Thursday, September 27, 2012


ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLE is the beautifully written book by Barbara Kingsolver. In the book, the author chronicles “one good year of food life” during which she and her family grew a garden on a little farm in the mountains of Appalachia. Kingsolver, her husband and daughters also raised their own food—hens, roosters, eggs, turkeys, etc.--and, as “locavores,” ate from local farmers’ markets in Appalachia.

They ate seasonally. Asparagus in springtime. Squash at harvestime. In summertime, writes Kingsolver, “Rare is the August evening when I’m not slicing, canning, roasting, and drying tomatoes. Tomatoes take over our life. . . . The summer [Lily] was five, she wrote and illu/>
Every vegetable has its own season and rhythm. “Canning [tomatoes],” writes Camille
Kingsolver, “always puts me in a kind of trance.” The art of zen-canning.

Moreover, all this time spent gardening and cooking and canning together strengthens familial bonds. Family fun is sleeping on the back porch, under the stars. Watching a mesmerizing sunset. Canning yet another tomato. Or baking a dozen “chocolate chip zucchini cookies”—which are scrumptious and approved by nine-year-olds. (Camille shares this unusual cookie recipe at the end of Chapter twelve.)

Inevitably, Kingsolver broaches the subject: Vegetarian vs. meat-eater? Kingsolver makes no bones about it. A sort of paradox, she is an ex-vegetarian who likes meat. But she has preferences: grass-fed and free-range over corn-fed and caged. The difference in flavor, she states, is both subtle and dramatic. Apparently, caged hens and cows secrete stress toxins that alter the flavor of their flesh, eggs, or milk.

Contrary to what one might expect, Kingsolver does not support or agree with those who embrace vegetarianism on “high moral grounds.” For if we stopped to consider the cruelty of the current food system, we must acknowledge that it’s ALL cruel. Plants have feelings, too. ”If we draw the okay-to-kill line between ‘animal’ and ‘plant’ and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest. An estimated 67 million birds die each year from pesticide exposure on U.S. farms. Butterflies, too, are universally killed. . . . Foxes, rabbits, and bobolinks are starved out of their homes or dismembered by the sickle mower. . . . To believe we can live without taking life is delusional. Humans may only cultivate nonviolence in our diets by degree.”

Furthermore, in Chapter fourteen, she cites an unnamed vegan-actress who wished to raise happy hens, roosters and farm animals, to live out their lives. (I played the guessing game of whom this actress might be. Natalie Portman--Queen Amidala in “Star Wars” and a staunch vegan--is my best guess.) The notion, the author argues, is impractical as we’d be faced with a glut of eggs and millions of hens and beasts. Global overpopulation triple the numbers now.

What sets this book apart is that, as an experiment in family living, the author’s husband and daughter, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, respectively, contributed writing segments to the book. A bunch of recipes at the end of each chapter and referrals to web sites all make for interesting and informative reading. (The recipes are also at the book’s web site http://

Add to that, the fact that the author is a former scientist/science writer herself (earning a BA in biology from DePauw University and an MA in “evolutionary biology” from the University of Arizona), so the book has sound scientific explanations for the US food system as it exists today. Alas, food that is biologically engineered to endure long distances does not taste like non-engineered-local food. She explains that there are other consequences for being a corn-soy-based food system. Obesity, for one.

Other topics covered include: milk production in US, why corn-fed cows are unhappy, the authenticity of slaughtering your own food, cooped-up turkeys cannot reproduce unassisted.

Chapter fifteen chronicles Kingsolver and her husband’s sojourn to Italy: in the tradition of writers--such as Frances Mayes (UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN and BELLA TUSCANY) and Elizabeth Gilbert (EAT PRAY LOVE)--who’ve travelled and written about Italian culture and food. Ahhh Italia!

At home, Kingsolver is a wonder: she makes her own pickles and sausages, yogurt and ice cream, slaughters hens and turkeys, cans tomatoes from her own garden, even as her husband, Steven, makes fresh bread. Everything is made “from scratch.” When they make “Friday Night Pizza” (a staple recipe cited in Chapter nine), even the mozzarella was made in her own kitchen!

Everyone who eats meat ought to read ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLE. Even non-meateaters will be interested. It is a rich, evocative, informative book, chock-full of bits of information you may not like or agree with but will encourage discussion in a book club or spur you to either plant a garden or form your own food co-op or reject beef forever.

It’s, er, food for thought.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Copyright © 2012  by Y. A. Reid

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