Book Report: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Author Barbara Kingsolver moved her family from Arizona to a farm in the Appalachian Mountains, and decided to devote an entire year to eating only what they could raise or buy locally.  If there were things that they wanted but couldn’t buy locally–like bananas, or avocados, or oatmeal–they did without.  She wrote a book about the experiences of the year, entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life.  I just finished reading this book.  I felt sad when I got to the last page. I really didn’t want it to end.

It sounds as if they were accomplished gardeners already, and they raised a large garden.  That’s a fascinating story for me, an avid gardener, myself, especially since I read the book through a long cold Nebraska winter.  They spent the summer canning and pickling and putting their produce by.  They also raised chickens and turkeys for meat and eggs.

Here is it: the image I copied from (That’s a little online company where you can order it, if you can’t find it locally. You may have heard of it.)

This field of books–memoirs detailing the experiences of folks who decide to forego industrial food, or meat, or anything except what’s available locally, or whatever–is a crowded genre.  I’ve read a couple others with interest.  I think, from my reading, Barbara Kingsolver does it better than any others I’ve read. Her tale is both intelligent and disarming, substantive and entertaining, earnest and funny, and she includes lots of recipes, which I always find to be a selling point!  I can’t wait until my own garden is bursting at the seams, so I can use some of the recipes for tomatoes and peppers and eggplants that she has in this book. Summer Salad.  Veggie Frittata.  Spinach Lasagna.  Eggs in a Nest. I savored this book, every page, garden-hungry as I’ve been through this winter, as I would stop quite often to chew over something that was new to me (no pun intended!.  And not just how to make cheese, either.

I did try the mozzarella cheese recipe, with tentative results.  Instead of satiny balls of mozzarella, I ended up with a nice batch of ricotta.  But that’s something, at least, isn’t it?  I wrote about it here.  Little Mack helped.  Make the ricotta, that is, not write about the experience.  Although he was probably right here by my side, talking, when I wrote, too (sigh).

But back to the book!  Regarding Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I can’t say it better than this quote from Publisher’s Weekly on  “She makes short, neat work of complex topics: what’s risky about the vegan diet, why animals belong on ecologically sound farms, why bitterness in lettuce is good. Kingsolver’s clue to help greenhorns remember what’s in season is the best I’ve seen. You trace the harvest by botanical development, from buds to fruits to roots. Kingsolver is not the first to note our national “eating disorder” and the injuries industrial agriculture wreaks, yet this practical vision of how we might eat instead is as fresh as just-picked sweet corn.”  Now don’t you just want to rush out to your local bookstore and buy this book?

I’m quite sure that Barbara Kingsolver and I wouldn’t agree on everything, if I were fortunate enough to sit down and enjoy a coffee-date with her, but I’m even more sure that there would be a lot more that we would agree on.  For one, that it’s nearly time to plant potatoes, and that means it’s also onion-planting time, not to mention time to sow the sugar snap peas!

Actually, I just planted sugar snap peas–for those of you who might be interested, and also beets, radishes (two varieties so far!), mache and lettuce, and so I’m in raptures about all that.  I really am.

A very satisfying read, I’d recommend it to anybody who is not only concerned with the way we feed our families, but also the way our country regards food and eating in general.  You’ll especially enjoy it if you’re somebody who, like me, looks forward to gardening season with the greatest anticipation.

Here’s the website it you want to learn more about this book, download recipes from the book, or read more about the author right here.

I’d love to know if you pick up this book and read it, and what your thoughts about it might be! Now–a happy spring day to you!

22 thoughts on “Book Report: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. skybluepinkish

    I am taking a break from garden clearing. I’ve made two new lasagne gardens (no dig gardens) this weekend and am dreaming of the produce to come. In fact that’s pretty much what keeps me going when gardening in the cold.

    Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is my favourite book of all time. I have read it over and over. None of her other books quite did it for me. But I think I might like this one. I have only heard good reviews and it is a subject close to my heart.

    We aspire to self sufficiency, we know we will never achieve it, but if you don’t have an impossible dream how will you ever have anything to aim for?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’ve had somebody else recommend Poisonwood Bible and I plan to read it! I’ve heard of lasagna gardens, and I aspire to such an idea. I wrote a post a week or two ago about wood-chip mulch gardening, which is kind of the same thing. I hope to collect enough wood-chips and mulch this year to not have to weed so much. Happy gardening!

  2. Shawn

    When I was growing up on a cattle ranch in Montana we had an acre garden and I hated it. Every single day first thing in the morning my two step-brothers & I had to go out and weed at least one long row or a section. Oh what I would do for that garden space now as an adult. I plant in pots close to the house here in Texas. Not my ideal garden but better then nothing before the summer sun comes and bakes us.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      All my kiddos have had to help me with the gardening, and though they dragged their feet when they were younger, as they leave home and start their own families, it has been amusing to me to notice that the first thing they do is to plant a garden! They miss having those uber-fresh veggies so close by! An acre garden, though–whoa, that’s big! Of course isn’t everything big in Montana?

  3. Audrey

    Great post 🙂 I love the idea behind the book!
    I just wish that i could garden..a green thumb i dont have! I seem to kill all plants etc I try to grow !
    Good luck with your garden!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Don’t give up altogether, Audrey! If you have a little garden space–or even just a few containers outside, for example, there are veggies like leaf lettuce or radishes that are super-easy to grow, and take only 3 weeks or so to go from seed to salad!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Are you the blogger who initially recommended the book to me? I can’t remember who did, but in the first UBC, I think somebody recommended it. The website is very interesting, too.

  4. AMummysLife

    One day, when hubby finally gets around to fencing the appropriate areas for me, I will be replanting my vegetable garden! Will have to keep an eye out for the book. It sounds like an interesting read.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I recommend it highly! Gardening is not only a great way to augment your larder, it’s free (or nearly free!) therapy, too!

  5. Minette Riordan

    Hi Amy, I am a huge fan of everything Barbara Kingsolver has written (except for one book of essays…) and I too enjoyed this book. I can’t see myself doing this but it did encourage me to focus on organic, shopping locally and paying attention to where my food is coming from. One of the benefits of living in Santa Barbara are the year-round farmer’s markets overflowing with local, organic and fresh food. So fun!! Happy gardening.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I can’t even imagine having year-round farmer’s markets. Ours starts in mid-May and goes through October, and it’s my favorite part of the year! Of course I’m a vendor (garden veggies, fruits, and breads) so I get a little more involved with markets than most. I haven’t read anything else by Ms. Kingsolver, but there is one book that I really want to read next. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Suzi Shumaker

    I recently discovered Barbara Kingsolver and she is amazing. I read her book Flight Behavior and am now reading the Poisonwood Bible. Thanks for this review, I will be reading this one, too.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’ve had people recommend the Poisonwood Bible to me, too, and I plan to read it next. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Helen

    I’ve read every book Barbara Kingsolver has written… a favorite author… But, this one is different than all the rest. Its details stuck with me, make me want to be a better gardener, shopper, world citizen.

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