Summary and book reviews of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A Year of Food Life

by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 400 pages

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Book Summary

Bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver returns with her first nonfiction narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

"As the U.S. population made an unprecedented mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us paddled against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. We were about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.

"Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel..."

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that's better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

Chapter One

Called Home

This story about good food begins in a quick-stop convenience market. It was our family's last day in Arizona, where I'd lived half my life and raised two kids for the whole of theirs. Now we were moving away forever, taking our nostalgic inventory of the things we would never see again: the bush where the roadrunner built a nest and fed lizards to her weird-looking babies; the tree Camille crashed into learning to ride a bike; the exact spot where Lily touched a dead snake. Our driveway was just the first tributary on a memory river sweeping us out.

One person's picture postcard is someone else's normal. This was the landscape whose every face we knew: giant saguaro cacti, coyotes, mountains, the wicked sun reflecting off bare gravel. We were leaving it now in one of its uglier moments, which made good-bye easier, but also seemed like a cheap shot—like ending a romance right when your partner has really bad bed hair. The desert that day ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

Kingsolver takes readers through the seasons, chronicling the joys and challenges of eating only foods that she, her husband, and two daughters grew in their backyard or purchased from neighboring farms. Part memoir, part cookbook, and part exposé of the American food industry, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one family's inspiring story of discovering the truth behind the adage "you are what you eat" and a valuable resource for anyone looking to do the same.


Questions for Discussion

  1. What was your perception of America's food industry prior to reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? What did you learn from this book? How has it altered your views on the way food is acquired and consumed? ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is to food as Bill Bryson's books are to travel - accessible and likely to appeal to a far wider audience than most of their genre. The one or two reviewers who criticize the book on the basis that supermarket organic foods cost too much for real people on real budgets seem to be missing the point. Not once in the year do the Kingsolver family buy a bijou package of overpriced organic vegetables from a supermarket. Instead they eschew the supermarket in favor of seeking out locally grown foods, usually grown by themselves or bought from local farmers markets - and save money in the process.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (1052 words).

Media Reviews

The Seattle Times - Barbara Lloyd McMichael

Kingsolver is idealistic but also down to earth. She grouses about too much zucchini like the rest of us, and she has a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humor. All of which makes one feel churlish to complain, but I must. For even as Kingsolver and family argue that this whole effort to go back to local and organically grown foods is not elitist, they are farming their acreage, driving their hybrid car (those aren't cheap), sending Camille off to college and taking two vacations a year (one of them to Italy) .... Kingsolver passionately pencils out the ultimate savings of going organic. It looks great on paper, but when I go to the grocery store and have to choose between the agribusiness-produced green peppers or organically farmed peppers at five times the price, guess which one I'm going with?

Dallas Morning News - Anne Morris

Who could turn down an invitation to share with writer Barbara Kingsolver and her family a year's noble experiment in eating locally? That experiment is what this always informative, often warm, sometimes funny and occasionally tedious food memoir describes.

Time Out New York - Emily Stone

The family’s pragmatic approach to the limitations of their lifestyle may be the most valuable lesson for would-be locavores. They allow themselves imported indulgences like coffee and gladly burn the necessary fossil fuel to transport themselves to an Italian agriturismo vacation. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as in nature, every rule has an exception.

San Francisco Chronicle- Jonah Raskin

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, might persuade readers to return to the soil, or put down new roots in rural communities. But you don't have to be a budding farmer to appreciate this book. You might come away from Kingsolver's memoir more aware of what you're putting into your body, where you shop and how you cook in your kitchen. Then, too, you might see, more clearly, the choices facing humanity that concern the survival of our species, the continued existence of plants and animals and the health and well-being of the Earth itself.

St. Petersburg Times

Barbara Kingsolver's first book in five years is not a novel but an impassioned, sensual and smart narrative about a year she and her family spent as "locavores": eating only food that they had grown or that was grown or raised nearby. It also includes Steven Hopp's cogent essays on the food industry and Camille Kingsolver's inviting recipes.

Kirkus Reviews

With some assistance from her husband, Steven, and 19-year-old daughter, Camille, Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer, 2000, etc.) elegantly chronicles a year of back-to-the-land living with her family in Appalachia...Readers frustrated with the unhealthy, artificial food chain will take heart and inspiration here.

Booklist

Writing with her usual sharp eye for irony, she urges readers to follow her example and reconnect with their food's source.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Kingsolver takes the genre to a new literary level; a well-paced narrative and the apparent ease of the beautiful prose makes the pages fly.

Reader Reviews

Lorena

I am in love with this book!
I could write a long review, go on for hours about different elements that encouraged and enlightened me. But to put it plainly, this book changed my life. It ignited a passion for living closer to the earth, and respect her efforts. I encourage ...   Read More

Jill Hansen

Soul mates
It has been a very long time since I found a book that I could not put down. This book is not only it, but I had to check it out 3 times from the library because I could not give it up. It started out as a book recommended by the librarian for a ...   Read More

Cloggie Downunder

a very interesting read
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the 7th non-fiction book by Barbara Kingsolver. Co-written with her husband, Stephen L. Hopp, and her daughter, Camille Kingsolver, this book details her family’s experiences during the year they decided to become ...   Read More

Elyse Grau

Enjoyable read, with reservations
I was attracted to this book as a kindred spirit (of sorts) to the author. I have been growing much of my own food (plant-based, anyway) as I could for many years. I prefer to eat seasonal foods, and buy locally produced items whenever available. ...   Read More

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Did you know?

  • The average supermarket food item has traveled 1500 miles to reach our kitchens - that's further than most families go on vacation.
  • If every US citizen ate just one meal a week from locally grown meat and produce we would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week!
  • Six companies now control 98 percent of the world's seed sales; the largest of these is Monsanto. The most common seed modifications are genes that kill caterpillars and ...

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