Friday, June 15, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: The Kingsolver Family's Magical Year

Barbara Kingsolver and I have a love/hate relationship. I read The Poisonwood Bible cover to cover, yet threw down Prodigal Summer in disgust. So when I put a hold on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, when it was still "In Process" at the public library, I really didn't know what to expect. Kingsolver writes that someone once said every story begins with "I set out on a journey" or "A stranger came to town". I think this book begins with a little bit of both!

AVM is Wonderful. In the original sense of the word. Written by Barbara Kingsolver with intriguing sidebars inserted here and there by her husband Steven Hopp and daughter Camille Kingsolver, this book is a humorful, beautiful and thought-provoking look at the business of eating locally (like, from your own backyard).

There have been many reviews detailing the premise of this work of non-fiction, so let me just point out some parts of the book that were most meaningful to me.

The book begins kind of a la Michael Moore, as I like to describe it. This didn't turn me off as much as, I'm sorry to say, I found my eyes glazing over one or two times. As background and context for their year, this section is essential but it was really the narrative of their actual journal I found to be most magical.

This book truly made me want to try my hand at growing asparagus with Kingsolver's fascinating description of this plant that is only for the patient. It also made me want to explore the use of heirloom seeds - even the seeds are beautiful, nevermind what they produce.

Kingsolver's calm description of her rather complicated concept of the Vegetannual. A wonderful glimpse as to when fruits and vegetables are truly in season and why.

One of the most beautiful passages was related to preparations for her 50th birthday party where locally grown was taken to a new art:

I stood for a minute clutching my carrots, looking out over our pasture to Walker Mountain on the horizon. The view from our garden is spectacular. I thought about about people I knew who right at that moment might be plucking chickens, picking strawberries, and lettuce, just for us. I felt grateful to the people involved, and the animals also.
Better in context, of course.

One thing I will note, is that the Kingsolver's certainly have a lot of "appliances". They have a food dehydrator, chest freezer, bread machine, pasta maker, and food processor. Not that I'm knocking these wonders of the modern world...I'm just sayin'.

So many other anecdotes about the year that were interesting and funny and moving, yes, moving were related to poultry. The passages about Ms. Kingsolver's daughter Lilly and her thriving egg business are highlights of the book. And who knew that turkeys rarely ever have sex in this country any more! The Kingsolvers are quick to point out that they are by no means goodie-two-shoes. They have a stack of Mac-n-Cheese (Kraft or Annie's?) and they would never, ever, ever consider going a year without coffee.

And perhaps the most underrated contribution to this book: the simple line illustrations by Richard Houser. He's not even mentioned on the cover! They are little gems.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a wonderful book full of surprises (Try the wonderful surprise at the end of "Slow Food Nations") like the growing season itself.


Jenny Rough said...

I enjoyed this book so much and I notice the wonderful illustrations too! In fact, I wanted to rearrange my entire kitchen based on them :-)

SusieJ said...

Pictures too! Very interesting. I'm checking it out. Maybe it will come in handy at my new lake house, where I have my only garden of the year growing.

Gift of Green said...

Oh yes, Missy, I've seen your new lake house. We will be joining you next year so please let me know if we need to bring our own sheets and towels. : )

Heather said...

Thanks for this great review! It's on my list (along with 100 other books)...though I've never been a big Kingsolver fan. I've got Last Child in the Woods on hold at the library, so that will be next. I'd also like to read Plenty: a raucous year of eating locally, which sounds along the same lines as AVM.