Noted fiction author Barbara Kingsolver takes a non-fiction tact in her most recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and documents her family move to a farm in rural Appalachia and attempt to grow all their own food for an entire year. The book touches on issues ranging from food sustainability, food networks, and how the food choices of just one family can impact the local food system.
Kingsolver attempts to document the attempt to eat completely local food for an entire year, and does it in a collaborative effort with her family. One of the unique features of the book is the inclusion of her spouse and children in the writing process. In each chapter, her husband Steven Hopp adds poignant commentary about social and environmental issues in short diary entries, and her teenage daughter Camille integrates personal anecdotes, canning ideas and seasonal produce recipes. Having each family member (with the exception of her grade school daughter) contribute to the writing process gives the book a more intimate, personal feel and it demonstrates the cohesiveness of their family as they strive toward their common goal.
The book begins with the family documenting their move from Tucson, Arizona to a small homestead and farm plot in rural Appalachia, and their subsequent wrangling with issues of food sustainability and shortening their food chain. The family comes to the decision to challenge themselves to produce all of their food themselves, or purchase it from as local of a source as possible. The author structures the rest of the book as a month by month chronicle of gardening, harvesting, raising poultry, and becoming self aware of how food choices affect families and the environment.
Barbara Kingsolver is fantastic at setting the scene and I often was able to drift off and picture myself on her self-sustained farm. The author is also at the same time very realistic and doesn’t gloss over the hard work required from the entire family as she and her husband both have day jobs and their kids attend school, while tending to their gardens and animals in the early morning and evenings. Kingsolver also doesn’t mince words at describing the more unpleasant tasks like constant weed pulling and “processing” their chickens into edible meat.
The book is a very quick read and I had to make a conscious effort to put it down late at night so I’d have some left for the next day. This is also one of the few books that will attain status on my bookshelf, to be reread every few years and used occasionally as a reference for a recipe, garden idea, or moment of inspiration.
Here are some other terrific books that are reviewed such as The Gorgeously Green Diet by Sophie Uliano and Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front by Sharon Astyk.