Book Review - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Friday, March 29, 2013

I want to apologize in advance. This has now become one of my favorite books so this will be a long post.

Book #3 - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
[image source: Goodreads]

Summary (source)
Bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver returns with her first nonfiction narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

"As the U.S. population made an unprecedented mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us paddled against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. We were about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.

"Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel. . . ."

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that's better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

My Review
What I Loved
1. The writing is incredibly engaging. Kingsolver could make me fall in love with toilet paper if she described it as poetically as she does food. Below I listed some of my favorite quotes. Yes, I know there are a bunch but I seriously could have just listed the whole book as my favorite quote. If you are curious, read them all. If you are inspired, read the book. I loved everything about it. I love the message that it sends, how well it's written, and the priceless information it contains. It pretty much changed how I see food and life in general. That's saying a lot about a book but for me, it's the truth.
  • "Eternal is the right frame of mind for making food for a family: cooking down the tomatoes into a red-gold oregano-scented sauce for pasta. Before that, harvesting sun-ripened fruits, pinching oregano leaves from their stems, growing these things from seed - yes. A lifetime is what I'm after. Cooking is definitely one of the things we do for fun around here. When I'm in a blue mood I head for the kitchen. I turn the pages of my favorite cookbooks, summoning the prospective joyful noise of a shared meal. I stand over a bubbling soup, close my eyes, and inhale. From the ground up, everything about nourishment steadies my soul."
  • “Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven.”
  • “Wake up now, look alive, for here is a day off work just to praise Creation: the turkey, the squash, and the corn, these things that ate and drank sunshine, grass, mud, and rain, and then in the shortening days laid down their lives for our welfare and onward resolve. There's the miracle for you, the absolute sacrifice that still holds back seed: a germ of promise to do the whole thing again, another time. . . Thanksgiving is Creation's birthday party. Praise harvest, a pause and sigh on the breath of immortality.”
  • "Obesity is generally viewed as a failure of personal resolve, with no acknowledgement of the genuine conspiracy in this historical scheme. People actually did sit in strategy meetings discussing ways to get all those surplus calories into people who neither needed nor wished to consume them. Children have been targeted especially; food companies spend over $10 billion a year selling food brands to kids, and it isn't broccoli they're pushing. Overweight children are a demographic in many ways similar to minors addicted to cigarettes, with one notable exception: their parents are usually their suppliers. We all subsidize the cheap calories with our tax dollars, the strategists make fortunes, and the overweight consumers get blamed for the violation. The perfect crime.”
  • "In October, the sober forests around us suddenly revealed their proclivity for cross-dressing. Trees in Tucson didn't just throw on scarlet and orange like this."
  • “When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.”
  • "Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: 'Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.' You’d think we cared more about the idea of what we’re eating than about what we’re eating. But then, if you examine the history of women’s footwear, you’d think we cared more about the idea of showing off our feet than about, oh, for example, walking. Humans can be fairly ridiculous animals."
2. The book was very inspiring. I honestly am one of those people that has always questioned the food industry (primarily after watching the documentary Food, Inc.) and I knew that I needed to change my habits but never knew where to start. The book lists not only a detailed account of how Kingsolver and her family changed their habits but it also provides recipes, short informative essays about the food industry, and links to follow. I don't live on a farm and certainly don't plan on moving to one. Right now, we live in a tiny apartment with literally no outdoor space of our own - not even a balcony (we traded that for a fireplace). But despite our living conditions, I am already making changes. I am working hard to make more meals at home using local ingredients. I am in LOVE with our local David's Natural Market and I am anxiously awaiting the opening day of our local farmers markets. I am also prepping and planning ahead for when we move into our new house. Between gardens and meal routines, I've got a lot in the works.

3. It's not just the motivating story that gets me but the fact that the book is full of useful information. You can find everything from links for finding farmers markets close to you and fair trade products to CSA and GMOs. Now, I think a lot harder about where I shop, what I purchase, and what I cook. There is also a website for the book you can find here.

4. The hilariousness of some of the stories she tells made the book a bit lighter. The turkey-mating cracked me up. Also, her daughter Lily reminds me a lot of myself with her early entrepreneurship.

5. Like I said, I certainly don't live on a farm in the middle of Appalachia like Kingsolver. While I was inspired, in no way do I feel compelled to quit my job and become a farmer. From what I've read, it seems like a hell of a lot of work but that doesn't mean I can't make changes. The thing that I really liked about this book was that it often talks about folks living in New York City and very urban areas. You don't have to become a full-scale farming operation in order to adopt some of the practices she teaches. Simple things like purchasing food from farmers markets, canning, composting, gardening (indoors and out), and cooking at home are all things we can do.

What I Didn't Love
1. When on earth does this woman have time to do all of this?! Farming alone is a full-time job. With all of the planning, preparing, planting, weeding, managing, and harvesting of the crops on a large farm as well as all of the care and time the animals take, I have no idea how she also finds time to write books, meet deadlines, cook, clean, do housework, run errands and a perform million of the other responsibilities a working mother of two has. She made it seem so easy and carefree. I wish she would have described a little more about the stresses of daily life so that I could relate more. I can guarantee she has them but she just seemed to project this idea that she has everything perfectly managed and that drove me a little nuts. That was my only major complaint. I guess it just takes practice - A LOT of practice. I'll get there someday, right?

2. While this wasn't a big complaint from me, I wanted to mention it. I can see where some readers could take slight offense to some of Kingsolver's statements when she is referring to the habits of the American general public (especially the parts about vegetarianism). At times, she sounded a little like she was preaching and gave off a bit of a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Interestingly enough, a lot of the reviews that I read where people complain about her judgements of American culture usually ended with them saying something about how the book has still changed how they shop and eat. I personally didn't take offense to any of what she said but I think that had to do with the fact that I felt more like my relationship with Kingsolver was that of student-teacher than anything else. She is a woman who certainly knows what she's talking about and I was trying to absorb as much of what she presented as possible. I did feel that she may have been a bit harsh at parts but I didn't think anything she said was untrue.

5 out of 5 stars

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