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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)

by and and

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) Cover



Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. What was your perception of America's food industry prior to reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? What did you learn from this book? How has it altered your views on the way food is acquired and consumed?

2. In what ways, if any, have you changed your eating habits since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Depending on where you live—in an urban, suburban, or rural environment—what other steps would you like to take to modify your lifestyle with regard to eating local?

3. "It had felt arbitrary when we sat around the table with our shopping list, making our rules. It felt almost silly to us in fact, as it may now seem to you. Why impose restrictions on ourselves? Who cares?" asks Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Did you, in fact, care about Kingsolver's story and find it to be compelling? Why or why not? What was the family's aim for their year-long initiative, and did they accomplish that goal?

4. The writing of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a family affair, with Kingsolver's husband, Steven L. Hopp, contributing factual sidebars and her daughter, Camille Kingsolver, serving up commentary and recipes. Did you find that these additional elements enhanced the book? How so? What facts or statistics in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle surprised you the most?

5. How does each member of the Kingsolver-Hopp family contribute during their year-long eating adventure? Were you surprised that the author's children not only participated in the endeavor but that they did so with such enthusiasm? Why or why not?

6. "A majority of North Americans do understand, at some level, that our food choices are politically charged," says Kingsolver, "affecting arenas from rural culture to international oil cartels and global climate change." How do politics affect America's food production and consumption? What global ramifications are there for the food choices we make?

7. Kingsolver advocates the pleasures of seasonal eating, but she acknowledges that many people would view this as deprivation "because we've grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything always." Do you believe that American society can—or will— overcome the need for instant gratification in order to be able to eat seasonally? How does Kingsolver present this aspect in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Did you get the sense that she and her family ever felt deprived in their eating options?

8. Kingsolver points out that eating what we want, when we want comes "at a price." The cost, she says, "is not measured in money, but in untallied debts that will be paid by our children in the currency of extinctions, economic unravelings, and global climate change." What responsibility do we bear for keeping the environment safe for future generations? How does eating locally factor in to this?

9. Kingsolver asserts that "we have dealt to today's kids the statistical hand of a shorter life expectancy than their parents, which would be us, the ones taking care of them." How is our "thrown-away food culture" a detriment to children's health? She also says, "We're raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket." What responsibility do parents have to teach their children about the value and necessity of a local food culture?

10. In what ways do Kingsolver's descriptions of the places she visited on her travels—Italy, New England, Montreal, and Ohio—enhance her portrayal of local and seasonal eating?

11. "Marketing jingles from every angle lure patrons to turn our backs on our locally owned stores, restaurants, and farms," says Kingsolver. "And nobody considers that unpatriotic." How much of a role do the media play in determining what Americans eat? Discuss the decline of America's diversified family farms, and what it means for the country as a whole.

Action Items—On Your Own

Try eating at least one meal per week made from locally and organically produced meats and produce. As Steven L. Hopp points out in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, this "would reduce our country's oil consumption by more than 1.1 million barrels of oil every week."

To find farmers' markets and local producers in your area, visit the USDA website at, or check out and

When shopping at a grocery store or food co-op, ask about food origins and request that locally produced items be stocked.

Share your opinion with local and regional policymakers at town and city hall meetings, school board meetings, and state commissioner meetings. Also, speak up at venues you or your family frequent where food is served such as a church, social club, school, or day care center and encourage them to use local ingredients.

If you have the space, start your own garden and begin by growing a few items. If you live in an urban area, consider taking part in a community garden ( More information about urban gardening can be found at and

Share stories about your local food adventures at

Action Items—With Your Book Club

Take a tour of a local farm, visit a farmers' market, or try your hand at a u-pick operation (strawberries in the summer, for example, or apples in the fall).

If you're inclined to take your book club international, follow in Barbara Kingsolver's footsteps and experience Italy's agriturismo, a guest accommodation on a working family farm.

For your club's discussion of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, devise your own menu or use the recipes in the book to prepare a feast with locally produced ingredients that are in season.

Alternately, hold your book club discussion at a farmer's diner or a restaurant that uses local ingredients.

In the spirit of Barbara Kingsolver's 50th birthday festivities, which she describes in the book, have a plant exchange. (Just don't thank each other for the blooms!)

Take a class or meet up at a member's home for a session of cheese-, yogurt-, or bread-making.

Donate to a hunger-relief organization that teaches sustainable farming practices. Visit (World Neighbors),, or (Heifer International) for information.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 21 comments:

Frenchie, January 14, 2013 (view all comments by Frenchie)
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. She speaks to the consciousness we all share.
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(2 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
RSR, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by RSR)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle inspired me to change how I relate to food and I have tailored my diet in a way that is much healthier for me and the planet. Not only was it informative and interesting, but also included entertaining stories of the trials of growing your own food as wells as the many rewards.
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(4 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)
Rachel Oftedahl, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by Rachel Oftedahl)
Barbara Kingsolver has to be my favorite author, hands down, both fiction and non-fiction. Her book of essays "Small Wonders" fueled my interest in sustainable food and mindful thought about where the things on my plate come from, and this book just cranked that into overdrive. While I do not have a farm, or even a yard, being a city dweller in a small apartment, I started making my own yogurt after this book. Never went back. I shared this book with my mother (well, I bought her a copy of her very own so I could be selfish with mine,) and now she is starting to make cheese. Read this book, and then I dare you to not make your own cultured or fermented dairy product or grow a garden. Go on.
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(6 of 13 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 21 comments

Product Details

Barbara Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
Harper Perennial
Hopp, Steven L.
Houser, Richard A.
Kingsolver, Barbara
by Barbara Kingsolver and Camille Kingsolver
Hopp, Steven L.
by Barbara Kingsolver and Camille Kingsolver
Kingsolver, Camille
Personal Memoirs
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
, Y
9 x 6 x 0.93 in 15.04 oz

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Literary
Cooking and Food » Food Writing » Gastronomic Literature
Cooking and Food » Food Writing » General
Cooking and Food » Sustainable Cooking
Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » Literature
Featured Titles » Staff Picks
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Home and Garden » Gardening » Organic Gardening
Home and Garden » Sustainable Living » Food
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » Food and Famine

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.95 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060852566 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

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."

"Review A Day" by , "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.'" (read the entire CSM review)
"Review" by , "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..."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[Kingsolver] has now written a big-hearted, tough-minded account of her family's decision 'to step off the nonsustainable food grid.'...."
"Review" by , "The book springs to life when Ms. Kingsolver describes special food events, such as growing and eating their own miraculous asparagus."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "If you are what you eat, then surely you are also what you read, and so this book offers real nourishment for the soul."
"Review" by , "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.'"
"Synopsis" by , Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, theyd 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.
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