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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Lifeby Barbara Kingsolver and Camille Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp
After 25 years in the Arizona desert, in 2004, Kentucky-bred Barbara Kingsolver moved back to the Appalachians, to a Virginia farm just hours from her childhood home. Family called. "Returning," she explains in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, "would allow my kids more than just a hit-and-run, holiday acquaintance with grandparents and cousins."
But Kingsolver adds, "There is another reason the move felt right to us, and it's the purview of this book. We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground."
The typical food in an American supermarket has traveled considerably farther than some people do in a year of vacations. Consider the impact of those miles on fuel consumption, or the effect that chemical preservatives and industrial processing have on our health, not to mention what this long haul paradigm does to local economies and to our grasp of what food really costs, what food is.
For one year, the author's family pledged to eat only what it could procure from within an hour of its home. Meats, vegetables, grains, you name it.
After eleven previous books — bestselling novels, short stories, essays, and even a volume of poetry — Animal, Vegetable, Miracle marks yet another departure for Kingsolver. Her first full-length nonfiction narrative, and it's a family project besides. Husband Steven Hopp contributes informative sidebars that supplement Kingsolver's narrative and point out sources of additional information. Daughter Camille pens a short personal essay at the end of each chapter, offering seasonal recipes and weekly meal plans. Third-grade Lily starts an egg and poultry business.
"As we come around to being more mindful of our carbon footprint, being more thoughtful about the fuel we use as consumers, food is a natural place to begin," Kingsolver explained a week before publication. "Food is the rare moral arena in which the choice that's best for the world and best for your community is also the best on your table."
"This may sound like a pretty crunchy read — either a frivolous ecofantasy or an uncomfortable scold aimed at those of us unable or unwilling to raise chickens in our backyards. But rest assured, it's neither. This is largely an informational book, short on plot, and don't expect any deep insights into the Kingsolver-Hopp family. Yet Kingsolver...adds enough texture and zest to stir wistful yearnings in all of us who have 'lost the soul of cooking from [our] routines.'" Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
Synopses & Reviews
Bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver returns with her first nonfiction narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.
"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.
"Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel...."
Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that's better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet. "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."
"[Signature] Reviewed by Nina Planck Michael Pollan is the crack investigator and graceful narrator of the ecology of local food and the toxic logic of industrial agriculture. Now he has a peer. Novelist Kingsolver recounts a year spent eating home-grown food and, if not that, local. Accomplished gardeners, the Kingsolver clan grow a large garden in southern Appalachia and spend summers 'putting food by,' as the classic kitchen title goes. They make pickles, chutney and mozzarella; they jar tomatoes, braid garlic and stuff turkey sausage. Nine-year-old Lily runs a heritage poultry business, selling eggs and meat. What they don't raise (lamb, beef, apples) comes from local farms. Come winter, they feast on root crops and canned goods, menus slouching toward asparagus. Along the way, the Kingsolver family, having given up industrial meat years before, abandons its vegetarian ways and discovers the pleasures of conscientious carnivory.This field — local food and sustainable agriculture — is crowded with books in increasingly predictable flavors: the earnest manual, diary of an epicure, the environmental battle cry, the accidental gardener. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is all of these, and much smarter. Kingsolver takes the genre to a new literary level; a well-paced narrative and the apparent ease of the beautiful prose makes the pages fly. Her tale is both classy and disarming, substantive and entertaining, earnest and funny. Kingsolver is a moralist ('the conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners'), but more often wry than pious. Another hazard of the genre is snobbery. You won't find it here. Seldom do paeans to heirloom tomatoes (which I grew up selling at farmers' markets) include equal respect for outstanding modern hybrids like Early Girl.Kingsolver has the ear of a journalist and the accuracy of a naturalist. She makes short, neat work of complex topics: what's risky about the vegan diet, why animals belong on ecologically sound farms, why bitterness in lettuce is good. Kingsolver's clue to help greenhorns remember what's in season is the best I've seen. You trace the harvest by botanical development, from buds to fruits to roots. Kingsolver is not the first to note our national 'eating disorder' and the injuries industrial agriculture wreaks, yet this practical vision of how we might eat instead is as fresh as just-picked sweet corn. The narrative is peppered with useful sidebars on industrial agriculture and ecology (by husband Steven Hopp) and recipes (by daughter Camille), as if to show that local food — in the growing, buying, cooking, eating and the telling — demands teamwork. Nina Planck is the author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why (Bloomsbury USA, 2006)." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If you've ever been lucky enough to eat a tomato in the middle of summer, while it's still warm from the sun, if you've seen a farmer's market filled with fresh produce and happy people, if you've stopped at a farm stand, even (or especially) if it's just a table at the side of the road, you know the difference between the taste of real food and what's sold at the grocery store. But advocates of locally... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) grown produce contend that it's much more than a matter of taste. There's the horror of stockyards and poultry farms and slaughterhouses, and the excessive amounts of energy needed to transport food from one part of the country to another and from the summer of another continent to the winter shelves of our town's stores. But beyond all this, supermarket vegetables and fruits are grown with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and patented modified genes, and supermarket meat comes from animals raised in dense crowds, given hormones and antibiotics (which we in turn swallow), and then killed with abiding cruelty. To the swelling chorus of concern about the food we grow, buy and eat, add three powerful voices, the authors of 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.' In a way, the book adds four voices, because its main author — novelist, essayist and poet Barbara Kingsolver — speaks in two tones. One is charming, zestful, funny and poetic, while the other is serious and dry, indeed sometimes lecturing and didactic. Both are passionate and caring. Kingsolver has written most of the book, describing the year in which her family resolved to eat only food they had grown themselves, or that had grown within a hundred miles of their home, a farm in Virginia. The book's informative sidebars are by her husband, Steven L. Hopp, a biologist. Her daughter, Camille (in college, studying biology), has contributed engaging short essays for each month, accompanied by clear, uncomplicated recipes. (A younger daughter, Lily, was the family CEO of fresh eggs.) Their remarkable year begins in April, when the first asparagus spears poke up from the ground. Sowing, weeding, watering, picking, canning, preserving and joyful eating follow the calendar, with an overabundance of zucchini in the summer, and the food the family has dried, frozen and canned seeing them through the cold months of winter. When March comes, about all that's left are a few quarts of spaghetti sauce, four onions, one head of garlic and, in the freezer, some vegetables and the last turkey. The raising of the turkeys is a wonderful story all by itself, from the first fluffy babies to the mating, roosting and hatching of next year's batch. Turkey sex is an amazing saga, no less miraculous — and perhaps even much more so — than our own. Can we all do this? Probably not. We may not have the necessary time, energy or access to a shared community plot. We may not be blessed with a sufficiently inspired — and happy — family. We may not be willing or able to spend the hot days of August canning all those tomatoes. And we may not have the freezer space (not to mention the barn) required for a year's supply of turkeys and chickens. But all is not lost — unless we continue to lose it at the supermarket where the food we buy contributes to global warming on the long way from wherever it was raised. ('Americans,' writes Hopp in a sidebar, 'put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as (into) our cars.') The book offers a host of suggestions to make a difference, and there are lengthy lists of places to go, things to do and Web sites to visit. Alas, the book lacks an index. This is a serious book about important problems. Its concerns are real and urgent. It is clear, thoughtful, often amusing, passionate and appealing. It may give you a serious case of supermarket guilt, thinking of the energy footprint left by each out-of-season tomato, but you'll also find unexpected knowledge and gain the ability to make informed choices about what — and how — you're willing to eat. Bunny Crumpacker is the author of 'The Sex Life of Food.'" Reviewed by Kevin PhillipsKim EdwardsDiana McLellanRon CharlesBunny Crumpacker, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Kingsolver's passionate new tome records in detail a year lived in sync with the season's ebb and flow....Writing with her usual sharp eye for irony, she urges readers to follow her example..." Booklist
"With...assistance from her husband, Steven, and 19-year-old daughter, Camille, Kingsolver elegantly chronicles a year of back-to-the-land living with her family in Appalachia....Readers frustrated with the unhealthy, artificial food chain will take heart and inspiration here." Kirkus Reviews
"[Kingsolver] has now written a big-hearted, tough-minded account of her family's decision 'to step off the nonsustainable food grid.'...." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[P]art memoir...part call to action, part education, part recipe collection....Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes an important contribution to the chorus of voices calling for change." Chicago Tribune
"This is largely an informational book....Yet Kingsolver...adds enough texture and zest to stir wistful yearnings in all of us who have 'lost the soul of cooking from [our] routines.'" Christian Science Monitor
"If you are what you eat, then surely you are also what you read, and so this book offers real nourishment for the soul." San Francisco Chronicle
"The book springs to life when Ms. Kingsolver describes special food events, such as growing and eating their own miraculous asparagus." Dallas Morning News
About the Author
Barbara Kingsolver's twelve books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction include the novels The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. Translated into nineteen languages, her work has won a devoted worldwide readership and many awards, including the National Humanities Medal.
Camille Kingsolver attends Duke University, where she studies biology, anatomy, and dance, and teaches yoga.
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