Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable books I have ever read. In it, Kingsolver chronicles her family’s move from the Southwest back to a family farm in Virginia. Their quest: to eat only local food for a year, growing most of it on their farm. A truly herculean task in some respects, but Kingsolver is the first to admit that their situation had some benefits that many don’t have: an existing farm set smack in some of America’s most fertile land, a family of four of which all can contribute, flexible work schedules outside of farm life (her husband is a professor and she is a writer), and some scientific background. Nonetheless, her story is inspiring and made me want to start homesteading!
Why is this book so inspiring? Part of it is surely the amazing talent Kingsolver has as a writer. Her writing is poetry to read; a narrative of her own experience thus becomes just as gripping as a made up character’s in a novel. Her scientific background also helps; this book is full of helpful information and tidbits. Her husband, Steven Hopp, writes many insightful sidenotes throughout the text, offering interesting statistics and ways to work towards their goal for the average American. Finally, daughter Camille includes her own thoughts as a college-bound student: menus she creates, her reasons for becoming more and more vegetarian, and the like.
One of my favorite parts in the book is the section in which Hopp outlines some strategies for those of us shopping in the grocery store as we strive to get more local food onto our plates. I also made mental note of the tomato varieties discussed, was thankful I don’t have to harvest my own turkeys, and am more eager than ever to continue gardening. I read this book for the first time a year ago, and we had a nice, small garden last summer. This year, I skimmed it again, planned a bigger garden, and have had a great time so far feeding bunnies (and being very thankful I don’t depend on my garden for all my food).
A word of caution for this book: it makes homesteading look amazing–wonderful hard work. But, it’s also full of evolutionary background and a bit of a liberal agenda in terms of political impact for all of our food choices. Yes, the information is excellent. Yes, we should be practicing good stewardship with our food, our growing practices, and the way we “produce” meat. However, we also need to make sure we get the full story before we jump the conventionally grown produce ship and head for our local farmer’s market in an attempt to live off the land (ours or our neighbor’s).