Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:
A Year of Food Life

by Barbara Kingsolver

Harper/Collins, 2007. ISBN 0060852550.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 10/02/2007

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

Two of my favorite things: cooking and reading about cooking, well, maybe reading about food. No wonder I stopped doing anything else while I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, except for one quick kitchen foray to compose a grilled vegetable panini. Delicious. So is the book. I've loved Barbara Kingsolver's novels, but this time she's written not a made-up story but one that really happened to her and to her family.

The whole family—Barbara, husband Steven Hopp, and their daughters, Camille and Lily, left their long-time Arizona home, headed east to the Appalachians and a farm long in Steven's family. There they lived for a year on the land, growing as much of their own food as possible and obtaining the rest from nearby. What an effort! It took all four of them. Lily, still in elementary school, was in charge of the chickens. In fact, merely writing the book about the experience was a family effort. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara writes most of the text, and Steven, a scientist, offers technical explanations while Camille, a college student, offers insights and lots and lots of recipes—hence the panini. Lily is waiting in the wings.

Reading this is more than fun and good recipes; it makes me think. No I didn't run out and plant a garden or invest in chickens, though I did think about acquiring a tomato plant. All I'm currently growing is a little rosemary and a lot of mint. But I have starting asking where my food comes from. More and more, I'm making sure that it comes from right around here. That's not hard to do. Kingsolver tells a story about a little town that is so safe and friendly that folks never lock their doors, except in July when if you leave the house unlocked, you are likely to come home to a kitchen full of squash from your neighbors' gardens.

We enjoyed lots of squash last summer. It wasn't all from neighbors; most of it was from local farmers. I've started stopping at vegetable stands whenever I see one, and I always ask, "Where is this from?" I've talked to the fellow in the supermarket produce section. Apparently, I'm not the only one, and he is responding to our requests. I even spent one happy Saturday morning at a "U-Pick" farm out in the field, harvesting sweet potatoes that had been turned that morning. I'm becoming a locavore (Kingsolver's term) with meat as well. Where I am in Georgia, local chickens and rabbits are readily accessible, and I can get grassfed beef two counties over. The Kingsolver family grew and harvested their own chickens and turkeys. (I delight in the mental image of the family's "formerly feisty chickens and turkeys" resting peacefully, "leg up pose," in the family freezer.)

This is a fine book in many regards—Kingsolver's great writing, the inspiring and important underlying philosophy, and the recipes. Oh, the recipes! (available on the book's website) Get it, read it, shop locally, and have a great time in the kitchen.

Barbara Kingsolver was born in Kentucky, lived in Tucson for many years, and now lives with her family in Southern Appalachia, where she writes and farms. The author of twelve books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, she holds a National Humanities Medal. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages. See her website.

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