Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Popular author, Barbara Kingsolver, and her family made the decision to spend one full year “eating locally” – primarily by raising their own food – and to write about their experience in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver wrote the main narrative; her husband, Steven Hopp, provided nerdy, information-packed sidebars; and her teenage daughter Camille covered the nutritional angle and recipes.

Kingsolver is a talented writer and she makes a year of gardening and poultry husbandry entertaining and even, at times, fascinating – her descriptions of natural turkey procreation are enough in themselves to make the book worthwhile. She augments the “life on the family farm” memoir with stories of family road trips, holiday and birthday celebrations, her second honeymoon in Italy, and general reminiscences. She makes an excellent culinary case for eating what local food is in season, and only when it is season.

Unfortunately, Kingsolver and crew also lard the book with offputting lectures about “food politics” and “ethical” food choices, disparaging opposing views. I am all for eating locally grown produce, meat, poultry, and fish. I am fortunate enough to live in Oregon, a state with natural bounty enough to keep me fat and happy year round. This local food is fresher and tastes better than the same types of things shipped in from half-way around the world. And I am happy to support Oregon’s always anemic, now suffering economy.

But Kingsolver and Hopp’s holier-than-thou attitude about eating local food rubs me the wrong way. They beat the readers over the head with dire warnings about the imminent catastrophe of global warming, large-scale agriculture, and Big Oil, always following the party line to the letter. Whether they are right or wrong, they are boring. Nobody likes a scold. I found myself arguing with them even when I agreed with them, just because they got my back up with all their bossing.


My Book Retreat

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


  1. I read this, and enjoyed it in the same ways that you did. It s interesting and has tons of good informtion...I agree with you on how they portray themselves, being better than everyone else. The whole time I couldn't stop thinking: This is for sure a book about a group of wealthy people who can leave their state and for a year not do much besides work the land.

    I don't know, it just bugged me that it was exclusive in so many more aspects than just food. Who has a country house that they can just pick up and leave to for a full year just because they want to?

    Oh, great review by the way! :) Sorry to go on about it.

  2. I agree totally. This book has plenty of good information, but the preachiness was a turn-off. And it also seemed to me that Barbara in particular would brook no excuses for eating processed food now and then.

    I did find that the tone was less annoying as the book went on, but I wondered how many readers who didn't already agree with her basic idea would get that far.

  3. To bad about the elitism. I'm all for eating local (love local tree/vine ripened fruit), and do so when I can, but I don't have oodles of time to seek out such things. And I certainly don't need anyone "shaking their finger" at me.
    Great review!

  4. That's unfortunate about the tone of the book. It will be a really great thing when we can learn to embrace our own choice without putting down the choices of other people. This sounds a bit like The Omnivore's dilemma. I thought Pollan did a pretty decent job of trying to present multiple points of view.

  5. Thanks for all the comments! I confess that I am glad others had similar reactions to me. Portland can be a little extreme in it's foodie views, so we are constantly bombarded with lectures more pedantic than Kingsolver's -- I get inured to being bossed around and forget that Portland's collective views don't always reflect how a lot of the country thinks.

  6. Your review was right on: a good concept that never quite came to fruition (pardon the pun) because of the tone. I thought the centerpiece "Vegetannual" was kind of . . . boring. And I felt sorry for the daughter who was required to give up bananas.

  7. Have you read "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan? That is one entire book that is pedantry, even if he is right. So I actually think this was much more story based than other such books, and is more of a guide that pure "danger! danger!". I especially enjoyed the section on cheese making - I'm going to try that myself.

    I agree that not everyone has a semi-rural location where they can do they everything themselves, and that she might have pointed out ways that we can do it ourselves at home - but it's a work of fiction, not a manual, so she told her story.

    The reason that Kingsolver may come across as strident or preachy is because in her research she's soon some scary stuff. But she's RIGHT. We (i.e. the earth) are totally screwed if we don't start focusing on making our local food ecosystems work.

    Eating a banana IS a big deal. Heck, even putting stuff in the fridge is a big deal when you start looking at where / how the energy is generated.

  8. Great review. You're right. I gave it a more positive review because it's a book that has truly changed my life in a sense. But I agree that it would have been a thousand times better without all the preaching and attitude toward people who have different views.

    Thanks for offering to link to my review:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...