All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

on August 13, 2019

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life 
Barbara Kingsolver w/ Steven L Hopp & Camille Kingsolver
Harper Perennial
2008 (originally 2007), 370p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

One of the more difficult prompts for me in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge was a book about Appalachia. Firstly, I didn’t know what or where Appalachia was. Turns out it’s a cultural region stretching from parts of New York (the state) to Alabama/Georgia in the south. It’s recognised as a distinctive region (thanks Wikipedia!) and it seems that the inhabitants and general culture of the area are kind of maligned and stereotyped. A lot of the focus on the recommendations in the Goodreads group was about finding a book that didn’t do that. And was sensitive to the region and its people and often the issues of poverty etc that the region is sometimes known for.

I was limited in my choices through the library but this suggestion caught my eye for a few reasons. Firstly, it is a non-fiction book and I wanted to spread my reading a bit so this seemed a good prompt to try that and secondly, it’s by Barbara Kingsolver, a novelist I’ve talked about many times before on my blog. She’s incredibly well known – author of The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, Lacuna, Flight Behaviour, etc. All books that I own. All books that I have not read. So yeah this gave me an opportunity to learn something about the region of Appalachia and also finally, finally pop that Kingsolver cherry.

So Animal, Vegetable Miracle is about Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters moving from Tucson Arizona back to the farm her husband Steven had purchased years earlier in Virginia. The family had rented it out and also spent summers there in a cabin on the property away from the main house. But this time they were going to live there permanently and they were going to grow as much as their food as they could and purchase whatever they couldn’t as locally as they could. Living in Tuscon, they realised just how far a lot of the food they consumed had to travel to reach them – often thousands and thousands of kilometres and how much that would cost in fuel. They wanted to eat seasonally – and only seasonally. If it wasn’t the growing season then they wouldn’t consume it. This book is a diary really on that first year and the learning curve of growing your own food, buying local produce and sourcing ethically and sustainably. It’s about the history and challenges of the property, which had quite little flat growing area for the amount of land they owned as well as including recipes they used when certain produce was in abundance.

This book certainly made me think differently about food. I have to admit, I actually think only a little about seasons and what’s grown locally at certain times. I know the Australian asparagus season and I’m always super excited when that starts, because I absolutely love asparagus and I don’t find the stuff flown in from Peru to be the same. I also like the Aussie avocados and I only eat stone fruit in the summer – I never buy stone fruit flown in at different times in the year. But other stuff? Like vegetables and whatever? If it’s there or if I want it, I buy it. I don’t know the broccoli or cauliflower growing season. I don’t know when snow peas are grown or even where. I toss it in the trolley without thinking too much about it, just crossing items off my list.

I know I could eat better, it’s something that has been on my mind a little bit in recent times. I’m 37 and I can’t eat what I ate when I was 17 or even 25. I don’t eat fast food anymore, haven’t for years. I can’t tolerate McDonalds or Hungry Jacks or KFC. I know I still eat too much processed food and probably not enough servings of vegetables. I’ve been looking for some meat free meals to add to the rotation of things we eat regularly. I was a super fussy eater as a kid, didn’t eat vegetables except the mashed potato and peas my parents forced me to eat every night. Left to my own devices at university when I moved out, I became less afraid to try things and now I’ll eat quite a lot of food, quite a lot of vegetables. However the two I don’t really like? Mashed potato and peas. I like stir fries with a lot of colourful veggies, I like baked vegetables and occasionally I’ll eat salads in summer. But I’m guilty of buying stuff and then taking the easy route and having pasta again while the fresh stuff languishes in the vegetable crisper. There are many reasons for food fatigue I think – firstly, I don’t really enjoy cooking. Never have. My husband does, thankfully and he does 99% of the cooking in our household. But he also works a couple nights a week and I’m in charge. Secondly, our kids are super damn fussy. They don’t eat anything. It’s exhausting trying to feed them. I just get sick of it. And people keep saying ‘oh they’ll eat when they’re hungry, just serve them up what you’re having’ – yeah I can tell you, they won’t. My hope is that my kids will be like me and as they get older and experience more things, they’ll try more foods and find the things they like. As they say, pick your battles. And I’m tired of fighting this one!

In some ways, this seems so idyllic. A patch of land, growing your own food, fresh eggs etc. But it’s damn hard work as well and Kingsolver doesn’t shy away from that. They’re lucky in some ways in that this isn’t either of their ‘incomes’ as such – it’s something they can do because they also earn money elsewhere. It’s a full time job it seems, at least part of the year anyway, during the summer growing season. Where they are snows in winter and they have to have enough food to last them until they’re planting again, so there’s lessons in canning and freezing and preserving. My in-laws have always had an extensive vegetable garden (Italians!) and they grow kilos and kilos of tomatoes a year that they turn into their own pasta sauce. There’s also a glut of some crops (silverbeet, tomatoes, zucchini) and the fatigue that comes from trying to consume them all, especially when you can’t really give large amounts away as everyone tends to have the same problem. There’s a long period without fresh fruit because of their rules but each family member did get to pick something they couldn’t sacrifice – such as coffee, which isn’t grown locally.

As well as their diary of food growing, this book also includes a lot of information on the decline of farming in America and the ways in which it has changed in recent years, such as the domination by big companies who push out smaller, family run operations as well as the modification of products that have severely reduced the number of things such as tomatoes available. There used to be hundreds, or thousands of different types of tomatoes and this has been greatly reduced because the big companies also control the seed industry. Heirlooms are cultivated privately and seeds exchanged between growers. I found a lot of that stuff quite dense, but also very interesting because I’m sure it’s mirrored in places like here in Australia. We were a very fertile country and we grow a lot of food. But drought and urban sprawl etc has forced many people off the land. A lot of the large farms are now owned by foreign companies and they’re buying up more. Australia exports 60% of the food it produces – there’s those fuel consumptions, because we’re isolated so whatever we’re exporting, it’s probably going pretty far away. There’s also a huge amount of food wastage – supermarkets are notoriously picky about only choosing perfect looking fresh produce. Changing climate is also a concern in a place like Australia, which already has vast amounts of desert. There’s also things like the dairy industry, basically controlled by overseas companies and I have read more than once about farmers simply dumping huge amounts of milk because they money they were being paid was actually less than what it cost to produce per litre – Murray Goulburn were paying farmers about 35c per litre. I think it has changed now, after a huge amount of publicity and media attention but a couple of years ago in 2016, that’s what farmers were being paid. A lot of the framing of stories about farmers is often negative too – whinging for government handouts, never satisfied, etc. What about X people who do Y? What do they get? These are the people that produce your food. What are you going to do without them?

This was a fantastic and insightful read…..about food. I’m not sure it provided much information for me on Appalachia itself but I did enjoy the setting and the local flavour that Kingsolver included. It certainly made me think about my own buying and eating habits concerning food and how I could do more to support local industry. We do fruit pick locally in summer – we have a number of beautiful orchards about 30min away but I could definitely do more in sourcing local farmers markets etc, to buy more locally and not rely so much on the convenience of supermarkets.

For a book I thought I would struggle to review, I didn’t seem to have any trouble finding things to say in the end!


Book #122 of 2019

This book ticks off prompt #4 in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge – About or set in Appalachia. It’s the 14th book completed!



3 responses to “Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. And now you can start diving into those other Kingsolvers!

  2. Now I know where Appalachia is too. This sounds like an interesting read. I also have Kingsolver books on my shelf that I haven’t quite got around too. I do like the idea of trying to live more organically – growing more of our own food and buying locally, as long as I can still have coffee and wine. My daughter used to be a very fussy eater too and you do have to pick your battles. But now that she’s much older, and with the benefit of some maturity, she’s a much better eater.

  3. […] Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – @ All the Books I Can Read“This book certainly made me think differently about food. I have to admit, I actually think only a little about seasons and what’s grown locally at certain times.” […]

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