The Kitchen Reader: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

August 31, 2010

The August book for The Kitchen Reader is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Thank you Karen of Shortbread South for this interesting selection!

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver chronicles her family’s move from Arizona to Virginia and their commitment to one year of eating primarily local foods. When I read the description of this book, I hoped for fun and funny stories, sort of like All Creatures Great and Small. And there are fun and funny stories, along with a large dose of education about things like genetically modified plants, high fructose corn syrup, and factory farming. The stories of “harvesting” chickens and turkeys fell into the not-so-fun category for me, but I’ll admit that the turkey breeding details were pretty interesting.

Back to the fun stories, one that made me smile was about her younger daughter Lily missing part of the day at school so she could go to the post office to pick up the chicks for her egg business. Throughout the book, Lily’s egg business thrives and she proves herself to be quite the businesswoman.

Another time, the cherries on the cherry tree were ready for harvest the day before the family was leaving for a vacation. The serious fruit lovers couldn’t miss out on their bounty, so they spent the next day and into the night harvesting the cherries. Plants wait for no man.

I was overwhelmed just listening to her stories of harvesting many pounds of tomatoes each day and canning them, drying them, and making them into sweet and sour sauce and salsa. I have a few tomato plants, and I’m having a good day if I have two ripe at the same time!

As serious as they were about the project, they weren’t 100% strict. Each member of the family was allowed to select one non-local item, to be consumed in moderation. Her daughters chose hot chocolate and dried fruit, her husband chose coffee (I can relate to that!), and she chose spices. They did eat out sometimes, and of course didn’t insist on local foods when dining at friends’ houses.

I listened to this book on CD, read by the author with sidebars read (and written) by her husband and oldest daughter. I’m not sure if the printed version of the book has recipes, but they are published on their website. I haven’t tried any, but all of their meals sounded delicious, from their weekly Friday night pizza to the more elaborate spread they served for Kingsolver’s 50th birthday.

Am I going to try this? No. But it did get me thinking, and did get me to the local farmer’s market where I bought cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, kohlrabi, and an especially delicious cantaloupe. All of it was less expensive and tastier than what I can get at the grocery store. The growing season is short in the upper-midwest, but I’ll take advantage of the fresh local fruits and vegetables while I can. I’m happy to let someone else do the farming though!


  1. I absolutely loved your review-I thought Kingsolver’s sacrifice was huge-but I thought they were realistic, too.

    Thank you so much for being part of The Kitchen Reader and for helping me to get it started.:)

  2. I was given this book in Blogging By Mail, but never read it. You have inspired me to return to it!

  3. So glad to hear that you enjoyed the book and that it inspired you to visit your farmers market! I’ve started going myself and it’s become a little addictive.

  4. I am still reading on this one. Hopefully finish 2mrw. Of the books we have read I think I have enjoyed this one the most. Very real and not tirades against the agricultural machine. Her stories made me think too. We have a garden, but not to their extent. Will try harder to be a locivore.

  5. I thought I might not like this book but was pleasantly surprised. Lily’s egg business was a highlight for me, too. 🙂 The recipes were present in my copy and some of them sounded quite good, if a bit big in scope for me (for example, “start with 4 quarts tomato puree”!).

  6. This sounds like a very interesting read (though I agree, not something I could do myself). I’ve read some of Barbara Kingsolver’s fictions books and she’s a great writer.

  7. I forgot about Lily’s egg business! Such great stories, although–as you point out–it was a lot of work!

  8. I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, and after your review, I’m going to pick it up at the library this weekend!

  9. Jill – this would actually have been a great book to listen to rather than read, I also liked Lily’s egg business! Glad the farmers markets impressed!

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