Since it be quite a few years before I have land of my own, I’ve taken to living vicariously through the books of authors who’ve decided to try life as a small scale farmer. Not only am I able to curl up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee and relax with a good book, but I’m also starting to pick up some tips and tricks for my future farm. I hope to share many of these books with all you, so that you can add them to your own libraries.
A Review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is one my favorite author’s. Her book, The Beantree, was my bright point in a high school literature class filled with doom and gloom novels like 1984 and The Jungle (I know. I know. They are good books. I’m glad I was forced to read them, but they aren’t the most lighthearted reads.) So when I found a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle while perusing the shelf of a used book store, I knew I had to have it.
Kingsolver’s premise is simple. She’s tired of feeding her family of four on commercially produced food trucked in from all over the globe to her home in the heart of Arizona. Wanting to do her part to curb her carbon footprint, feed her family wholesome food, and live a more food intentional life, she and her husband and two daughters move to a small plot of land with farmhouse in southwestern Virginia. There, they embark in a experiment; eat only food grown locally for one year and do without the rest.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a frank, honest look at Kingsolver’s year long experiment. She writes about the joy she takes in the simple pleasantries of her farm. Each chapter is a month of her year and filled with the plantings, harvests, and recipes of her daily life. The experiment doesn’t always go smoothly. For every quart of tomato sauce canned and tucked in the pantry, there’s a birthday party in winter to plan with the local produce scrounged from friends, or testosterone fueled turkey pullets to butcher. Through it all, Kingsolver, keeps a wry, warm tone as she reports both the joys and hardships of her locavore life.
I picked up this book expecting a novelization of Kingsolver’s experience, but that’s not exactly how she structures the book. In between stories of her entrepreneurial daughter’s budding egg hustle and sharing recipes for bean soup are passages that educate readers on how the commercialization of food has forever changed our relationship with what we eat. Each piece focuses on a different topic; the gas consumed by trucking food to market, the difficulty local farmers face selling their products, and other similar vignettes designed to get the reader contemplating the ethics of eating. As a result, I spent a good portion of the book thinking about how I could take steps to be more of a local eater.
If I have one complaint about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, it’s that Kingsolver never addresses how difficult living the locavore life can be without the right resources. It takes time and an able body to plant, harvest, preserve, and rear all the vegetable and animal produce needed to live off the land. It takes money to purchase land and animals and supplies, and knowledge to build a life on a farm. For an able bodied, physically active family of relative means, it’s possible to build a sustainable life from scratch. However, our society isn’t set up for people like single mothers, a couples who both work full time jobs, or a physically disabled people to produce or purchase locally sourced food. I would have liked to see more a more solution oriented approach to the issued Kingsolver brings up.
Worth the Read?
Yes! I love this book! Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an inspiring read about a family who care for each other and their land. It’s equal parts authentic, sarcastic, and insightful. I highly recommend this read to anyone who is interested in small-scale homesteading, ethical agriculture and eating, or is curious about how to become more of local eater.
If you want to learn more about the Kingsolver’s project you can check out their website here.