In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver showcases both her ability to bring words to life and her passion for the food movement. This book documents Kingsolver’s family’s journey as they leave Arizona and settle on their farm in southern Appalachia, resolved to a full year of eating food they either grow or source locally (with a few exceptions – don’t worry, coffee is allowed).
Why (on earth), you ask, would someone do this? Kingsolver’s reasons are multi-faceted, but they stem from a desire to connect with food and the community that produces it and a myriad of environmental concerns associated with industrial and global food systems. Throughout Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she addresses these issues, artfully weaving them into her personal story. At times, the information she presents can feel overwhelming, but she keeps the overall tone light to make these vital topics approachable. Yes, she has her (strong) opinions. Yet, she is not necessarily trying to convince you to join her, but rather to think about the impacts of your actions.
Kingsolver’s beautiful writing style and artistic, mouth-watering depiction of food (“the song of a stir-fry sizzle”, “the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven”) are reason enough to pick up this book, but what really makes this book unique are Kingsolver’s compelling insights into our food system. Also, chapters are often punctuated by brief commentaries (and family recipes!) from her oldest daughter, Camille, whose writing provides a young adult’s perspective and adds a special, familial warmth to the book. At the time Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her youngest daughter, Lily, was too young to contribute written pieces, but Kingsolver’s recounts of Lily’s adventures as the farm’s chicken and egg producer add further depth to the novel.
I took so much away from this book – too much to write here. I’ll just mention two points Kingsolver addressed, and then leave it up to you to check out the book, or at least the website, and to come to your own conclusions. One, death is an inevitable part of eating, whether you eat meat or not. The inherent nature of agriculture means insects are mixed in with that plant (or whatever) you’re eating, land that could have other animals living on it is used for food, and harvesting produce kills it. Two, why do we consider bananas on the shopping list such a normal thing? Living in the US, our bananas – and many other food items – are shipped from thousands of miles away. That banana may not mean a cow died, but it does come with a fossil fuel shipping price, which leads to climate change, and climate change means human, animal, and plant hardship…and perhaps death. These examples may sound far-fetched, and they are by no means the only things this book addresses. However, they are issues that do come up, and that I believe are worth consideration. People critique local food movements as quixotic and elitist….but could that same statement not be (more accurately) applied to those living in a frozen tundra who want to have raspberries for dessert?
In Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we enjoy a rich preview into what aspects of the life of locavore might look like: planning and maintaining a garden, harvesting crops, what cooking with fresh, local ingredients feels like, and even how to prepare for a winter still full of flavors preserved from the garden. But – perhaps more importantly – we are left with even richer food for thought. As Kingsolver opines, “We will change our ways significantly as a nation not when some laws tell us we have to (remember Prohibition?), but when we want to.”