Sep 29, 2010

You Can Stop Asking Me if I've Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had started to read this book a couple of years ago but my attention flagged. This time around, I'm much more interested in the idea of homesteading and so my own piqued interest pushed me through it. You probably know that this is an account of Kingsolver and her family raising as much of their own food as possible and eating locally for one year.

The memoir market has been crammed with first-person accounts of a year doing (fill in the blank), a genre which Ben Yagoda calls "schtick lit." But in the case of gardening or farming, it makes all the sense in the world. Barbara Kingsolver is the perfect person to write this book, with her deep attachment to the natural world, rural upbringing, and years of experience vegetable gardening. A family that's completely on board doesn't hurt either. It is a very inspiring book, although you have to be half-inspired as you start, because the drama in farming is of the subtle sort.

As for the literary quality, it's uneven. Her husband and daughter Camille chime in, which adds to "we're all in this together" feeling, but the juxtapositions are awkward at times. Seasonal recipes are included. Sometimes Kingsolver gets all science-y and Michael Pollanesque. Much of her information on the poultry industry and genetically modified vegetables I already knew, plus the informational tone was a bit tiresome when you knew there were stories around the next bend.

The last chapter includes the actual size of the plot (a little over 3500 square feet) and the financial information. (According to her they saved a lot of money.) I wish this was presented earlier to give the readers a clear sense from the beginning of the scope of their project. Even a map of the garden would have been helpful.

But these are quibbles. It's really an immersion in an old/new way of thinking about food and our world. Maybe in three hundred years, if global warming hasn't starved us all, we will look back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as a Dark Age when corporatism reigned, parting us from our food sources, our health, our spiritual connection to the earth, and the wisdom of our traditions. I hope we will see it that way, because if we don't, then it means corporatism will have won.

The awkwardness of this mixed-genre book is also its gift. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the Psalms, Jeremiah, the Gospels, the Farmer's Almanac, and Joy of Cooking all in one, and maybe that's the best way to preach it, sister.

Please note that although the book does not have an index, the website includes one, as well as all the recipes from the book and inspiring pictures and stories from gardeners and homesteaders around the world:

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1 comment:

Amy said...

Just finished reading it a week ago and agree with your review. The stories were inspirational and I'm going to try some of the recipes. Your idea of a detailed garden map is a good one. Would have been perfect inside the front cover.