By September 12, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

Home Eat Home

Animal Vegetable MiracleI’ve just finished Animal Vegetable Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s account (with help from her family–husband Steven Hopp and daughter Camille Kingsolver also contribute significantly) of a year of eating locally. After moving from Tucson to a western Virginia farm–a homecoming of sorts, as the authors have Virginia roots–the family decided to spend a full year eating only home- and locally-grown goods. They make a few exceptions, as local coffee and wheat products were hard to come by, but for the most part they stick to their pact despite the challenges of seasonal eating.

Kingsolver remains a wonderful writer, and the rest of the family are no slouches. They’re passionate about their subject and argue for it strongly. You may not agree with every position they take, but you have to admire their commitment and style.

The catalog of benefits they amass for eating local is strong. In trade for the convenience of eating whatever they want, whenever they want, they get better flavors from fresh food and a highly nutritious diet. Their foodways are environmentally sound and completely sustainable: reducing pollution, consuming much less energy for transportation, and enhancing biodiversity. They support their local economy and save large amounts of money (though at the cost of lost mobility and many hours in the garden).

Along the way, the Kingsolvers explore the world of farmer’s markets, local food production, and restaurants that serve local food. They vacation as agro-tourists in Canada and Italy exploring the preferences for “slow” food in those countries. The Kingsolvers raise chicken and turkeys for eggs and meat, and the sections dealing with these efforts are humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes genuinely moving. They freeze and can fresh foods extensively and find creative uses for what’s available in season (including of course, the ubiquitous piles of zucchini).

In the end, it’s hard to argue with the power of the arguments presented. While I was reading this book, I was growing my first container garden in several years. Even with the help of a few pesticides the Kingsolvers wouldn’t touch, it was a real struggle to fend off aphids, ants, whiteflies, and fungus from my tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. But I grudgingly enjoyed the time I spent defending my plants and loved the strong flavors of my homegrown bounty. Although most of us would have to overcome big challenges and obstacles to fully implement this lifestyle, by the end of the book, I think most readers will at least be inspired to change a few behaviors.

This would make a superb book group choice, as readers will be inclined to compare their own foodways with those practiced by the Kingsolvers. The book will spur controversy, but not on topics that are likely to cause personal offense. To enhance your discussion, look into the availability of farmer’s markets, food co-ops, community gardens, and other locally grown food before your meeting.

If you would like to expand the discussion, consider allowing readers to pick any book by Kingsolver instead of just Animal Vegetable Miracle. Her fiction is even better than her nonfiction. The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible, and Prodigal Summer are all excellent choices for book groups, and discussion questions to support all of these titles are easily available online.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Home Eat Home"

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  1.' Pat Brown says:

    Another great nonfiction book is Jim Hirshfield’s Fortune & Freedom. He is the first author I have read that makes an interesting connection between politics and business.

    He refers to government as a silent partner and outlines how government policies and processes impact an individual’s financial interests.

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