Friday, July 6, 2007

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver - Book Review

Animal Vegetable Miracle
by Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins May 2007

First up, I have a confession to make. I have never read any of Barbara Kingsolvers novels. So when I was offered a new Kingsolver book to read & review, I assumed it would be another novel. As soon as I realised that it was NON-fiction and a personal memoir to boot, (my favourite genre) I jumped on it.

Guess what? I LOVED it. Kingsolver is hilarious and serious, environmentally friendly and concerned, all at the same time.

This is Kingsolver's story of how the family grew their own food and lived off the land for a year. The process basically entails growing food in a garden for 6 months, spending summer and autumn madly preserving it (canned, pickled, dried, frozen etc) so you can still eat for the other 6 months of winter and spring.

In this book she writes about her family leaving Arizona and moving back to Virginia (not far from where she grew up) in order to live on the family farm. The reason they left Arizona was due to the previous three years of drought and ongoing rising cost of food.

Actually the family have been sort of vegetarian (locavore - which means eating locally grown organic food only) for quite a few years. The only reason they didnt eat meat, was because there was no free-range meat available in Arizona. So by necessity they had to be vegetarian.

In Virginia, the family was able to locate sources of free range meat (pasture raised lambs, goats and calves as opposed to feedlot meat), free-range chickens and turkeys who were not raised in cages, and thus free-range eggs as well.

Kingsolver has 2 daughters - both of whom were born and raised in Arizona. They grew up in a desert climate. Now they were moving to the Appalachians where there are 4 distinct climates - not just hot and mildly cool. Summer in Virginia was described as being like winter in Arizona.

You would think an 8 year old would rebel against this idea, right? Kingsolvers youngest daughter Lily, seems to be the adventurous type. She wanted to see real snow, experience a snow day off from school, and she even started her own business - raising chickens and selling the eggs.

The book is actually written by 3 people. Kingsolver wrote most of it. Her husband Steven wrote some sidebars on the economics and politics of food, and also the environmental and nutritional effects of large scale farming versus small scale farming. Kingsolvers daughter Camille (aged 18) left the farm part way through the year to start college. But she still includes some lovely recipes for each season and some interesting stories about eating organically from a teenagers POV.

My favourite chapter would have to be the one about the turkeys. I literally giggled all the way through it as Barbara tells of how the turkeys had to learn about the "birds and the bees" by trial and error because they had been imprinted on humans instead of other turkeys. The way Kingsolver told the story, the turkeys were so funny, I wished I could have seen them for real.

When the book ended, I had just one question. What happened next?

Did the family immediately go back to McDonalds and takeouts or have they continued their natural life style. Kingsolver gave an interview in May 2007, and answered that very question.

CURWOOD: So you eat locally for a year and you lived to tell about it and the day this project was finished did you run out for what uh maybe uh...

KINGSOLVER: Coca Cola and moon pies? No, we didn't. We forgot to notice the day the project ended. By this time it was just the way we lived. We have a new relationship with where we live. We are what we eat.

As for me, well I live in a huge city (4 million & rising). Fortunately there is a farmers market every Saturday just a few blocks from my home. We do try and buy fresh fruits and veges whenever possible.

Below are some websites related to eating locally grown and organic food.

Organic Gardening Magazine
Mother Earth Magazine
Edible Communities
Restaurants that use Organically and Locally Grown food
Barbara Kingsolvers website
The 20 minute author interview link on the home page is highly recommended.

And last but not least - the website of the book - which includes all the recipes.
Animal Vegetable miracle - A Year of Food Life


Cereal Girl said...

Just found your blog through a comment you made on Booklogged. You told her the Scarborough Town Centre is a good tourist site! Does that mean you're from Scarborough?!

Anyway, nice to see another Canadian book review blog. I'll be bookmarking you...

Historia said...

I lived in Scarborough for exactly 10 months, between the week I got married and the week before 9/11 when hubby and me moved into our apartment closer to downtown. Hubby however lived in Scarborough for 10 years.

Kate S. said...

This book sounds wonderful. I'm adding it to my wishlist!

Joy said...

I've read two of her novels and thought they were just okay, but most people (one being a good friend) really like her. That same friend couldn't wait until this book came out and when she found out it was non-fiction she was devastated. You made this sound so good; I can't wait to tell her. :)

:: Suzanne :: said...

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

hip_ragdoll said...

Joy: you can tell your friend that this book reads so well that it doesn't matter that it's not fiction. It's such a bloody brilliant memoir that truly and exceptionally puts together issues with experience in a way that makes you want to devour the book in one sitting.

Lotus Reads said...

Wonderful review! I have had this book sitting on my shelf for about a month now and I have thumbed through it but found it a tad dry, perhaps I'll just start with some of her more interesting chapters and if I'm liking it, I'll read the whole book.

Historia said...

Let me tell you something. This book is not dry!!!

Well not the parts that Barbara and Camille write anyway. They are funny, and thought provoking, and just so darned good, you'll wonder how you ever thought it might be dry.

The sidebars that Steve writes can be a bit dry, but you are perfectly free to skip them if you choose. And theres not very many of them.