Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver (2007)

I have mixed feelings about this book. It took me an inordinately long time to get through, over three months. (I’ll explain why in a bit.) It was very readable and informative, but often, the tone just turned me off.

First, the good. This is a memoir about a year that Kingsolver and her family spent trying to eat as locally as possible, down to growing and raising most of their own food, and supplementing that at the farmers market and local purveyors. Several sections of the book are quite inspiring. When Kingsolver describes the satisfaction she derives from working her garden and canning her produce, it makes me want to get into my own garden and really bring it to life (even though it’s the dead of winter). Her account of a trip to Italy is mouth-watering, and her descriptions of breeding turkeys that have forgotten how to “get it on,” so to speak, are hilarious.

I learned a lot too, especially about planning a garden, eating seasonally and preserving food. Recipes are provided throughout, and I marked several I want to try, especially for homemade mozzarella.

But quite often, the tone of the narrative becomes hectoring, lecturing, not pleasant to read. I consider myself fairly well-educated about local and sustainable eating, but Kingsolver still managed to make me feel guilty about not doing enough. Such a militant tone can be quite a turnoff, which led me to putting down the book for weeks at a time. Not all of us have the luxury of time or space to grow such a large garden or slaughter our own chickens. Surely it’s enough to be concerned with where our food comes from and how it’s produced without all the residual–and useless–guilt. Michael Pollan manages to tackle similar issues without using such a heavy hand; Kingsolver’s heart is in the right place, but she needs to take care not to turn off the very people she is trying to convert.

So I can only give Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a lukewarm recommendation. Still, a recipe for homemade mozzarella may more than make up for the book’s weaknesses.

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5 thoughts on “Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

  1. Maria 11 August 2010 at 8:05 pm

    So glad to know that I’m not the only one who was turned off by the tone of this book! The information is great, but most of the time I felt like I was being preached to — not a fun feeling when you’re reading for pleasure. Such a shame, too, because her novels are great.

  2. Cinnamin 6 September 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Nice to know more people feel the same way! I bought this book 2 years ago but could never get beyond the first chapter because it made me depressed- evil food corporations and GM foods. Now I’m reading it steadily. The information is great, but the tone can be stressful. I feel like I’m a horrible person for buying imported sauces and cheese! I’m now making efforts to eat local and seasonal. I’d love to grow my own stuff, but live in Mumbai, India where even a terrace garden is a luxury due to lack of space. I’ve stopped going to the supermarket and now only buy veggies from my grocer down the street-she goes to little farms on the outskirts of Mumbai and brings in fresh produce everyday. Since many of us can’t live on a farm of our own, we have to do our bit in little ways like these.

  3. Cinnamin 6 September 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Nice to know other people feel the same way! I bought this book 2 years ago but could never get beyond the first chapter because it made me depressedh evil food corporations and GM foods. I’m reading it steadily now. The information and ideas are great, but not all of us can live on a farm and grow our own food. I live in Mumbai, India where even a terrace garden is a luxury. I’ve stopped going to the supermarket and only buy veggies from the corner grocer- she brings in fresh produce every morning from little farms on the outskirts of Mumbai. I guess we can do our bit with little things like these.

  4. Shannon 6 September 2011 at 4:42 pm

    You have to do what you can. To be honest, not one of us can ever do enough, not individually. It will take real collective change for it to be meaningful.

  5. […] Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver — food memoir […]

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