When I get going on food and gardening topics, it’s hard to reign me in. I’m often asked for book/movie/blog recommendations to learn more on these topics (or maybe to shut me up?), so I thought I would create a little reoccurring category here on the Grace Garden blog on recommended reading and/or viewing. Feel free to submit your own recommendations (please do!).
I first read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle when it was published in 2007, and it is the first book I recommend to people on the importance of more thoughtful food choices and the importance of gardening. Kingsolver writes beautifully, and it’s hard not to get sucked in to her family’s adventure in eating locally and seasonally over the course of a year.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver begins with Kingsolver and her family deciding to move from the sunny deserts of Arizona to the fertile, rolling hills of Virginia. Both Kingsolver and her husband were originally from the Appalachian region, so, for them, the move was a return to the roots of their childhood. Once the family has settled into the more laidback life of Virginia, they decide to embark on a diet produced either from the work of their own hands or work from the hands of those in their community, which they define as the region within 100 miles of their home. Kingsolver breaks down the chapters according to the seasons of a farm and offers an easy mnemonic device for those of us not raised on a farm for remembering what types of produce are in season when.
Kingsolver and company (her eldest daughter, Camille, and her husband, Steven L. Hopp also contribute to the book) provide a lovely glimpse into a family’s life on a small farm. Her descriptions of working the fields and creating recipes together based on what’s available from the garden made me want to head out to my yard and start digging.
The book is not all memoir, however. Kingsolver has a clear agenda throughout the book. She hopes to convince her readers of the value inherent in purchasing organically and thoughtfully produced, seasonal and locally-grown produce. This reader was convinced. The book’s publishers were smart to release the book toward the beginning of spring, as people, like me, are itching to get back outside.
As a twenty-something still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, I have repeatedly felt guilty and even weird for not buying into the workaholic, constant networking mindset of many of my peers and co-workers. My husband and I recently bought a new home and brought home a puppy, and I almost resent the time I spend away from them to sit at a desk feeling uninterested and unnecessary. As I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I began to realize that maybe I’m not as strange as I thought. In today’s society, we are so far removed from the natural, Godly order of life that we find ourselves caught up on the merry-go-round of “keeping up with the Joneses” – being the most successful, having the biggest house, knowing the right kind of people, to name a few. Maybe I feel uncomfortable and out-of-place about living in the world as we know it because God wants me to feel that way.
During their experiment, Kingsolver and her family learn to relish the value of hard, manual labor and seeing the results of their work in the fresh taste of a summer tomato picked right off the vine or the beauty of a mountain of steamed asparagus straight from the garden. Kingsolver’s narrative reminded me that, as Christians, we are called to care for the poor and marginalized in our own backyard, not just those we often hear about in Darfur or the Congo. It is a sad reality that most of our small-family farmers have been forced out of business by the large, corporately-owned “farms” that over-produce genetically-modified corns and soybeans or mass produce poultry, beef and pork in conditions that no natural being should be forced to endure.
Reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle made me more conscious of what I put in my mouth – where it came from, how far it traveled to get to my plate, the people that toiled so that I could enjoy it. As far as I’m concerned, a book that makes me more considerate and thoughtful of the creation around me is a book worth reading.
Review originally published at Burnside Writers Collective.