Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle : A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver was a book I really expected to like. What could be a more interesting read for someone interested in food and sustainability than the true story, written by an excellent writer, of a family deciding to live on local food–much of which they grew themselves–for one year straight? Cool, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight…
I was disappointed. Don’t misunderstand, it was an interesting read, just not what I was hoping for. I had thought it would be a fun story, with maybe some information on the local food movement and tips for sustainable living mixed in. What it actually felt like was a polemic on WHY EVERYONE MUST EAT RESPONSIBLY AND RELY ON LOCAL SMALL FARMS. With a smidge of story mixed in. The sad part is, I mainly agree with Kingsolver. And the information in the book was valuable, although I’d heard most of it already. But it felt like a bait-and-switch. To be fair, she tries to maintain a non-judgmental tone, but her very admissions that it is not always possible for everyone (including her family) to maintain ideal eating habits came across as somewhat patronizing. And the book’s assurances that you don’t need a mule and a few acres out back to grow your own food fell a little flat because they disregarded how essential two other factors are: time and know-how. True, most people probably have a little time they could spare, but farming expertise is much rarer. As someone who struggles valiantly to grow a few vegetables on my back porch but who is barely able to keep an African violet alive (and I’ve killed mint twice: MINT! it’s supposed to be a weed), this breezy optimism about the ease of growing one’s own food was discouraging. So overall, the book was not the cheerful weekend read I’d hoped for.
On the other hand, I’d still recommend it to anyone interested in the local food movement. It’s an enjoyable and easy way to catch up on a lot of information. If you already know a lot, you can pat yourself on the back for being so smart. If you don’t, there’s no time like the present to learn! Just don’t, like me, expect it to be primarily about the story.

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