Review by my book club, reported by Susan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is Barbara Kingsolver’s story of her family’s one-year experiment in eating food they grow themselves in Virginia, supplemented by the local farmers and only a few nonlocal items like coffee. It’s also her passionate plea for all Americans to rethink our eating habits. Down with fast food, up with slow, local food!
But as much as it chronicles the growing and preparing of food, it’s a story about family – because this had to be a family project, and the book even includes sidebars by Kingsolver’s biology professor husband and her 18-year-old daughter, the aspiring nutritionist and surprisingly good writer. But contrary to my expectations, it was far from a farm journal with recipes (yes, it has a few.) There are also trips to other farms (including a myth-busting story of visiting their Amish friends), food adventures in Italy, and the universal recounting of holiday get-togethers – so really good story-telling.
So okay, I loved it, just as much as I love her fiction. I disagreed with nothing, nodded throughout, and laughed often. Sadly, my take-away feeling was frustration at not being able to find the kind of food Kingsolver and her family eat. Damn, I want a nearby farm-based diner (coz there’s no way I’d ever cook it myself). But it goes deeper: I want to have grown up in a family that cared about food, that made pizza together every Friday night. I’m jealous of Kingsolver’s daughters for having all that. Pathetic, I know.
THE BOOK GROUP
Of the many books discussed by the Quintessence Book Club, I can’t remember another that’s elicited the range of reactions that this one did. Starting with the positive, most reported variants of “It changed my life.” One member had tried raw asparagus (“amazing, sweet as sugar”). Several had tried recipes, including our hostess, whose basil blackberry crumble is here. (Runny but still deelish with vanilla ice cream!)
A meaty discussion followed about not just the book but about how to find restaurants in our area that serve local (go to SlowfoodUSA.org), an upcoming talk by Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food, the effects of localism on publishing, and Monsanto (one member, an occupational health doc, declared it “Evil!” and said to quote her –
We managed to agree on a few things: that we could never, ever do what this family did, and that the turkey chapters were the best, especially the one about teaching them to have sex.
But there were notes of discord. Loud notes.
Two members grew up farming and canning and cooking like Kingsolver, and learned nothing new.
The two members who listened to book hate-hate-hated Kingsolver’s narration, finding it slow,
too Southern, and preachy.
Actually, over half the members thought the book’s tone was preachy.
But the really strong feelings were yet to come.
One member called it a “dreadful rant” with a “complete absence of fact” that will “give liberals a bad name.” Though it changed his thinking about local farmers and humanely raised animals – two causes he now wants to actively support – he “hated it!” What to make of that?
Another member bets that Kingsolver has a big ole carbon footprint herself, with all that flying around to give speeches and whatnot. Then she declared her desire to shoot Kingsolver’s 18-year-old daughter Camille (the “little prig”) – this from a great-grandmother. Good heavens!!
Frankly, I had NOT seen any of that coming. It made me wonder why I didn’t find the book preachy, because I’m so often the one making that complaint about an author.
So I checked some reviews here and found lots of raves and words like “nonjudgmental”, “not sanctimonious or enviro-pious,” and “Kingsolver is no pious soapboxer,” none of which helped explain the reactions of my friends. I guess the book’s a lightening rod of some sort, and maybe there’s just no way to write passionately about a subject that’s central to all our lives and get it right with everybody.
Love it or hate it, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle sure gets people talking…and thinking about making some changes.