Friday, December 14, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Last week I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's newest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This book was unique amongst all the Barbara Kingsolver books I've read to date in that it was a chronological, autobiographical narrative. Her other personal nonfiction works are collections of essays that are not chronological, but are organized instead around a theme. This book is the story of one year of her family's life. As such, it is not particularly glamorous or exciting. Indeed, it is kind of mundane and the pace is pretty slow. Yet, it is REAL and very personal. Written with inset boxes by her husband about specific environmental issues and chapters closed with recipes and thoughts from her oldest daughter, this book was a family effort (just like the year it describes).

The author and her family decide to move permanently to their farm in Kentucky (previously only their summer home) and to attempt to eat locally and to grow and harvest as much of their own diet as possible. Forced to acknowledge that the food available in Tuscon is unsustainable at best and environmentally disastrous at worst, they could ethically not live there any longer and so set out to provide for their own gastronomic needs (as organically, harmoniously, and peacefully as possible too).

I must confess that this book did not snare me as completely as all of Kingsolver's other books have. I consider her one of my favorite authors of all time and one of the most masterful and gifted writers I can think of. Towards the end of the book, her stirring descriptions and explanations of the reproductive saga of her domestic turkey flock actually brought tears to my eyes. That is some gift! ;-D

Other random thoughts from this book:

  • I loved her concept of (and accompanying illustration of), the "vegetannual." The way of looking at vegetables as all pieces of one plant (the vegetannual) providing edible goods at different points of the year (different parts of the plant's life cycle) and continuously. Beginnings with the spring greens and crowned with the "flower" of a large pumpkin, the vegetannual continuously meets our dietary need for fresh produce!
  • She makes me wants to raise chickens! (heck, and maybe turkeys too...)
  • And I want to grow stuff! Lots of stuff!
  • This book came to mind day-to-day and made me reflect on my own food choices and the localness, or not, thereof. She talks about being a "locavore," which is a cool concept.
  • We do eat primarily in season and my observation is that local grocery stores (even Wal-Mart!) make it easy to do so. Towers of produce during any one season are most often seasonably appropriate (though very often not local by a long short). This seems different than her assertion that Americans eat whatever they want, whenever they want it without consideration for, or indeed awareness of, whether it is in season. Maybe it is a function of our fairly rural, Midwestern location, but I think people here would hard pressed not to "get" that some foods are in season and some aren't (based simply upon the abundance of apples in the Wal-Mart produce department right now and the utter--and totally appropriate--dearth of, say, strawberries. No watermelons now either or mounds of peaches, just as there will be no grapefruits in Wal-Mart in July).
  • She also has some good insights about the simple pleasures of food preparation and providing for your family instead of viewing cooking as drudgery or a chore to be got through.
  • I made Camille's (Kingsolver's daughter) zucchini orzo recipe for dinner last week and it was delicious!

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