Customer Review

153 of 174 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nauseatingly holy, fantasy-world farming, September 26, 2010
This review is from: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Hardcover)
After reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I moved on to "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", only to find it a ridiculous fantasy-farming manifesto. Nauseatingly holy.

Apart from the content (which I'll get to in a moment), the tone of the book was smug, self-satisfied and arrogant. This is NOT the way to encourage people to eat local, fresh, healthy food. And don't get me started on the daughter's writings - she seemed even more impossibly arrogant, convinced in her supremacy because of her diet and lifestyle. She also, interestingly, seemed to have a vendetta against vegetarians. Suppressed guilt, maybe?

As a small organic farmer myself, I found myself staring in disbelief at the content of the book, and how abstract from reality it was. How much money did this family have? Clearly hundreds of thousands of spare dollars to spend on their "experiment".

Example: In my part of the world, a tractor costs $55,000, yet they seemed to have no problem affording one. There seemed to be little connection or understanding of the real cost of living for real people - including farmers. (Yes, we all traipse off to Italy for holidays regularly!)

How this was intended to have anything at all to do with farming and organic traditions is beyond me. (And I won't even get started on the hypocrisy of waxing lyrical about the zero carbon miles of homegrown food and cruising around in a fancy hybrid car, yet flying halfway across the world for amusement.)

Likewise, few problems with vermin such as rabbits, rats, mice - the list goes on - ever showed their tails between the pages of the book. Maybe the sanctimonious tone kept them at bay? Weeds are mentioned, but do they ever cause crop failure? No.

No problems with storms (my entire hazelnut crop is gone this season from two bad storms in a row), water restrictions, GM taint, or a host of other nasties real farmers deal with either. The book exists in a cartoon fantasy vacuum where all goes well and food is never eaten by grasshoppers right out of the ground.

The real "miracle" of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" to me is that none of these real farming everyday issues seemed to pose a problem to the obviously insanely wealthy "landed gentry" Kingsolver crew.

Am I cynical and critical about the book? Absolutely. Because the truth is, Kingsolver portrays her book as fact, yet clearly she has left most of the unsavory and difficult truths out of the story. It's an edited, prettied-up, ideologized fiction. If it were sold as such, fine. But the fact it is sold as organic, homegrown truth rankles with this small organic farmer battling rabbits and rampant free-range chickens.

In short, if an author is going to tell the a "back to the land" story, at least do it honestly, out of respect to her audience, and to those of us who actually work the land every day. And if we're going to encourage people to eat local, maybe a little humble pie might be a friendlier offering than this self-satisfied gump.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 14, 2010 1:59:56 PM PDT
I couldnt agree more with you. I loved Poisonwood Bible and I am reading this for a class. I was really looking forward to reading this because I am very passionate about cooking, eating, gardening and using fresh, wholsome ingrdienets. This book however is just too preachy and really rubs me the wrong way. I just feel like Kingsolver is being way too preachy and smug. The book does have a fantastical element to it. This is not the way to encourage people to eat local.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2011 9:56:45 AM PST
Bobby O says:
I enjoyed reading it but only when I detached myself from any sens of obligation to live this way and saw it more as an experiment of a wealthy family. I agree that this book probably turned more people off of even trying to change their habits as it is too overwhelming. I wish she had suggested more moderate and realistic ways people could make changes to move a step closer to a more local based food economy.

Posted on Jan 5, 2012 6:58:20 AM PST
Nina Harmes says:
I can absolutely see your point of view - no mention of cabbage root larvae eating all of your radishes and turnips - Japanese beetles defoliating the raspberries....but it's Barbara Kingsolver - she's rich for goodness sake! - I read the book in the same way I watch movies - with a suspension of disbelief. Some of the most memorable parts to me are that the family made homemade pizza every Friday and connected after a hectic week, that the youngest was learning responsibility in caring for her chickens....would I love to be able to raise a flock of turkeys and harvest them in the fall YES! but since I live in town I can only dream - just as I can only dream of the life a very successful author lives - and I don't hold that against her or the book.

Posted on Oct 19, 2012 11:54:25 AM PDT
V. Vesper says:
I can absolutely see what you're saying about never having any problems with insect or rodent pests, weather, weeds, money, etc. Most of us don't live in that world, and the garden/farm problems even change from year to year!

On the other hand, I'm intrigued that several folks have found the tone of the book to be smug and superior. I did not, and I was very afraid it would be. It's interesting that you thought they had a vendetta against vegetarians, while I personally was just relieved to find they had none against omnivores!

No, the scenario in the book is not realistic for most of us. However, it can sometimes be useful for someone who can afford it to tell us about the things they learned in such a "suspended reality" experiment. This book was the first I had read about the local food movement, though my family has always grown some of our own. I'm embarrassed to say how little thought I had previously given to where my food comes from and how it gets to me. The book has also given me much cause to ponder the state of poultry that we eat. While most of us simply cannot conduct such an "experiment," I think it's still interesting to consider which pieces of it we might try.

Posted on Dec 15, 2012 10:25:44 AM PST
Autumnson says:
Thank you Leanne, you helped our book club come to a final decision about this book. Many of us grew up in farming communities and the last thing we would be interested in, is a family that has all the money in the world to bring fantasy to the reality and hardships of self-sustainability.
On a side note, for a family that was once vegetarian to become meat eating...well, that's just stupid. Farm animals create one of the BIGGEST carbon footprints on this earth. Anyone every heard of methane? Yeah, bye-bye Ms. Kingsolver from OUR reading list.

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 7:25:06 AM PST
C. Hayo says:
I similarly came from Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" into Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and I am relieved to share your view on Kingsolver's book. Perhaps if I had read Kingsolver's book first I might have approached it differently, but coming directly from Pollan's writing this is no where near as good mainly due to, I felt, a lack of supportive AND counter-argumentative statistics and investigative journalism work.

I whole-heartedly agree concerning Kingsolver's daughter's contributions to the book having a tone of supremecy and arrogance. One of the most annoying things about this book for me is the way Kingsolver writes about her "dudley-do-right" family. Her husband's contributions I did not mind so much as they typically were decently informative if only to regurgitate information already covered in Pollan's book, but the writing about her younger daughter and contributions from her older daughter both I felt were enveloped in an idealized fantasy that only serve to further the "perfect world" illusion on display here. I can understand that Kingsolver loves her family as that is clearly on display here, but was it really the right thing to do to include short pieces written by your 19 year old and frequent stories concerning your 3rd grader's "cute" entrepenurial exploits? I'm sure there are people out there who loved the family inclusive style of the book, but I did not.

Finally, I would like to add that while I am happy to find a well-written critical review of this book I do think that it probably deserves more than 1 "star" because despite its flaws I did find it to be a good book on a good topic. I myself am a gardener and a landscaper by profession and at least during the off season, even if it is mostly fantasy, I am very grateful that stories such as these exist to tide me over until the next season.

Posted on Sep 27, 2013 11:01:33 AM PDT
Tina says:
Well said! I, too, wished for more realism and humble pie. Thanks for your review.

Posted on Oct 9, 2013 8:48:07 AM PDT
Sally Davis says:
What an interesting take. I read this book way back when it was first published and in part, it's why we are on the land we're on today. We paid a whopping $3000 for our tractor and it works fine. We milk a cow twice a day. We grow/raise all our meat, generally butcher and certainly package it ourselves. We have a large vegetable garden and in addition, grow a lot of our animal feed. We are most definitely NOT "insanely wealthy."

And yes, we deal with real problems. Not everything is perfect by any means.

I thought the book was super.

Posted on Dec 3, 2013 11:39:03 AM PST
I agree with your review. And to top off the lack of honesty hidden within the families commitment was the ending.... where she admits they dined out frequently and didn't "really" follow their plan. I will not purchase another of her books, ever.

Posted on Jul 5, 2014 9:58:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 5, 2014 9:59:19 PM PDT
I agree wholeheartedly to the point I am sad that I bought this book and gave her money
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