Barbara Kingsolver and her family were already longtime gardeners and highly food conscious when they decided to spend an entire year eating only food produced where they live, calling it “our local food project.” That meant, among other adjustments, eating only produce that was locally in season, a resolution requiring more effort in their Southwestern Virginia region (no cucumbers until May; no bananas – ever) than if they had lived in, say Southern California. But they also made a few concessions such as buying locally milled flour made from out of state grains.
Many of us would have doubts about adopting such a lifestyle, but Kingsolver presents a common sense case for making these changes. Progressing through the book, the reader will likely want to share lots of “I-did-not-know-that” items with anyone willing to listen, including practical tips, humorous stories, and scientific and historical information. (Lactose intolerance has been the norm for nearly all humans for most of our species’ history. Who knew?) Plus, more than you ever expected to learn about the mating habits of turkeys.
A few words regarding the book’s format: Kingsolver is the book’s primary author; her husband Steven Hopp drops in occasional data; older daughter Camille offers recipes and suggestions for weekly menus as well as a teen’s insights, such as this one regarding asparagus: “It’s easy to carry childish food decisions into adulthood.” (Ouch!) Together, they endeavor to depict the benefits of eating local and growing and preparing food as a family. They consider local food versus nonlocal more important than organic versus nonorganic. Kingsolver points out that “certified organic” reflects only vague guidelines, whereas “locally grown” means just that.
The author leavens her account with humor which makes for easy reading, even if you are not an especially conscientious consumer. Kingsolver’s writing is so engaging that you will probably even enjoy chapters about foods you don’t like.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle often evokes images of unhurried meals with friends and family, of recipes passed down through generations in remembrance of those no longer with us, and moments of creating new memories with loved ones. Ultimately, it is a warm and highly readable look at the underappreciated role of food in our lives, asking the rhetorical question, “Why wouldn’t we choose to eat the best we can?” Kingsolver never implies that this lifestyle is easy. Nor does she gloss over such topics as the processes involved in “harvesting” farm animals. However, she has a storyteller’s gift for providing intriguing details and engaging anecdotes. Kingsolver is like that teacher who so loves her subject that her enthusiasm spreads to the class. You may not go out and plant a garden or start making your own cheese, but don’t be surprised if you make some lasting changes in how you shop and eat. You might even give asparagus another try.
Jeff Tudor is the President of the Friends of Alamance County Public Libraries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.