Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle / by Madeleine

Barbara Kingsolver, author of the renowned The Poisonwood Bible, takes a break from her beloved novels to write a personal account in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. 

Living in Arizona with her husband and two daughters, Kingsolver revels in the perpetual summers but grows more and more concerned by the destructive nature of her family's food. With produce that either travels thousands of miles or is forced to grow in the dry Arizona soil and water that's "safe" for drinking but not safe for her household fish's aquarium, Kingsolver finds that her choices are significantly narrowed in trying to make healthy, sustainable meals for her family. So the Kingsolvers pack up their life in Arizona and move to Virginia, where they pledge to grow, raise, or gather their own food for one whole year. In learning how to have a relationship with their food from start to finish, the Kingsolvers essentially travel back to a time when neighbors bartered for produce, came together for harvests, and when the only grocery store was a farmer's market. Their lives revolve around the food they eat, and they come to appreciate and experience the year of seasonal food in a way that most people never do.

I learned so much from this book, and it certainly changed my perspective of the food that I eat. There is plenty of literature out there concerning our food choices and exposing where our food actually comes from, but in my experience I often read those books with a feeling of hopelessness and guilt for the food choices that I make on a daily basis. In this, Kingsolver drew me into daily life on her family's farm. They make their own bread, cheese, and pasta, preserve and freeze their own produce for the long winter months, and endeavor to raise their own turkeys and chickens. Though I do feel that the farm was romanticized, Kingsolver made a conscious effort to describe the careful planning and grueling labor of her every day during that year, which only served to make me appreciate small farms that much more. While I didn't always appreciate the outright preaching of political views in the book, the most important lesson that I took away from it is that while dropping everything to follow in their footsteps is not a realistic dream for most people, I can make simple choices (like buying from farmer's markets and shopping the local produce in larger grocery stores) that have a very small impact on the environment and a significant impact in my own health. In reading this book, I enjoyed celebrating the small victories (like the first asparagus of the year) and came to see farming (and on a smaller scale, gardening) as something that's important to teach children, so that future generations are not so disconnected with the origins of their own food. Recommended for foodies and aspiring gardeners!

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

  • Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
  • Author: Barbara Kingsolver
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, 2007
  • Price: $13 on Amazon
  • ISBN: 0060852550
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Better World Books