Sunday, July 6, 2008

Barbara Kingsolver: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
June 25, 2008

A friend loaned us Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I wasn’t really planning on reading this book, but there it was. Since we’d better give it back before too long, I put it at the top of the pile.

To read, or not to read? On the plus side, I’d recently finished reading (out loud to my wife Sue) Animal Dreams, a novel by Barabara Kingsolver, and we enjoyed it. On the other hand, a year earlier we had read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, which seemed to cover similar ground as this book. And I had just bought Michael’s new book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto, which looked promising.

Well, we decided to read Barbara’s book next, and read it aloud, something I enjoy doing in the evening while Sue cleans up after dinner. The book starts off with discussions of food politics and Barbara’s concerns about what she and her family are eating. (Sounds like Michael Pollan.) Barbara and her family – husband Steven and daughters Camille and Lily – agree to spend a year as “locavores,” that is, people who eat only food that is in-season and locally grown. It’s March in Virginia, and there isn’t a lot of local choice just yet, other than asparagus, but things will get better.

About this time Sue made it clear that she would not impose that sacrifice on her family – no bananas, no oranges, no asparagus (except in March)! Also we both got a lot more busy. She started working on her fused glass projects after dinner, and I started doing more of the cleaning up. In other words, we stopped reading aloud.

But the book was still sitting on the bookcase, and I do have to give it back someday, so I picked it up again. It’s now springtime in Virginia, and everything is growing. Barbara and her family plant all sorts of delicious stuff – mostly “heritage” vegetables, which grow better in non-chemically treated soil and Barbara claims taste so very much better. I wish I could try some! I remember the fresh eggs on my great uncle’s farm tasted better than any eggs I’ve had since.

Ah, but here’s the rub. I’m not likely to eat organic heritage vegetables because I’m not likely to plant them. Gardening is a good thing, but I have never had much interest in developing my green thumb. (Then why am I reading this book?) Perhaps we could buy heritage vegetables from the Eugene Farmers Market, but we live on a farm outside of town, and it’s not convenient to drive into town for our fresh veggies. (Yes, I should plant that garden!)

The book continues with lots of interesting anecdotes about different types and sources of fresh foods. Barbara’s chapter on “harvesting” turkeys provides an interesting two-sided view of vegetarianism. I don’t feel quite so guilty about continuing to eat meat, especially if it’s “grass finished.”

Barbara and Steven take a break and vacation in Tuscany for a week. In this chapter we learn that food is never an afterthought for the Italians. Every meal, no matter how humble, is exquisite – a sentiment described in depth in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

This year was a collective and significant family commitment for Barbara and crew. I’m impressed with the discipline they followed in sticking with it. Each had his or her unique contributions, even young Lily, who was CEO of the chickens and eggs business. And Steven and Camille also contributed by writing sections of the book.

Their year winds down. Not much grows from December through February, yet the family doesn’t starve. They had canned and frozen a lot of food in the summer and autumn. So, they’ve succeeded in their goal of living for a year as locavores!

Would they do it another year? Either way they’ve learned a lot, changed some habits, and will never be the same again. (As for me, the book has made me think, but I haven’t planted my garden yet.)

1 comment:

Nate Bradley said...

Grocery shopping with Sue can be an experience. She always wants to know where everything comes from - how it was grown or fed, whether or not it was treated right. I just want to know if it's cheap and if it tastes good. Of course I also enjoy eating what Sue cooks more than what I cook. But in a way I'm kind of relieved to learn that Sue does not want to impose "localism" on her family.

I'm surprised to hear Kit talking about not planting the garden yet. Our Grandfather always had a vegetable garden, our Mother always had a vegetable garden, and every time I've visited, Kit has proudly shown me his garden. He always tells me what's coming up in each row, or how he installed a drip watering system, or both.

Kit is clearly more into lifestyle books than I am. But I'm enjoying his reviews. One of these days, I'll have to try reading one of the books he likes.