CBR-V Review #11: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Why I Read It: I’ve recently been really into reading books about food: different movements and dietary lifestyles, how the choices we make about what we eat impacts our bodies and the world around us, nutrition facts, etc. As I form my own views on what qualifies as “good” eating—or at least, the right way of eating for me, as I don’t believe that there’s a one-size-fits-all, universally applicable diet—I find it helpful to draw knowledge from others who have spent a lot of time considering the same things that are on my mind these days.

My Rating: 5 stars

Summary: Animal Vegetable Miracle is the story of one family’s decision to eat (almost) entirely locally-grown foods for a year after moving to the Appalachians from Arizona. While they make a few exceptions for things like olive oil and coffee, almost all of the food they consume from their own county. Not only that, much of it is grown in their very own backyard. Kingsolver both explores her personal experience with self-sustainable eating habits (killing chickens, growing mountains of zucchini, making homemade cheese) and profiles people that she’s sought out and created relationships with who are doing cool and unique things in the world of locally-based food (an Amish family simply following centuries-old tradition, for example). Kingsolver’s husband and daughter also contribute, in the form of more fact-based sidebars (often highlighting a specific issue, law, or scientific concept that needs more explanation–factory farming, GMOs, etc.) and small sections on seasonal, local recipes and local eating from a younger generation’s perspective.

My Review: Overall, I adored this book. Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors to begin with, mostly because of her wonderful voice and her amazing lyricism–she can describe things like no other. While I’ve read much of her fictional work, I’d never read her nonfiction before. She doesn’t disappoint though. This book is more a series of personal essays, each of them doing exactly what a personal essay is supposed to do: draw you in, make you laugh and make you cry in the span of a few pages, intrigue you, and stun you with perfectly-written images. I assume that most people who pick up this book already have at least a passing interest in responsible eating, but I think Kingsolver’s prose could convince even those that don’t care about it at all. She presents the issue logically and with humor: clearly, eating locally is best for our bodies, our communities, and our planet.

I also think she does a good job of recognizing her privilege. The family is obviously well-off, and so their ability to own acres of farmable land and to buy livestock and tractors and other agricultural necessities are not realistic for the average American. She does mention how lucky she is, and is careful to include tips for those of us who don’t have the space/resources to grow all of our own food. She also makes it clear that her project is just that: a limited-time experiment to see if it can be done. At the end, she is open about the fact that living like that is not realistic for the world we live in, and that’s okay. Her message is about conscious and responsible eating, not self-deprivation and sanctimony. She never comes across as preachy, which is an easy line to cross.

In terms of the sidebars, written by her daughter and husband, I had mixed feelings. I loved her husband’s short sections, because they really fleshed out Kingsolver’s ideas and presented some concrete evidence to ground the narrative. He did a great job of synthesizing some pretty complex concepts and making them clear and easy to read. The daughter’s pieces, though, drove me crazy. I thought she was kind of full of herself and came across as judgmental of those who don’t eat the way she does, plus she just wasn’t a very good writer. Her recipes were good, though, so just skip the lead-up and focus on those.

Should You Read It? Absolutely. If you have even a passing interest in the local foods movement, this is a must-read.

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