Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

This is the book that really started me on my journey of gardening. It reads like a fantastic novel, but is filled with facts and eye-opening struggles involved with our current food system.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After renewing this book over and over from my public library, they finally want it back. I can't bear to part with it! I will be buying my own copy, which I anticipate reading and referring to until it's quite shabby.

Barbara Kingsolver sets out with her family to spend a year eating food within a 100 mile radius of her rural Virginia home. Whatever she and her family don't grow or produce themselves, or cannot be found from local sources, they will go without. There are a few exceptions made at the onset (coffee being number one). However, the exceptions don't detract from the project as a whole. Starting in April, the family goes week by week, month by month, eating what is in season and available locally. The goal: to prove that an 'average' American family can be part of the locavore movement successfully. Kingsolver acknowledges that most families do not have access to the land like her family does in growing food, so she focuses portions of the book on farmer's markets and community supported agriculture (CSA's) as well.

The book reads like great fiction, filled with passion. Kingsolver is a gifted writer who breathes immense life into every story she creates, and this 'true story' is no exception. Each of her family members has a place in the book, as well. Her partner, Steven Hopp, includes timely, researched essays on pertinent issues effecting our current food economy (and points to valuable websites and resources for further info). Her oldest daughter, Camille, writes a section after each chapter with humorous observations and recipes (even though at times she comes across as strangely smug beyond her young years, and at times is downright annoying). The youngest daughter, Lily, while not credited as a coauthor like the others, is a huge presence within the family's story as she learns to raise chickens and gains incredible passion about every growing project as only a young child can.

I was surprised to read that the family intended to eat some of their own chickens (for some reason I pegged Kingsolver and her family as the vegetarian 'type'...not the first assumption she shattered for me). I read about the process of butchering the chickens (and the turkeys), and was not horrified like I expected--Kingsolver brings humanity and respect to the life cycle of these animals--raised by her family with the best poultry life possible.

Kingsolver introduces the reader to many of the families surrounding hers, who all play a part in the community. The idea of community is a central theme in this book, as Kingsolver and her family branch out with their neighbors, speak personally to area farmers, and learn valuable lessons from those in their little corner of the earth.

If I tried to outline every important fact I learned from this book, the review would take up pages. Each time I flip through the pages another powerful idea pops out at me, and continues to inspire me on my own journey to attempt a more sustainable lifestyle.

I finished this book months before I finally wrote a review about it, because it affected me so profoundly. I couldn't seem to find the right words to describe how the book altered my perspective about many things in my life. Perhaps I am biased because Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and this a book about a subject very near and dear to my heart (sustainable living). Or maybe the book touched me because so many pieces of the story brought back strong memories of my rural past: details that I once found boring and unbearably quaint were unearthed with a new passion and desire to reconnect to my roots. I read other scathing reviews about the book that accused Kingsolver of being sanctimonious, but all I can feel in her words is pure passion, at times, wry humor...and a consistent sense of realness. This is not your typical 'gardening book', it is a book that has the ability to change your life.

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