The Book Project: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Posted: 22 April 2008 in the book project

What, Who, WhenAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver and Steven Hopp in 2007.

Why on Earth: This is a secret about me.  I desperately wish I were a farmer.  Not a corn farmer, or a big industrial farmer, but a live-on-a-farm person who grows things for a living.  This is also a secret about me.  I wish that dusk marked the end of work and punctuated porch-sitting, supper-having and sleep.  The only thing I wouldn’t give up is the Internet and frankly, I’d give that up too if I thought I could make a sustainable living, while still being able to afford visits to my family and thrive while growing tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins.  One more secret about me.  I think my greatest failure is being unable to participate in an eat local challenge, because I crave variety and exotic flavors.  This is a character flaw that I haven’t been able to conquer. 

That said,  a book by an author who can seduce me (at least in one instance, The Poisonwood Bible) about a topic on which I devour everything written, was a natural choice.  Kingsolver applies her experience writing to my favorite topic, eating locally.  For a year, she and her family work the land on a Virginia farm, eating only what they grow or can get from neighbors.  That means no pineapples and no bananas.  No out-of-season veggies.  The family even made every effort to get locally ground flour for the homemade bread.  Raising chickens? Check.  Heirloom turkeys? Check.  Thanksgiving from scratch?  You bet.  It was a natural fit for a person who regularly tries to make her own bread and butter and fantasizes about rural living.

Well?: Kingsolver may have applied her writing experience to the book but doesn’t seem to put any elbow grease into it.  Aside from inspired sections on the beauty of fresh growing asparagus in the spring and turkey birthing habits, much of the book reads like a scolding for eating beef, tropical fruits or buying non-organic.  Even for me, someone so completely on the wagon I should be driving it, it sounded preachy at times.  It isn’t helped by the hefty dose of nepotism.  Camille Kingsolver writes with a heavy hand, recipes trapped in English 101 and weighed down with lectures on ethical eating.  She loses credibility altogether when, near the end of the book, she descends from the soapbox long enough to admit she only engaged in her family’s experiment for part of the year.  I desperately wanted to like the book and Camille.  But, perhaps because I expected a lay-person’s look at a year of living locally and got a zealot’s treatise,  some of the shine was tarnished for me. 

  1. linaria says:

    a better thing to read: the author is a full-time farmer (but I believe there is a great deal of freelance writing supporting the project) who lives on a 2 acre farm in Ontario.

    my other favorite book about self-sustaining living is a short comic novel published in the 1970’s called “You Can’t Live On Radishes.” it’s clear the editor softened the ending for publication, but it catalogs one family’s attempt to follow the “back to nature” trend…with mixed results.

    I’m jaded about this topic. I live in a college town with a lot of urban hippies who wish they were farmers, but have no idea how much effort that takes. perhaps because I grew up in a rural area, it pains me the extent to which people romanticize agricultural life. but don’t listen to me, cause I’m an internet flake;)

  2. backlist says:

    oooh wonderful – I’ll check it out. and you’re *my* internet flake. Doesn’t that make all the difference?

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