16 July 2009

book review: animal, vegetable, mineral by barbara kingsolver

Fast, cheap, and on demand. That’s the American way, right? Especially here in New York City, where you can eat your weight in vindaloo at two a.m. and wash it down with something bright, sweet, and fizzy (or dark, thick, and boozy, if that’s how you roll). But what some know (and what many are becoming aware of) is that is way of living – this corn-syrup-guzzling, citrus-fruit-importing, two-dollar-iceberg-lettuce way of living – is so far removed from nature’s true course that our entire food system has been pushed to the edge of sustainability and now teeters on the verge of collapse. What’s more is that we as human beings no longer recognize or even comprehend the normal order of agriculture. Who among us even knows where peanuts grow? Or how cheese gets made? Or what season asparagus actually grows in?

Barbara Kingsolver does, and she knows because she’s harvested, made, and grown all the above. (The answers, in case you were wondering, can be found here, here, and here, respectively.) In her bestselling book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver describes how she and her family engages in a year-long pursuit of sustainable, local growing on their own Appalachian farm, detailing (at times, hilariously) their myriad successes and failures along the way. From tomatoes to turkey sex, no detail is spared. Kingsolver’s husband and daughter (Stephen Hopp and Camille Kingsolver) pepper the book with essays and anecdotes of their own, providing readers with a well-rounded viewpoint of how, in these times of sliders and Twinkies, the family’s endeavor managed to succeed.

The New York Times describes Kingsolver’s book as “a useful guide for the apprentice activist”, and rightly so. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is thick with recipes, straight-forward explanations, and an endless list of resources on everything from where to find your nearest farmers market to how to contact the people who regulate our large-scale food production. Kingsolver’s folksy and all-embracing style makes the book very easy to read, and her non-militant approach to the sustainable food movement makes it work anybody could enjoy. (I don’t know about you, but nothing turns me off faster than a person who does nothing but preach about how wrong everything is without recognizing the fact that the world cannot change overnight)

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral certainly kicked my butt into gear when it came to planting my own mini-garden this spring. I finished it in April, before the farmers markets were are plentiful as they are now, and the book was incredibly effective in nudging me back into my desire to eat as locally as possible. I'm presently working on a "local-produce only" diet, supplemented by staple goods purchased elsewhere. Bye-bye bananas, helloooo sweet sustainability!

What are you waiting for? Crack open a copy and see how it might inspire you!
Have you already read it? Leave a comment and let people know what you think!

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