(AVM) is Barbara Kingsolver's non-fiction memoir which follows her family's decision to eat only locally produced food for an entire year. They commit to eating only the food they grow and raise themselves, or food produced from within the county they live. The novel is largely Kingsolver's story as she breaks the chapters into a month by month journey of food life. However, her husband and daughter supplement the book with recipes and essays which compliment Kingsolver's narrative. The novel is a comprehensive look at what goes into living a life of local food with in-depth observations on small-scale farming, cheese making, home gardens, raising animals for food, foraging, eating locally while traveling, and much much more.

I read AVM in February, the perfect time of the year to dive into this novel. As Kingsolver notes, February is "the hungry month" where there is little if any local food available. However, by the end of February and into March it's time to start planning for the next growing season by starting seedlings and ordering garden equipment. When I read AVM I knew I'd be gardening again, but it was the success and joys presented by Kingsolver which really inspired me to become better prepared for this year's growing season. She inspired me to consider the plants I chose for this year not just for their immediate rewards, but for those that will preserve well as a source of local food through the winter. The novel presents how it is possible to eat locally through the entire year, but makes it clear that it is important to prepare for the winter all through harvest-time. As a result, Tom and I will be investing in a food saver for freezing and canning equipment for preserving. Before reading this novel I did not feel fully committed to the local food diet, but Kingsolver has won me over. I highly recommend the novel for anyone interested in local eating, especially those trying to raise a family in this grossly industrial food society.

One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Kingsolver and her husband travel to Italy. Their travels across the Italian countryside were inspiring and show that eating responsibly and respectfully is absolutely possible when on vacation. I've never considered myself a huge fan of Italian food, but after reading this novel I feel inspired to travel there and learn what real Italian food culture is all about. Somehow I don't think we've quite got it down here in Illinois.

I was surprised to read Kingsolver's arguments against vegetarianism. Although I was not entirely convinced, I found her novel to include the most compelling argument against vegetarianism I have ever read. However, I must emphasize that her arguments against not eating meat do not translate to an argument for eating meat in the way the majority of meat eating happens in this country. Rather, it is an argument for respecting and understanding the process and animals which go into the production of meat for food. More importantly, she argues for bringing the production of meat into the hands of the people eating the food. Knowing where the animal was bred, raised, and how it was fed are just as important as respecting the life taken. The chapter provides a new perspective on meat eating and I would urge all vegetarians to read the book before passing judgment on my poor efforts at restating her beliefs. That being said, I could personally never pluck a chicken or slaughter a lamb and have no intention of changing my mind when it comes to the decision whether or not to eat a dead animal.

A,V,M is an inspiring story, beautifully written and wonderfully educational. Ideally, everyone would read this novel, but I recommend it most highly to all those interested in local eating, home gardening, and the slow food movement.

To learn more about the book and Kingsolver's family visit:

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