miracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

HarperCollins Publishers, 2007

I’m so glad I finally had a chance to read this book. I’m a big Barbara Kingsolver fan and when I heard she had written about this project, I had to read it. Plus my family and I along with other friends did something similar to this back in the 1970’s during that era’s Back To The Land movement. I was curious to see what her experience was like.

For those of you unfamiliar with her project let me explain. Ms. Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters set in motion a plan to live one whole year eating only what they grew themselves or what was grown within their local area. It was not an experiment to save money.

“We had come to the farmland to eat deliberately. . . . We only knew, somewhat abstractly, we were going to spend a year integrating our food choices with our family values, which include both “love  thy neighbor” and “try not to wreck everything on the planet while you’re here.”

They were both deliberate and resourceful. Starting in late winter/early spring, they scoured the area (southern Appalachia) and found a local farmers  market and from there they found sources for good quality (mostly organic) vegetables, meat (turkey sausage and lamb), eggs, chicken and fruit. This helped until they were able to get their own garden, orchard, turkeys and chickens producing. 

The book is organized into chapters which follows along with what is happening each month. Ms. Kingsolver  wrotes the majority of the book but her husband and eldest daughter have good addition. Her professor-husband, Steven Hopp, added essays primarily about the effects of industrial agriculture. Her daughter, Camile, wraps up most of the chapters with interesting stories, some excellent recipes, and a sample week’s menu of what they ate that month.

Because of my experience I wanted to know how they handled the months of harvest. To me, those are the killer months in a project like this. Those are the times when the tomatoes and zucchini and beans and corn are growing faster than you can preserve them. At the hottest time of the year you have to be back and forth between the hot sunny garden and the hot steamy kitchen. Those days, and weeks, seem endless and are exhausting. It’s an easy time to give up. But the Kingsolver family did not. They pushed right on  through it and put away enough produce “to last comfortably till the abundances of June.” 

After reading this book I’m still a Kingsolver fan. Most of it read like one of her novels. There were parts that could be called “preachy” but the Kingsolvers are very passionate about this subject, and have good reason to feel that way. Some parts of the book stand out for me: her discussion of heirloom seeds, her experience with her turkeys and her tomato harvest (the chapter called Life in the Red Zone). And, if you don’t read anything else, read the last chapter. This is her “heart” chapter in which she talks about what she might do differently and her plans for the future. It has something we can all take away and adopt even if we don’t have access to the kind of farmland Ms. Kingsolver has. I’ve already recommended this book to several people. In my opinion this is a should-read book for those concerned with healthy and responsible eating.