Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver
with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh
This book falls into the category of “So many good books; so little time.” Animal Vegetable, Miracle was on the New York Times Bestseller list five years ago. It was on my list of “must reads” then, but see above.
Barbara Kingsolver can be counted among the really good American writers and possibly even among the great. She writes fiction, nonfiction, essays, and poetry. You may have read The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, High Tide in Tucson, or one of her other books. If not, you’re in for a treat.
In this book, she tells us the story of the year that her family—she, her husband, and two daughters—decide to become locavores, people who eat food produced in their local area only. Kingsolver gardens, shops at farmer’s markets, and even forages.
I’ve reviewed other books with this theme, in particular Coming Home to Eat by Gary Paul Nabham and Farm City by Novella Carpenter.
I find the idea of being a locavore appealing for many different reasons. First, it reduces your carbon footprint. Ask yourself how much oil was used to transport your morning banana to your table and compare that to the cost of eating something local and in season. Hopp, Kingsolver’s husband and coauthor, writes that “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week [emphasis his]. Secondly, by supporting your local farmers, you keep money circulating in your local economy instead of sending it off to some corporation in New York. And locally produced food is tastier and fresher than food that has been shipped or trucked for fifteen hundred miles, as Hopp tells us the average item on our plate is.
Being a locavore is not without personal cost. If you live in Virginia, as the authors do, it means no bananas—among other things. We’re luckier. Almost any vegetable or fruit can be grown within a hundred miles of San Diego—but not year round. I was surprised when I realized that something as basic as celery is seasonal in San Diego. There are many months when you can’t find it at a farmer’s market. On the other hand, you get to eat many things you’d never have a chance to experience if you limit your shopping to a local supermarket and its monoculture produce.
To be a locavore is to eat as your ancestors did for most of the generations before you. It wasn’t possible to transport fresh food until refrigerated trains, trucks, and ships were invented. Even after long-distance transportation of food became possible, its cost limited its distribution to the wealthy. But the economy of scale has changed that so we now have seemingly endless choices.
I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to you both for the writing and for the ideas. It will give you plenty to chew on. Kingsolver’s website is www.Kingsolver.com.