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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our year of seasonal eatingby Barbara Kingsolver
Synopses & Reviews
Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life — vowing that, for one year, they'd only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.
"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)
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"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
"[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
According to the biography on her website, Barbara Kingsolver began writing around the age of nine. Her early "oeuvre" included poems, short stories, and essays, including one noteworthy piece on school safety that was published in the local newspaper, helped to pass a local bond issue, and netted the author a $25 savings bond — "on which she expected to live comfortably into adulthood."
Kingsolver left her native Kentucky to attend DePauw University on a piano scholarship; but intellectual curiosity (the same quality that informs her writing) prompted her to transfer from the music school to the college of liberal arts where she majored in biology. Immediately after college, she traveled in Greece and France and returned to the U.S. to pursue her master's degree in science from the University of Arizona. She worked for a while as a science writer for the university before becoming a freelance journalist. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club Award.
Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, was composed entirely at night during a period of chronic, pregnancy-related insomnia. Published in 1988, this story of a young woman transplanted from Kentucky to Tucson was reviewed enthusiastically by critics. " As clear as air," rhapsodized The New York Times Book Review. "It is the southern novel taken west, its colors as translucent and polished as one of those slices of rose agate from a desert shop." Readers, too, proclaimed the story a delight.
Since then, Kingsolver has produced a string of bestselling novels, including Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible (an Oprah's Book club selection), and Prodigal Summer. She has also authored collections of her poems (Another America), short stories (Homeland), and essays (Small Wonders); as well as nonfiction narratives like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
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