Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Animal,Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

On Sale: 05/01/2007;

Format: Hardcover;

Pages: 384;


Publishers: Harper Collins
Nature/Environment; Food/Diet/Recipes;
Memoir/Non fiction narrative

Barbara Kingsolver is probably best known for her novel The Poisonwood Bible, a hardhitting tale about a Baptist missionary who takes his family to the Belgian Congo. The family carry with them seeds from home but they fail on the Congo's poor and dry soil. Fortunately the Kingsolver family does not share the same fate when they move as a family from Tuscon, Arizona to a farm in Appalachia, determined to live off their own grown produce for a year. The family become committed farmers and locavores and the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles that first step the Kingsolver family took to play their part in environmentally sustainable food production.

Initially I wasn't very keen to read the book(try selling a city girl the merits of a book that speaks of tales of life on the land - it's an almost impossible sell) but after reading reviews by Tara (Books and Cooks) ,Gentle Reader (Shelf Life) and The Literary Word I decided to give it a go and I am glad I did.

I thought it was going to be a dry read, but being an accomplished fiction writer, Ms. Kingsolver managed to turn her escapades in the kitchen (making cheese from mail-order cultures, harvesting asparagus and playing matchmaker between turkey hens and toms) into wonderful stories that would appeal to anybody's heart and at the same time, she keeps astounding you with harsh statistics,"Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars"pg 5 or each food item in a typical US meal has traveled 1500 miles (2400 kilometres) also pg 5 .

Apart from her engaging writing skills she also has the advantage of having written on something topical...seems to me that everyone wants to cut back on processed food and to eat more locally grown food and Kingsolver's book educates you on why it is imperative to make the switch.

The book has a homespun feel about it with essays about global food distribution, genetic modification, and fair trade, among other things written by her husband Steven Hopp, a biology professor, and 19-year-old daughter Camille writes personable, accomplished pieces on cooking and nutrition.

Finally, Kingsolver does not advocate that we should all give up our jobs in the cities and head for the fields, nor does she ask us to turn our front yards into food instead of lawn. She asks instead that we educate ourselves about what we are eating, support local organic growers, and think about the world we want to leave the next generation. She wants us to start our day not with the question 'What do I feel like eating today?", but "What do I have that is fresh, abundant and in season?". Just this little switch can make us think so differently about food and aid us in picking the right foods to eat.

I came away with the impression that Ms. Kingsolver was just a tad fanatical about eating locally but she can be forgiven because she turned out a truly remarkable book, however, I don't suspect locavores get invited out to dinner all that often! My other concern would be ethnic food eaters like myself. My diet primarily consists of East Indian food, I am not sure how I will ever switch over to being a locavore.

One final's newspapers cited a New Zealand study which finds that many vegans can't stomach the idea of having relations with anyone who eats meat....are locavores going to shun people who eat strawberries in January? :)


Asha said...

Sounds interesting but I don't know how practical it is to eat all those all the time!!
We can atleast try eating them without getting paranoid about these Earth foods though.They do taste better without these chemicals added to make them grow bigger and blander!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Asha!

Many thanks for your comment. Yes, eating locally does take a lot of effort initially, but soon it becomes a way of life, I suppose. You should have no problem, you grow so many of your vegetables...I'm very impressed that you do!

Andi said...

I'm almost certain the reading gods could strike me down for this, but I've NEVER read a Kingsolver book! *gasp*

I've heard endless great things about her work, but none of her books have ever called to me enough to actually pick one up. Maybe I'll BookMooch one to give myself some motivation. :)

Great review!

Sanjay said...

Loved your review Lotus, and I would say a great pick and very timely too. It does appear that with climate change, increasing industrialization of our food production, genetic modification are all contributing to a rising awareness of where our food comes from.

We do try to buy some of our food locally, and next year we try to grow some basic food on our own. I guess not everyone can do this but small adjustments to our life styles will go a long way.

For example it takes about 200 gallons of oil to produce a pound of beef, even if one were to take issue with this amount link, it still is huge, can we eat more sustainable raised beef? Possibly. I guess we can all do small things.

Thank you for helping shed light on the true cost of our food choices.This one book I would surely want to read.

:-) @ the New Zealand article about vegan choices.

ML said...

How interesting! I agree that you should really think about what you're eating and where it's coming from. However, I'm not an extremist by any means.

Sounds like a good book.

Heather said...

This one's going straight onto the wish list! I love to grow my own veggies and fruits, but haven't had the budget to get the garden started since we moved from New Hampshire to Maryland (and the strawberries had just taken off! *sniff*). Hopefully soon!

I do love the idea of eating locally-grown produce, but it can be very tough to find the stuff in some areas. I've yet to find any kind of farmer's market in our area.

Jennie said...

Heather-- where in Maryland are you? There are lots of farmers markets near me, but I'm metro DC.

Lotus-- I like the idea of eating locally and I do it a lot... in the summer. But I'm from Wisconsin where stuff doesn't grow for 5-6 months out of the year. Are the people from the cold north just supposed to go without produce most of the year? Or just take winters off from the eating locally movement?

Lotus Reads said...

@Andi ~ Hello! And don't you worry, I hadn't read a Kingsolver before this either, but I have heard and read so much about "The Poisonwood Bible" that I feel like I've read it! Many thanks for stopping by!

Lotus Reads said...

Thank you Sanjay!

In part it is thanks to posts from you and other conscious eaters as well as food conscious readers that I even picked up this book in the first place.

I agree with you when you say making small adjustments is the way to go...I can't remember the exact stats (how I wish I had kept notes) but Kingsolver states that eating even one locally produced meal in the week could save us a ton of oil (and we're talking at least a million barrels here) because of how much fuel it takes to get, let's say, bananas from where they are grown to my city in the Great White North.

And YES to eating sustainable raised beef (thank you for the link), it's just a question of making that extra effort to go looking for it and also being willing to spend the extra cash, but it is possible!

:-) @ the New Zealand article about vegan choices.

Sorry, I just had to add that in there! :)

Gentle Reader said...

I'm glad you ended up liking this! It is a really interesting topic, and I was happy that though Ms. Kingsolver was "just a tad fanatical" about eating locally, the book wasn't a turn-off. For me, at least attempting to eat locally is a little easier than it is for some people, because I live in Los Angeles. Yes, it's urban, but there is a lot of farming within 200 miles, and the climate is very mild, so we have amazing farmers' markets all year round. Plus it's a city full of people who are interested in this kind of thing, so that breeds more opportunity for locally grown stuff. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the book!

Lotus Reads said...

@ml ~ Also, by constantly buying processed foods or frozen veggies I feel like we are slowly losing our connection to the earth...I really want to be able to visit the Farmer's market more.

@Heather ~ You'll love this book and hopefully it won't be too difficult to get the locations of farmers' markets that are closest to you. When and if I start my own vegetable garden I am going to have to write to you for tips!

@Jennie ~ I hear you! Well, Kingsolver uprooted her family and moved to an Appalachian farm because she didn't like using borrowed water in Tuscon, Arizona! Maybe we'll be expected to move too?

But I prefer the second option, let's just eat what the heck we want over winter!

*just kidding*

Beenzzz said...

I read the Poisonwood Bible! It was a decent book and very frustrating too! :) know, when you put that much thought into eating and food, you tend to have serious issues with food. As long as I'm not eating Velveeta or frozen foods every meal, I don't think I'd worry about "chemicals" and what's abundant for what season. Like you said, you prepare mostly Indian cuisine, which would make it hard to follow Kingsolver's locavor advice. However, I'm glad her book was good though! I hope this comment made sense, I'm a bit tired today. :)

heather said...

@jennie--I'm technically in Annapolis, sort of just east of it. The only "farmer's market" I've found so far turned out to be just flowers. I was really looking for produce. :( I have gone to the Amish market, but kind of started to wonder just how "local" the things they were selling really were when I noted that they sold all sorts of things like hydrox cookies and a ton of other things that weren't in the least bit natural or local (and at outrageous prices, no less).

@Lotus Reads--I'll be happy to share what tips I have. :) I'm not an expert, but I did a ton of reading before I got started, and the strawberries and squash turned out AMAZING!

Radha said...

Interesting choice for a book Lotus :)
I wud love to eat fresh food, but I guess the lures of city life far outweigh the benefits of fresh food for me :)

A Reader from India said...

Hi Lotus, So many interesting new reviews at your site! What a lovely review on Barbara Kingsolver's book - I adored her 'The Bean Trees', though I haven't read The Poisonwood Bible yet. Guess frozen and processed foods is not a problem we face much in India, at least not yet!

I find it really appreciable that Kingsolver wrote from her real-life experience that shows her commitment to the environment.

Lotus Reads said...

@Gentle Reader ~ I really did enjoy the book, thank you very much for a terrific review! It has got me so interested in eating healthy and eating locally. You're right about Californians being interested in this kind of thing, I have heard there are farms and fields in California that actually have restaurants on their premises so that everything on the table is grown literally a few feet from where you eat. I think that's just marvelous!

@Beenzzz ~ I'm sorry you are it the heat? But tired or not, you make perfect sense. If I ever switched to eating locally full time, I would die from not being able to eat any okra, tendli, guava and mangoes, especially mangoes! However, I wouldn't mind cooking locally once or twice a week or as often as I can.

@Heather, I would love to grow my own strawberries!

Lotus Reads said...

@Radha ~ Singapore has got some lovely fruit and vegetable markets, but the only problem with them is, all the produce comes from China!

@A Reader ~ Delighted to see you! I miss all the fresh vegetable markets in India, I hope the airconditioned food stores never become so popular as to drive them out of business. This is Kingsolver's first work of non-fiction. I must get down to reading some of her other books.

Sharanya Manivannan said...

I'm a fan of Kingsolver's essays (esp "High Tide in Tucson") -- shall look forward to this! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sharanya!

I must look out for her essasys, I do believe I have a new found appreciation for essays and short stories these days.

Living in Malaysia as you do, you are probably exposed to many more Australian writers than we are here. If there are writers you could recommend, please do so. We will have people visiting from Australia in September,maybe I can ask them to carry a book or two for me along with some Timtams! :)

Nyssaneala said...

This sounds like a very interesting book. I'm not surprised to see a book like this coming from Kingsolver, especially after reading her novel Prodigal Summer.

We try to strike a balance. We also eat a lot of ethnic foods. But we buy organic milk from a local dairy year-round, and fruit and veggies from local farmers in the spring/summer/fall. Right now is a bit hard however. Maryland farmland is falling into a pretty severe drought, a situation which is very noticeable at the selection at the markets this summer. And in the last 2-3 weeks, are home-grown herbs have pretty much dried up completely. And there's still no rain in sight. :(

CG said...

I am a Kinsolver fan but I've yet to read this new book.

Les said...

Moderation in all things. That's my motto! If I feel like strawberries in January, I'll eat them. However, I do like the idea presented by Kingsolver. Lovely review, Lotus. I checked the book out at work but returned it after one day. I realized I wanted to own it rather than borrow it so I could highlight my favorite passages. She is quite a talented writer, although she tends to get up on her soap box at times. If you haven't read Pigs in Heaven or The Bean Trees, I recommend them as well as The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer.

Off to behave like a carnivore... ;)

Tara said...

Lotus, you've written a beautiful review here. I love the connection your made between this book and The Poisonwood Bible (the seeds). I am so glad you wound up enjoying this book so much. I've thought about it quite a bit since finishing it. I've been thinking about reading another of her nonfiction titles, I believe she has 2 books of essays.

Priya said...

i just have to find this book!
say, you read alot and pretty fast complements

Priya said...

oh and I simply lurved the Poisonwood bible and this quote was my fave:

Lotus Reads said...

@ Nyssaneala,

We have had a very dry summer ourselves. I have seriously been thinking about planting a vegetable garden next year, friends of ours who planted pumpkin, Squash and other such fruit have had a fairly decent crop, but I don't really like squash, so I am going to have to research what other vegetables and fruit will grow in my soil.

You're right, striking a balance is how one must approach this matter of eating correctly. Hope you get rain soon!

@CG ~ If you enjoy reading about food and nature and how eating habits can affect global warming, you will enjoy this book!

@Les ~ Thank you! Happy to have you back from vacation. Moderation is key, I agree! Yes, this is a book you want to own, I loved some of the passages (now I wish I had thought to include some in my review) but also enjoyed reading what her scientist husband had to say about genetic modification and other agricultural issues. lol and YES to strawberries in January if we are hankering for a taste, as long as it's in moderation I can't see the harm. I think it would more harmful to have groups of berry-denied, unhappy people on the roads! :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Tara ~ Thank you! I'm glad for the review you wrote, it definitely helped sell the book to me! I think I would also like to read more non-fiction from her, I need to hunt down the titles of her books on essays.

@Priya ~ Thank you! On an average I go through a book every 7 days. I think that's pretty good too, I must be a fast reader! :) Thank for the excellent quote. I need to find a copy of the Poisonwood Bible and read it slowly.

Mimi said...

You have such a great blog I'm so glad I discovered it through Lulu's blog :) I love B.S. The poisonwood bible changed my life and I can't wait to read this book only after I finish "The Lipstick jungle" I know I'm a bit late on that one lol but I'm addcited to it :) come visit sometimes cheers! xx Mimi

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks, Mimi, for your lovely comment. Will definitely visit your blog. Incidentally, my girls and I have visited you before and we always enjoy your fashion posts and sense of style.

Dark Orpheus said...

Hmm...I have a proof copy of this book at my table for months but I just never got around to reading it. You make it sound interesting - but can a city person really related to it?

Jyothsna said...

Lotus, I have to say, after reading this review and all the foodblogs I visit, I'm really fortunate that I don't have to rely on frozen food( in most cases)!!Thankfully I get fresh produce although it comes from other places! Yes, we must strike a balance and try to consume less processed food. I'm a city girl, but would love to grow my own veggies. But climate, lack of space and other factors are not really conducive to such ideas. In Dubai, the weather is burning out my plants!

Must say you are a quick reader!!:)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Dark Orpheus

Great question! I think a city person may not necessarily relate to everything she talks about, but she has such a fun and interesting way of presenting the information that you catch the enthusiasm, at least that is what happened with me. The essays her husband wrote a re very informative too...I was hooked!

Hi, Jyothsna

Gosh, yes, I know all about the Dubai weather and how difficult it is to grow anything but dates and cactii. Does most of the fresh produce come from Iran? As a foodie, it would be supremely satisfying for you to grow your own veggies. Hope you get the chance some day!

Sharanya Manivannan said...

Brian Castro. Met him at the KL Litfest earlier this year -- he seemed to be a kind, thoughtful soul -- with a great aptitude for storytelling.