Kingsolver is usually a novelist, probably best known for writing The Poisonwood Bible, but this was the first book of hers that I have read.
The non-fiction work subtitled “A Year of Food Life” begins in a convenience store in Arizona with a situation that resonates with me more after moving to the Southwest. Kingsolver, her husband, and two daughters are stocking up on snacks for a car trip that will move them from Tucson to Appalachia. As a rainstorm threatens for the first time in over 200 days, the gas station cashier grumbles that the first rain in months could ruin her only day off.
Kingsolver’s book tracks the year-long journey of her family from desert-dwelling suburbanites to self-sustaining farmers in Virginia. It’s a family project, not taken on lightly. Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, interjects in the way of small sidebars on various topics. Then-19-year-old daughter Camille adds her perspective plus recipes. Even the youngest daughter, Lily, makes a sizable contribution.
The plan? To only eat food grown and produced locally. They start at the farmer’s market in town, gradually shifting to their own large garden plot as the season wears on. They plant seeds, weed beds, and raise chickens. It isn’t a project in deprivation or perfection, and they are allowed some items like spices and coffee that can’t be grown everywhere — but they keep it organic and fair-trade.
What I love about this book (other than the quality of writing which is lovely) is that it doesn’t sugar-coat the experience. Do they learn a lot? Yes. Are the lessons valuable? Yes. Is it easy? No. Kingsolver acknowledges that it is an experiment and a challenge, they have struggles and failures, but they learn and grow.
Kingsolver also includes plenty of information on food miles, factory farming, and other debates about the locavore movement. She is quick to point out that the extreme example of her family is not a normal goal for most people and she does not expect it to be. Instead she focuses on what they learned from the experience both as a family and as individuals.
While acquiring/producing food is one challenge, making meals of it is another, and both are part of the book. I really enjoyed young Lily’s participation in raising chickens and selling eggs. Working out seasonal menus was another interesting facet. A chapter that really struck me was called “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” chronologically referencing the June of their year-long experience. Kingsolver writes about her experience as a modern working mother, relying on pre-packaged convenience foods to save time. There is so much I love about this chapter I could quote about four pages, but I’ll limit myself to just one.
“Full-time homemaking may not be an option for those of us delivered without trust funds into the modern era. But approaching mealtimes as a creative opportunity, rather than a chore, is an option. Required participation from spouse and kids is an element of the equation. An obsession with spotless collars, ironing, and kitchen floors you can eat off of — not so much. We’ve earn the right too forget about stupefying household busywork. But kitchens where food is cooked and eaten, those were really a good idea.”
The book provides great research and information about farming and food systems, a wonderful narrative and personal account of a year in the life of a family, and some wonderful insight into the experience and reasoning behind taking on such a project. I could blather on longer, but you should give up on me and get a copy of this to read yourself.
Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? What did you think?
For other opinions check out the blogroll at The Kitchen Reader for more reviews.
Keep up with Little Blue Hen: get updates via email, subscribe through an RSS feed, connect on Facebook, or say hello on Twitter.
Comments? I love feedback and suggestions! Leave them below or email me.