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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life Paperback – April 29, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Signature]Reviewed by Nina PlanckMichael Pollan is the crack investigator and graceful narrator of the ecology of local food and the toxic logic of industrial agriculture. Now he has a peer. Novelist Kingsolver recounts a year spent eating home-grown food and, if not that, local. Accomplished gardeners, the Kingsolver clan grow a large garden in southern Appalachia and spend summers "putting food by," as the classic kitchen title goes. They make pickles, chutney and mozzarella; they jar tomatoes, braid garlic and stuff turkey sausage. Nine-year-old Lily runs a heritage poultry business, selling eggs and meat. What they don't raise (lamb, beef, apples) comes from local farms. Come winter, they feast on root crops and canned goods, menus slouching toward asparagus. Along the way, the Kingsolver family, having given up industrial meat years before, abandons its vegetarian ways and discovers the pleasures of conscientious carnivory.This field—local food and sustainable agriculture—is crowded with books in increasingly predictable flavors: the earnest manual, diary of an epicure, the environmental battle cry, the accidental gardener. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is all of these, and much smarter. Kingsolver takes the genre to a new literary level; a well-paced narrative and the apparent ease of the beautiful prose makes the pages fly. Her tale is both classy and disarming, substantive and entertaining, earnest and funny. Kingsolver is a moralist ("the conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners"), but more often wry than pious. Another hazard of the genre is snobbery. You won't find it here. Seldom do paeans to heirloom tomatoes (which I grew up selling at farmers' markets) include equal respect for outstanding modern hybrids like Early Girl.Kingsolver has the ear of a journalist and the accuracy of a naturalist. She makes short, neat work of complex topics: what's risky about the vegan diet, why animals belong on ecologically sound farms, why bitterness in lettuce is good. Kingsolver's clue to help greenhorns remember what's in season is the best I've seen. You trace the harvest by botanical development, from buds to fruits to roots. Kingsolver is not the first to note our national "eating disorder" and the injuries industrial agriculture wreaks, yet this practical vision of how we might eat instead is as fresh as just-picked sweet corn. The narrative is peppered with useful sidebars on industrial agriculture and ecology (by husband Steven Hopp) and recipes (by daughter Camille), as if to show that local food—in the growing, buying, cooking, eating and the telling—demands teamwork. (May)Nina Planck is the author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why (Bloomsbury USA, 2006).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This book chronicles the year that Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband and two daughters, made a commitment to become locavores–those who eat only locally grown foods. This first entailed a move away from their home in non-food-producing Tuscon to a family farm in Virginia, where they got right down to the business of growing and raising their own food and supporting local farmers. For teens who grew up on supermarket offerings, the notion not only of growing one's own produce but also of harvesting one's own poultry was as foreign as the concept that different foods relate to different seasons. While the volume begins as an environmental treatise–the oil consumption related to transporting foodstuffs around the world is enormous–it ends, as the year ends, in a celebration of the food that physically nourishes even as the recipes and the memories of cooks and gardeners past nourish our hearts and souls. Although the book maintains that eating well is not a class issue, discussions of heirloom breeds and making cheese at home may strike some as high-flown; however, those looking for healthful alternatives to processed foods will find inspiration to seek out farmers' markets and to learn to cook and enjoy seasonal foods. Give this title to budding Martha Stewarts, green-leaning fans of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, 2006), and kids outraged by Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (Houghton, 2001).–Jenny Gasset, Orange County Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060852569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060852566
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (904 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julie Neal VINE VOICE on May 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Three hundred and sixty-eight pages, no pretty pictures, and it's about food? Yes it is, and it's fascinating. Written by best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver, her scientist hubby and teenage daughter, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" chronicles the true story of the family's adventures as they move to a farm in rural Virginia and vow to eat locally for one year. They grow their own vegetables, raise their own poultry and buy the rest of their food directly from farmers markets and other local sources. There are touching human stories here (the family's 9-year-old learns a secret to raising chickens for food: don't name them!) but the book's purpose is serious food for thought: it argues the economic, social and health benefits of putting local foods at the center of a family diet. As Kingsolver details the family's experience month-by-month, husband Steven adds sidebars on the problems of industrial agriculture and daughter Camille tosses in some first-person essays ("Growing Up in the Kitchen") and recipes ("Holiday Corn Pudding a Nine-Year-Old Can Make").

And it is all so well written! Kingsolver can veer way off topic -- wandering off into subjects like rural politics, even turkey sex -- and still, somehow, stay right on point. Her husband can say more in two pages than some professors I know can say in 200, and the daughter's writings... well I often couldn't tell who was writing what without checking for the byline.

The book looks and feels great, too. The dust jacket has been pressed into the nubby texture of burlap. The pages have ragged edges, which makes them soft on your fingers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I work in large-scale, corporate agriculture. Over the years I have worked for chemical companies, seed companies, grower-shippers and allied industries. I have recommended Kingsolver's novel "The Poisonwood Bible" to many of my colleagues. I have also endorsed Pollan's "Ominovore's Dilemma", having bought several copies and distributed them around. I very much enjoyed Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life". It contained all the wit and humor I would expect from one of this nation's finest novelists. I think this book as well as Pollan's are a bit weak in the plant science area and I think both lack some of the insights into the machinations that really drive some of the food production industries. Then, again their intended audience is not the readers of TAG: Theoretical and the Applied Genetics, it is the populace at large. I very much agree with the sentiment of eating local, of shopping local, and of the slow food movement. It puts money back into the local community, it fosters a sense of community and it improves the quality of our diets. What is local though? Many of the fruits and vegetables eaten during Kingsolver's year of eating locally do not have Virginia as their center of origin. Some purists might cry foul. But, I think the focus needs to be on breaking the transport chain. People need to rediscover what a fresh peach or tomato is supposed to taste like, and their proper season. The bulk of the 'civilized' world buy their food at a chain grocery store dominated by one of the multinational grocery conglomerates. You think you have a choice when you walk into the store? You do not. That choice was made by a buyer probably at some regional DC (distribution center) who purchased the fruit from a packing shed sight unseen, and certainly did not taste it.Read more ›
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I love Barbara Kingsolver's books and was thrilled to hear she had another on the market. Her family leaves Arizona and moved back to Virginia to spend a year living off what they can grow or buy at the local farmer's market? Good deal!

And I certainly did enjoy parts of the book, prticularly the actual discussing the dilemmas of eating locally and how the family got around them. Kingsolver is a wonderful writer, and her talk about vegetables, mushrooms and chickens is far more entertaining than it should by rights be. The recipes that are included sound nice and I plan to try some of them. But the rest of the book I found preachy to the point where it became annoying. I get the point: shop locally, shop at the local farmer's market. I get it, I get it. I'll even do it. I don't need all those extra pages pounding it in.

And I wasn't so impressed with her defense of the tobacco industry, saying it provided a living for a lot of families. Fair enough, but it's sideways logic -- trucking in the strawberries she objects to provides a living wage for truckers and their families too.
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It is possible to live off the land. The Kingsolver family are proof of that. They grew their own food for a year on a farm in Virginia's Applachian mountains. It only cost 50 cents a meal to feed the Kingsolver family of four for a year, and I found that to be amazing. It is much healthier to eat organic foods which are foods produced without chemicals. This is one of the main ideas of this insightful book. I love Camille's Kingsolver's contributions in this book. She is the college age daughter of the primary author. Camille's reflections about food are thoughtful, and her recipes sound delicious. I loved her essay about how she learned to love asparagus. I learned that asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin C, which I did not know before. There is a recipe in here for an asparagus mushroom bread pudding. I never thought of putting these ingredients together. Another interesting recipe in the book is one for zucchini chocolate chip cookies. The recipe sounds so unusual, I am tempted to try it. The recipe for pumpkin soup and sweet potato quesadillas sound yummy too. Everyone in the Kingsolver family contributed in this local food project. Barbara raised and bred turkeys, while her nine year old daughter raised her own chickens and provided the family with eggs for a year. They even made their own cheese.

I also enjoyed the contributions of Steven L. Hopp in this book. He is a professor who teaches environmental science at Emory and Henry College. His short contributions in the every chapter are very insightful. He really compliments the main text written by Kingsolver. I enjoyed reading his thoughts about the popularity of agricultural education in public schools. This is a fascinating and informative book about food.
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