Tag Archives: Books

Love for “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”

My copy. Note the food stains on the cover.

I’ve owned a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for over a year. Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read the The Bean Trees in high school. I think that she’s a phenomenal writer, and I’ve been a fan of her focus on environmental preservation for a long time. So you’d  think, especially as a whole-foods freak, that I’d have been totally stoked to read about her year of eating only local and homegrown foods book. I was stoked when I bought it, but then I had a few false starts. I just couldn’t get into it.

At first I thought that it was boredom. A lot of the facts and opinions that Kingsolver &  family present are the same as those presented in other books I’ve read, such as Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Plenty. But, considering that the book is still slightly different, and entertaining due to Kingsolver’s wit, boredom didn’t seem to be enough of an answer. After struggling to get into the book for several month; the answer dawned on me. I was jealous! Basically, Kingsolver is living MY ideal life! She’s a highly successful professional writer, she has what seems like a great family, and she is living my rural dream: growing her own food, having time to cook, and having peace and quiet and nature all around her.

Once I realized that I was just jealous, I was able to get over it and enjoy the book, wherein Kingsolver and her family move away from Arizona and on to their family farm in Virginia. They commit to a full year of eating foods that they have either grown themselves or sourced locally. The book is full of gardening, cooking, and animal-raising anecdotes  from Kingsolver, as well as recipes and essays on their experience from her 18-year-old daughter, Camille, and more scientific essays on the global impacts of the standard  American diet from her husband, Steven Hopp.

True to form, Kingsolver’s writing style is wonderful. She is descriptive, yet still conversational. Her passion for delicious food is contagious. Unlike Plenty, this book has nothing to do with deprivation. It is all about how much more flavor and abundance one’s life can have by eating food that is grown close to home. It’s not just about tastes, it’s also about living in the moment and taking full pleasure in what nature has to offer. It is an absolutely compelling argument (for pretty much anything) to explain all the ways in which a person’s experience of life will be better if they choose a particular lifestyle. Kingsolver is able to advocate local eating by example and without proselytizing.

Despite my desire to run away to my family’s farm and live precisely as Kingsolver does, I understand that I must remain reasonable. I don’t have the money or the writing career to support running away from the city just yet. I have some work to do. However, I am inspired anew to put the effort into planning for what I can do starting in the spring. I already make every effort to purchase local meat, eggs and dairy. Local produce is nearly impossible to buy during a Minnesota winter! But, now I have a year of gardening and lessons learned behind me, so I think I should be able to plant a successful garden next year. I can also plan better for possible canning when I shop at the farmer’s market. I feel ready to take the next steps, and am already getting excited to do it!

“Plenty”: Good Writers Writing About Things That Matter

plenty

I finished reading Plenty:One man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally on Saturday. You may have heard of “the 100-mile diet.” Well, authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon played a huge role in  popularizing this way of local eating. The book covers the couple’s one year commitment to only eat foods that were sourced from within 100 miles of their Vancouver home, their purpose being to reduce the negative environmental impact created from shipping food across thousands of miles. The point is that a lot of fossil fuel is burned unnecessarily while bringing food from across the country, or across the planet, when most of us can live just fine on food found near our homes. Not to mention that we might actually know exactly what we’re eating, since eating locally doesn’t include eating anything processed (most processed food is made from ingredients that were sourced from god-knows-where)!

It was interesting to me to read about the trials and tribulations of Alisa and James as they scrabbled together a healthy diet in the cool and rainy pacific northwest. It made me feel grateful that, if I ever do decide to start the 100-mile diet, I live in central Minnesota. It seems like there are not a whole lot of food staples that don’t grow within 100 miles of Minneapolis; notably, we have a lot of grains here, which was a problem for Alisa and James. Though this was interesting, what really fascinated me about this book was the thoughtfulness and the skill with which the authors lay down the story of their year.

The chapters of the book are each named for a month, and Alisa and James (I know that it is not proper journalistic method to refer to authors by their first names, but I’m a blogger, not a journalist, and I almost feel like I know them after reading this book!) take turns writing about each month. Each chapter is preceded by a recipe and a pertinent quote.  Both of the authors are professional journalists, so they know how to write in a way that is technically excellent. Being a description of a particular experiment, the book could have been a lot more dry than it was – trust me, I’ve read many a dry non-fiction. However, Plenty is filled with personal stories from the lives of James and Alissa. The stories and observations of the couple dovetail beautifully with the nuts and bolts of the diet to create a picture of how emotionally and spiritually connected humanity is with what we eat; and how far we have strayed from that connection. The trials and tribulations are interesting and, at times, instructive, but it is the amount of imagery and emotion in the book that makes it a pleasure to read.

November in Minnesota doesn’t seem like the right time to completely dive in to a local foods lifestyle, but someday I hope to live this way, and I’m taking baby steps all the time. It will be extra challenging with my allergy-induced diet restrictions! In the meantime, Plenty is an inspiration for anyone that wants to feel closer to the earth, and to gain a better sense of how lucky we all are to be here.