Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle [2007]

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, is a memoir by Barbara Kingsolver, with help from her husband and teenage daughter, in which she chronicles the family's commitment to spending a year growing their own food and buying other necessities as close to home as possible. We had been meaning to check it out for some time--it was very popular last year at about this time--and finally listened to the audio book while traveling to, from, and within Canada. Kingsolver is a breathy, but earnest narrator, and Stephen and Camille also perform their parts adequately. I was under the misapprehension when we started that Kingsolver would be departing somewhat from her everyday life in order to take on this project; perhaps going from a bustling city life to a quiet one in the country. In reality, she and her husband are quite familiar with the farming life, and she describes seed catalogs, weeding, egg production, and other agrarian topics with the ease of long familiarity. The book is a strident case for the local food movement. Eating and buying locally, according to the authors, is not only more environmentally friendly (broccoli from California or bananas from South America cost millions of dollars in fuel to ship to our neighborhood grocery store each year) but also supports the local community of farmers (a disappearing breed?), and just plain tastes better. In other words, it is just not worth it to eat that pale, waxy tomato in January when you'll be inundated with tasty organic varieties in August. However, it is difficult to imagine never eating fruits or vegetables (such as bananas) that simply aren't grown here.

Kingsolver does a good job of building narrative suspense (through the interesting vehicle of turkey reproduction), but the book is frequently repetitive, hammering home again and again the importance of local foods until you want to yell "OK, I get it!" and move on. Those of us who already spend a part of the summer canning, and can relate to the yearly tide of zucchini that cannot be given away fast enough, are not really among those that need to be converted. Aside from the redundancy, the glimpses of Kingsolver's family life (which would no doubt be more interesting to me if I had read any of her other books) are charming, and the family pictured on the back of the audio book looks exactly as I imagined it. Listening to the book while driving through the picturesque potato fields of Prince Edward Island proved to be the perfect match of subject matter and backdrop; I can only hope that the next time I am moved to pick up a banana, I will have the fortitude to put it down and wait until I can get one in season, perhaps in Brazil.

Grade: B+

ETA: They are enriching lives online here. It looks like a good starting point for exploration of local food resources.

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