Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Spoiler alert: I don’t think you’ll want to read this book unless you’re prepared to feel a bit guilty about eating a red pepper in April.

I read it & felt a little guilty about some of my food choices. But mostly it helped me gear up for the coming spring & my expanding garden. The book also made me more aware of food choices beyond organic & non-organic. I already support my local food producers when I can, but Ms. Kingsolver’s adventure is inspirational on a whole new level.

Let me start at the beginning: The book chronicles Ms. Kingsolver’s family’s year of local, mostly home-grown eating. It covers beautifully the changing seasons & celebrates food as a family & community effort.

The book is also chock-full of practical knowledge & delicious sounding recipes. I can’t wait to get my seeds in the ground & try my hand at canning this summer.

About half-way through the book I had this realization after reading this exchange between Kingsolver & a Lebanese shop-keeper in Montreal (they’re talking about cheese-making):

“You make cheese yourself,” she repeated reverently. “You are a real housewife.”
It has taken me decades to get here, but I took that as a compliment.

This is radical homemaking.

I may (or may not) try my hand at cheese-making in the near future, but it was inspiring to read about the home adventures of a successful career woman. And to read about Ms. Kingsolver embracing of the domestic & making it work with her other commitments & ambitions is really refreshing.

She talks about her family’s involvement in the whole endeavor & her husband & oldest daughter both contributed to the book. Ms. Kingsolver’s inclusion of friends in growing, harvesting (animals & vegetables) & preserving is inspiring: The is community & we have to cultivate our community as we cultivate our gardens.

While the book is for the most part joyful, toward the end I found it got a bit too doomsday for my taste. I think the descent into ecological-disaster-thinking, while no doubt accurate, undercuts the beauty of the book. Ms. Kingsolver had me at her story of how asparagus grows (slowly & intentionally & only for a very short season); I didn’t need the reality check disaster-preparedness talk, too.

Besides which, such doomsday discussions are a bit alienating to us city-folk who want to support local food producers or grow our own but face constraints Ms. Kingsolver did not during her year-long adventure (she travelled a lot in the book but not to any US cities).

“Local” food is far more expensive in the city: My pastured eggs are $5/doz. when they’d cost $3/doz. on the farm. (I agree with Ms. Kingsolver & her husband, who contributed to the book, that we should pony up for our local farms, but for most of us, this is a careful budgetary balancing act & while I gladly pay for my eggs, there are many things I continue to get from the grocery.) Space is tighter: I have the luxury of (shared) yard space but no where near enough to grow even most of the vegetables my family consumes.

But, of course, her alarms ring true. And we have to face it.

Overall, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a lovely book. And I can’t wait to try out some of the book’s recipes (once the vegetables are once again in season, of course!). In some ways, though, I just wish I had stopped reading about two chapters before the end.

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