Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeThis was the January 2017 pick for the Deliberate Reader Book Club.  I was a little leery of this book because of the title.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle... It sounds like it's going to be preachy, doesn't it?  I've read some other Kingsolver books, though, and they weren't preachy, so I went for it.  What I didn't realize before starting it was that this is a nonfiction book!  Gasp!  The other Kingsolver books I've read were The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees, which were both fiction, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect with this.  (Clearly, I did not read the description beforehand.)

Well, it turns out that this is a book about Kingsolver and her family's year of eating locally--or at least as locally as possible.  Moving to southern Virginia from the deserts of Tucson, the family takes up a life of heavy-duty gardening, prowling farmer's markets, and canning every vegetable they can get their hands on.

The book is a bit preachy, with the first chapter probably being the worst.  Or maybe I just got used to it.  Either way, I almost didn't read this one because I didn't really want Kingsolver sneering down her nose at my non-local-food-eating ways for the duration.  But it's not preachy in a religious sense, and there's actually a lot of good information in here about why eating locally is good not just for you, but for your community and the environment.  The book is also partially authored by Steven Hopp, Kingsolver's husband, and Camille Kingsolver, her daughter.  Hopp contributes mini-essays about various topics, and always includes some additional resources at the end in case you'd like to look up more information on a particular topic.  Camille writes about her experiences with the "locavore" experiment and also includes recipes and meal plans that go with what's typically available seasonally.

Now, clearly eating entirely locally isn't possible for everyone.  It's not possible for me.  I live in a city and while there are farmer's markets, they're not present year-round, and I certainly don't have access to a garden plot.  (There is a community garden near my apartment but there's a two-year waiting list to get a spot in it; I might not even be here in two years!)  Even if I stocked up during the summer, I don't know where I would put all the food needed to get me through winter in my city-sized apartment.  It's not even strictly possible for the Kingsolver family to eat locally; she notes that they still have to buy some things, such as flour, olive oil, and pasta, from the store.  But there are some good points here that are applicable to a lot of people.  The one thing that struck me the most was that, if everyone at one meal per week that consisted of local foods, it would drastically lower the carbon emissions produced by transporting food across the country and across the world.  With global warming looming large, this is a huge thing to consider, and it's a very small change of habit to do.  I also found some of the insights about eating free-range and grass-fed meats (cows, chickens, pigs, etc.) to be very interesting; in addition to the animals themselves being healthier and (presumably) happier, the products are much better for us overall, too.  More good fats, less bad fats, lower cholesterol, etc.  And yes, those products are more expensive, but maybe it's something to keep in mind?

This book also presents something of an idyll.  "Oh, look how healthy and happy we are!" says Kingsolver.  Yes, she says there are still arguments, demands to get stuff off the table before it gets thrown out, but there are relatively few conflicts that actually seem to come from the locavore experiment itself, which seems strange and maybe not entirely honest.  All problems encountered here are easily solved and no great inconveniences presented.  But Kingsolver has such an eminently readable style that it almost made me forget about this.  Still, I have to eye it a little suspiciously, because hey, surely something must have gone horribly wrong over the course of this year-long experiment?

Overall, though, this was a much more enjoyable read than I anticipated.  I'm not sure how much of it will carry through into my life, but it definitely presents things to think about, and I'll try to keep some of them in mind while perusing the grocery store next time I'm there.

4 stars out of 5.

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