by Alissa Agres, ’05, ’06, ’07
“When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. When drinking clear water, remember who dug the well” - Vietnamese Proverb
Starting with the patient waiting for the first asparagus tips to appear, and continuing through a year-long adventure of eating locally, Barbara Kingsolver lets us accompany her as she navigates bringing her family back to the land.
Although most of us are familiar with vegetarians, vegans and omnivores, in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life we are introduced to a new way of eating: becoming a localvore.
As a localvore, people choose to eat food they grow themselves or purchase from local purveyors within a 100-mile radius of their home. In her compelling new book, Kingsolver’s family uproots themselves from a life of imported everything in the dry, dusty Arizona desert to the greener pastures of a farm in rural Virginia. There they vow to adopt a diet that includes garden grown vegetables, heirloom turkeys, and homemade cheese but eschews the processed and packaged food that so many of us consume daily.
The book begins with the family packing up and embarking on the journey from Arizona to Virginia with one last stop at a convenience store. Kingsolver uses the opening chapter to educate us about the downfall of the American farm. We find out about the astonishing number of miles the food on our dinner plate travels before reaching our bellies. She presents the disturbing gap in knowledge many school age children (as well as adults!) have when it comes to the origin of food. With eloquence and humor, she teaches us about the life sustaining workings of the people and animals who feed us.
Kingsolver’s family decides that they can go without being tethered to the lifeline of the modern American supermarket. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle presents a life without this convenience, but with so much more. The life her family lives is earnest, passionate and full of glorious food. Starting with spring’s crisp, green asparagus, the month-by-month journey through the year will entice you to seek out fresh, seasonal produce. She describes the ever-changing adventures in the garden, the wondrous variety of heirloom tomatoes (in so many more colors than ‘kinda red-dish’), and what one does with plants that produce as many as nineteen zucchini in one day (ONE day!).
The story is a family affair, and the teamwork and commitment of her family is inspiring. Sidebars from her older daughter, Camille present creative recipes and menus for seasonal local eating. Sections of the book written by Kingsolver’s partner, Stephen Hopp, provide information on our agricultural system and ecology. We also learn how Kingsolver’s daughter, Lily, becomes a young entrepreneur as she sets up shop to sell her chicken eggs to local customers, including Kingsolver herself.
I have recently moved to a house with both a fig tree and a lemon tree, as well as being only a few blocks from local farmer’s market. This book helped motivate me to figure out what to do with the abundant crop my fig tree is now producing and to insist our produce comes from the farmer’s market. As fig jam bubbles on the stove and pesto from my basil plant whirls away in the food processor, I smile and think about how much better food seems to taste with this added awareness.
This book was inspiring and enjoyable. Kingsolver is informative, entertaining, and witty without being preachy and condescending. We hear about the struggles and trials of a local diet as well as the triumphs of knowing the origins of your food. Kingsolver’s optimism will give you hope. As global climate change has shifted to center stage, we can help make a difference by making informed food choices. It may be close to impossible to be a purist, but perfection in local eating is not required - just thoughtfulness and determination to make a difference.
After finishing this book, I discovered another 100-mile diet book: Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. Also highly recommended, it is another interesting and informative read about a young Vancouver couple who attempt a local diet with more
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