May 3, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

For some time now I have been interested in the local food movement...eating more in-season, locally grown produce and meats. Being an engineer who loves to learn and research new things, I have read my fair share of articles and books about it lately.

This is for three reasons...first, I am trying to get my family away from the frozen, canned, and boxed foods. If I can make it from scratch, I will. If I can make it taste even that much better with freshly grown ingredients, I will.

Second, I am really interested in supporting the local farmers. We live in an agriculturally rich county here in Virginia, and I do think it is a shame that we don't take advantage of that. that we own our own home, I am going to convert some of our backyard into a garden. Not only will we save money at the grocery store, but it will get us out of the house, away from the TV and computer. It's therapeutic, and I think it will be good for our daughter to learn how food grows.

So I was quite looking forward to reading this book about a family who moves from Arizona to our area here in Virginia, in order to live off the land. And by that, I mean they literally only eat what they can either produce themselves or buy from the local farmers markets. No tropical fruits, no strawberries in December, that sort of thing. No trips to the grocery store for Twinkies or Cheerios.

And sad to say, I was disappointed in the book. While I agree with her central theme of the book, that it is best to eat locally grown foods and that the corporate food industry is wreaking havoc on our health and the environment, I could not make it past the 5th chapter in the book.

For one thing, not only did she write in a very condescending, "our family is holier than thou that shop at chain grocery stores" manner, but she also didn't know when to stop writing about a certain topic. She rambled way too much in my opinion.

Maybe I had a hard time with this book because it was also too preachy. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could all be rich, live on our own little farms, and not have to work 9-5 jobs. But in reality, it isn't practical for the majority of people to grow their own foods, and many more can't afford to be able to eat organic, locally grown foods.

If you are interested in the "locavore" movement, I would recommend reading something along The Omnivore's Dilemma.


  1. OMG I can't believe you just reviewed this. I'm reading it right now, I'm about halfway through, right in the middle of squash season. :P So I'll be doin a review in a few days too. I'm really getting a lot out of it.

  2. I think my problem is that I already read Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, so I already knew a lot of the stuff she had written about the food industry. Plus, we get a lot of articles in the paper about local food stuff. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had read this one first.

    Having said that, I do agree with her main argument. I think it is better for us, and the environment, if we eat foods that our local farmers produce. For example, there are TONS of peach orchards within a 30-mile radius. Why can't our local Giant or Safeway stock those, instead of crappy peaches imported from South America?

  3. I agree with you about this book. I'm very into eating locally, but I found her to be entirely too preachy. When she got into how there was no reason why everyone shouldn't be eating local, I almost threw the book across the room. She totally undervalued the place of privilege she comes have the money for land, the time to farm, the education to know how to research other sources of local foods, etc. Pollan is much better in my opinion.

    I also read a book recently called "Plenty". It was about a man and woman who spend a year eating locally. It was much better done in terms of not being sanctimonious, and I found it to be more realistic as well. However, I ended up not really liking the two authors very much sometimes. Anyway, it also wasn't a favorite book of mine, but at least I didn't feel like it would actively turn people off to eating locally. My book group read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and some of the people were so annoyed by it they still have no interest in pursuing local food sources.

  4. Oh, only good part of the book is some of the recipes. I've made a frittata recipe from the book, and the orzo with zucchini and the zucchini cookies (not great, unfortunately). I wrote for a blog last summer about cooking kid-friendly vegetarian meals with local ingredients, so I was always happy to have new recipe ideas :)

  5. I really liked the book. I read it prior to The Omnivore's Dilemma and I can see that reading that first would have taken the punch out of AVM. Yes, she did get tiresome, but she is the one who did without produce all winter, so I felt that she earned her boastful attitude.

    AVM really changed how I shop, and Omnivore's Dilemma changed it further.

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