Lean in close and I’ll tell you a secret: Though I am one of the founders of the Locavores and the editor of the Eat Local Challenge website, I still sometimes become a bit fatigued about the ubiquitousness of information about eating locally. While overall it’s amazing and overwhelming, when a new perspective on the subject comes along, I am very excited. And when one of the best writers of our time, Barbara Kingsolver, chooses to write about eating local, I chomp at the bit to read the book.
Barbara Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in conjunction with her husband, Steven L. Hopp, and her daughter Camille Kingsolver. Ms. Kingsolver wrote the main narrative while Mr. Hopp wrote intriguing sidebars that are politically and policy based. Camille, Ms. Kingsolver’s daughter is a college student who peppered the book with her point-of-view and recipes relating to the text.
The crux of this book focuses on Ms. Kingsolver’s family, living in Virginia, who manages to eat a locally-based diet for a year mainly subsisting of their family garden. More than her devoted point-of-view about eating locally, it was Ms. Kingsolver’s calm moderation that made me love this book.
Our locavore project nudged us constantly toward new personal bests. But it always remained fascination, not fanatacism. We still ate out at restaurants with friends sometimes, and happily accepted invitations to dine at their homes. People who knew about our project would get flustered sometimes about inviting us, or when seeing us in a restaurant would behave as if they’d caught the cat eating the canary. We always explained, “We’re converts in progress, not preachers. No stone tablets.” Our Thanksgiving dinner would include a little California olive oil, a pinch of African nutmeg, and some Virginia flour that likely contained wheat from Pennsylvania and points north.”
I talked to a friend recently who was frustrated with Ms. Kingsolver’s point-of-view, saying that it wasn’t possible for the majority of many Americans. While I didn’t find Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to be as pedantic as my friend did, Ms. Kingsolver freely admits that this type of diet is possible if you know how, and are willing, to cook.
The Kingsolver family situation is unique — they cultivate a small farm / large garden, she works at home and makes the time and has the know-how to create delicious local meals for her family. Rather than consider this a “how-to” book, I believe that the best use for it is inspiration for our own eat local lives — while I may not be able to grow my own food, there are other nuggets of information that I can take from the book and apply to my own life.
The most compelling of the stories in the book were the stories about Ms. Kingsolver’s third-grader, Lily, who participated in the family experiment by raising chickens and selling eggs.
Once she’d brought them home, taken her twenty-eight chicks out of that tiny box, and started each one on its path to a new life under her care, Lily was ready to get back to third grade. When we signed her in at the principal’s office, the secretary needed a reason for Lily’s tardiness. Lily threw back her shoulders and announced, “I had to start my own chicken business this morning.” The secretary said without blinking, “Oh, okay, farming,” and entered the code for “Excused, Agriculture.” Just another day at our elementary school, where education comes in many boxes.
Whether you’re not completely sold on the idea of eating locally-grown food, or you are a veteran at the concept, I believe that you will find Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to be an interesting and richly-written story about one family’s attempt to eat locally for a year.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle check out Michael Krasny’s interview with Barbara Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp last week on KQED’s Forum.
This book was reviewed based on a free review copy provided by the publisher.