Summer is a great time for reading, whether you get a glorious 3 month summer vacation or not. I love to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air or pass the time while traveling with a good book. Last fall, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for my food writing class and I meant to share my finished review here on the blog – but I never did! So, if you’re looking for some reading material, I would recommend this book! Yes, it’s non-fiction. BUT! That does not mean that it isn’t interesting. I won’t try to convince you here when I’ve already written an entire book review about it! Enjoy! And let me know if you read the book!
Braids of garlic and onions hanging from the mantel. A cellar packed with potatoes, squash, carrots, and melons. Shelves lined with homemade sauces and salsas, dried fruits, and seemingly endless jars of summer’s bounty. Farm fresh eggs and poultry awaiting the slaughter. No, we have not traveled back to the 1800’s and there is no Little House on the Prairie in sight. This storybook abundance of fresh produce and protein is the result of a family’s commitment to eat only local foods for an entire year, most of which originated in their own back yard.
Spurred by a desire to break free from the trap of oil-dependent, pesticide coated, mystery ingredient-containing foods, Barbara Kinsolver, her husband, and their two daughters packed up their life in barren Arizona and moved to their family farm in the lush Virginia countryside. The goal? To prove that it is possible for a family to sustain themselves – even thrive – without relying on the industrial food system of feedlots, harmful chemicals, and enough oil to transport foods thousands of miles so they can be consumed at any time, regardless of their seasonality. This family wanted to get back to their roots in every sense of the word, and that they did.
The journey didn’t come without its challenges, however. Just like any modern-day family, this one was also quite fond of bananas, olive oil, coffee, and other once exotic items that we can now find all too easily in our local grocery store aisles. Each member was allowed one non-local item they simply couldn’t live without and they found a sustainable way of purchasing it. Other than that, the family lived on what was in season, whether it was from their own small farm, the local farmer’s market, or the neighbors down the road.
Barbara writes the detailed account of the family’s local food year in chapters organized by the growing seasons. Her words create vivid images that make you feel as though you’re enjoying the family’s harvest right along with them. You can almost feel the satisfaction after a long day in the garden and taste the long-awaited asparagus, carefully hunted morel mushroom, abundant zucchini, oven-dried tomato, and tender heirloom turkey as you read about the careful harvest and preparation of each morsel. Kingsolver’s narrative accounts of the family’s quest are interspersed with more of the politics – where the majority of the nation’s food comes from, the consequences of its production, and further explanation of her family’s choice to step off the grid and really get to know where their food comes from. Barbara’s husband, Steven, chimes in with thought-provoking facts about CAFO’s, the global impact of America’s current eating pattern, fair trade products, GMO crops, and practical tips for eating and shopping more responsibly, just to name a few. Each chapter closes with Barbara’s teenage daughter, Camille, providing her brief perspective as well as recipes for some of the dishes the family enjoyed during that particular part of the growing season. She closes with a weekly menu chock full of whatever was overflowing the family’s kitchen during that particular time of the harvest – plenty of asparagus and morels as spring breaks forth, cherries, squash, tomatoes, and peppers as summer is in full swing, and root vegetables as the weather cools and winter draws near.
Kingsolver has assembled not only a mouthwatering account of a year of delicious foods, but is open about the struggles and anxiety that come with trying to provide all of your family’s food literally from scratch all amidst the normal stresses of day jobs and busy schedules, educating the reader and empowering them along the way. Whether in awe of this family’s ability to work the land and sustain themselves as our ancestors once did, inspired to undertake your own local challenge, or devoted to the convenience of grocery aisles that know no seasons, you will put this book down with a new appreciation for how your food gets from the farm to your table, wherever that farm may be.