You MUST read this book!

No, not Harry Potter. Although I'm one of those Harry Potter freaks who has read all the books at least three times (except the last one, which I've only read once so far, but give me a week or so and I'll probably re-read it), and I don't truly understand how anyone could "try" reading the Harry Potter series and "just not get into it," I won't judge you for it. In fact, that's exactly the way I feel about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Meh. It was good but it didn't rock my world.

I'm talking about Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's the story of her family's permanent move to their farm in Appalachia and commitment to eating only what they could grow themselves or find locally for an entire year. Kingsolver is probably best known for her novels, especially The Poisonwood Bible, but she has written a lot of non-fiction essays, mostly about social injustice, the environment and family life, and she has a background in biology. I've read absolutely everything she's written, even a book from the early 1980s called Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983, which started her writing career.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is certainly not the first book about a person or family embracing agriculture and living off the land, but it's the best one by far. Kingsolver has a wonderfully fluid prose, a ripe sense of humor, and a tone that is graciously opinionated without crossing the line into preachiness. She is a truly committed environmentalist, and lives by the simple principle that one should not take from the Earth more than one can give back to it.

So why should everyone read this book? Because it's brilliant, fascinating, inspirational, and addresses the one area of our daily lives where we can all make a difference. Food. We all have to eat, after all. And it turns out that the growing, processing and transporting of food is a huge factor in what's killing the planet and using up all of our fossil fuels. And if you're not "into" the whole environmental movement (which you should be, but that's a whole other blog entry), consider this: the food system in America is also making us sick, with everything from E. coli (from beef grown in feedlots) to obesity (high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats in everything).

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is not just a tale of how we're all dooming the planet with our eating habits. Much more than that, it's a case for preserving small farms (which are disappearing at an alarming rate) and caring for communities by buying food that is grown and produced locally. Not to mention how much better food tastes when it didn't travel very far from its origin to your dinner table. (Have you ever tasted a grocery store tomato or strawberry in the middle of January? It's not even worth it.)

It's an intelligent book. Kingsolver tackles some complex issues, like the importance of bio-diversity in heirloom plant and animal species, and how vegetarianism and especially veganism are not necessarily environmentally sound, and manages to do so without being confusing or condescending. She also doesn't expect everyone to go out and buy a farm and grow all their own food. Homesteading is a shit-ton of work, and it's foolish to idealize it too much. Obviously, most of us are not freelance writers with a farm handy on which to grow acres of tomatoes and squash and turkeys and then write a best-selling book about it. Some of us are urban dwellers with small children and career plans that don't allow for an entire summer's worth of hoeing and canning. But that doesn't let us off the hook. There are ways to find food locally, and lucky for us, there are many resources on how to find them listed throughout the chapters and in the back of the book.

Lastly, there's Kingsolver's love of her home-country, Appalachia. She's lived in many places, but was born and bred in Kentucky, my home-state, and their farm is in southwest Virginia. I don't have deep roots in Kentucky, but I grew up there (we moved to a small town in the bluegrass region right before I started kindergarten) and reading her book makes me nostalgic. In fact, I've been listening to Dolly Parton the last two days and feeling a little homesick. (Incidentally, there's an heirloom variety of tomato named after Dolly Parton...guess what it looks like?) Kingsolver's love of place and community will draw you into her story as much as her agenda for writing the book in the first place.

Go read it. You'll know what I mean.


Oma said…
Preach it, sistah!
Anonymous said…
There is nothing like reading several pages of Kingsolver's book, then head off to the dining hall at summer camp to "savor" tasteless and nutritionless iceberg lettuce (that same salad bar got old after five weeks) and dine on the same "heat and eat" stuff they serve in the schools. Summer camp has come to an end, but I still have a ways to go in the book. I will finish it as it is much too interesting to give up. And it has helped change my of viewing things on the shelves of the grocery store.

Pam said…
I bought it when I first saw it on the shelf. I liked Michael Pollan's book so much that I was totally into the subject and I love Kingsolver's writing. Unfortunately, I haven't read it yet... but I definitely will now that you've recommended it so highly!
Suze said…
Chanterelle, do the boy scouts have any kind of horticulture merit badge? I think a garden program of some kind would be a very valuable to the kids in that organization. Some elementary schools have started garden programs, and it's really beneficial for lots of reasons.

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