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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

If there is a required reading list for backyard farmers, or garderners, or just eaters - this book is sitting right at the top. Barbara Kingsolver, award winning author of books such as "The Poisonwood Bible", decided with her family to spend one year living off of food they could raise or grow themselves, or food that was raised or grown by someone within 100 miles. And preferably by someone they knew by name. As she puts it:
"As the U.S. population made an unprecedented mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us paddled against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. We were about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain...

"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

The book starts by explaining why they wanted to do it and the things they did in preparation for it - including all of the anxiety and fear they had about starving or eating old potatoes for a year. They officially start with their new lifestyle in Spring and end it exactly one year later. The question running through their family's minds - as well as mine - was, "Sure you can eat well in the Spring, Summer, and Fall but what about Winter?" I won't ruin the suspense but I can say that through visiting farmers markets every Saturday, working in their 3600 sq. foot garden, raising chickens and turkeys, and canning galore they are able to reap a bountiful harvest of not only food but wisdom and understanding.

In the first few pages of the book appears this image titled the Vegetannual and honestly, it totally puzzled me. I had no idea what is was or what it meant but now I see it as a really cool guide to eating locally and in season. She explains throughout the book the idea that vegetable and fruits are plants and that as plants they all follow a basic progression. Knowing when a fruit/veggie is in season simply requires knowing what part of the plant it is. Is it a root, a seed, a flower, a fruit or a leaf? Because all plants follow basic timelines throughout the year knowing what part of the plant it is makes it easier to figure out when that food is available. I won't go into it too much but that is what inspired this chart - imagining that all plant foods came from one mother plant - and when they would be available - notice the dates to the left. I love it!

Most of my enjoyment in this book came from descriptions of gathering eggs, digging in the dirt, cooking, canning and enjoying the seasons. I love this topic and I think they whole idea of getting back to the land and to the old ways is having a comeback - thus we have this blog - and I love her thoughts on this:
"Many of us who aren't farmers or gardeners still have some element of farm nostalgia in our family past, real or imagined: a secret longing for some connection to a life where a rooster crows in the yard." 179

Her husband as well as her oldest daughter also write short essays that are scattered throughout the book on their experiences. Overall, after reading this book a couple months ago I am a changed woman. Some parts really resonated with me and are now drifting through my mind and affecting my everyday decisions, especially the quote from Wendell Berry in the first chapter:
I didn't know it but as she further explains in that chapter:
"each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles...if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week(any meal) composed of locally & organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil EVERY WEEK. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast." 5

Though this issue is a little political the book is not bogged down by or led by this trend - the beauty of this book is that it is a very intimate look into how this change affected her thoughts, her family, and ultimately her life. And in the end - how it affects my life. What an inspiring, informative, and and often humorous look at how living more simply or traditionally can rid our lives of so many of the problems we face. I highly recommend it for all of us who eat!


*All of the images in this post come from www.animalvegetablemiracle.org


Anonymous said...

I loved this book and Megan's book review is excellent. It is a must read for every gardner, backyard farmer, and anyone else who eats.


Brandi said...

I just started the book and I am fascinated! Thank you for the review.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for recommending this book. I enjoyed it immensely. I'd never before considered the petroleum impact to foods I regularly eat. In my efforts to feed my family healthily (and live up to the 5-a-day mantra), I thought I was doing well to buy bananas from Ecuador, grapes from Chile, and on and on. I will try to narrow that divide now.

I admit that at times I felt defeated while reading this book. I'm just one person against the humongous food industry. What measurable difference could I possibly make?

That's why I appreciated the author's analogy, toward the end of the book, about a heart-disease patient committing to exercise, for the first time is life, for three days a week. It would be ludicrous to criticize him about his lack on the other four.

The book solidified my desire to join a CSA this summer. That will be my measurable difference. And a garden of course!

I can't say that they weren't there before, but ever since reading this book it seems I daily find an article in the paper addressing the nation's food crisis.

Kalena Michele said...

My best friend gave this to me last year. Excellent book. Though the idea of growing my own chickens for food still bothers me. I agree that the concept of the vegetannual was weird, I started to understand it later. Great book!!