Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I don’t even know how to start talking about this book. It’s quite possibly the most influential book I’ve ever read and I’ve made so many changes to my own life since reading it. Simple changes, really that haven’t required much effort and honestly they’ve all been fun. I’ve embraced gardening and have started growing my own food. I’ve visited my local farmers market and purchased delicious produce, plants and seafood from my hard working local farmers. I’ve started cooking with local food. Today I made my own bread for the first time. I’ve started to be mindful of where my food comes from, what chemicals went into that food and how much fuel went into getting that food onto my plate and how that food was treated before it got onto my plate. And I plan on trying my hand at making my own cheese soon!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle looks at Barbara Kingsolver’s successful attempt to move to a life of eating locally. What this meant for her was growing what she could in the form of vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains and nuts; raising chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat; canning, preserving and freezing food and buying the rest from local farmers. She also made her own bread and cheese among so many other delicious sounding things. And it’s all free range and pesticide free so what’s going into her body is all natural. The other thing is, you only eat what’s in season. Truthfully, it’s not natural to have asparagus in November. If you live in the north, it’s not natural to have bananas ever, so they said goodbye to the banana. But they said hello to so many other delicious home grown fruits and vegetables with such delicious flavors while saying goodbye to produce that was shipped thousands of miles with little flavor.

Think of that tomato that you buy in December. It most likely comes from California where it was grown on a giant farm where it’s sprayed with tons of pesticides. On top of that, the tractors used to spray all of those pesticides are using lots of fuel. Then they go through processing and are packaged (more fuel). Then they are loaded onto an eighteen wheeler and shipped to wherever you live (a LOT more fuel). All for that one tomato. Now think of the fuel crisis we’re going through now and how DEPENDENT we all are on gasoline and how destructive it has become. For each meal we eat at our dinner table, an underestimate is that we might as well each drink a quart of motor oil when you consider the transport, packaging, and harvest.

Now think about this…you can get MUCH better tasting milk, cheese, oats, meat, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc at your farmers market or even at the supermarket if your just mindful of where the food comes from. BUY LOCAL. And you stop this chain. The closer to home, the better the taste. Naturally, it’s fresher and it’s gone through less wear and tear. Even better yet, grow what you can. Even in an apartment you can do some patio peppers and tomatoes and herbs! I’m having so much fun with mine πŸ™‚ Bake your own bread! It’s so easy in a bread maker.

As for the book itself, I didn’t ever want it to end. It was delightful. It was enchanting. Kingsolver never made her year of eating locally seem like a cakewalk, but she always made it seem wonderful and rewarding and she made me want to just move to a farm and live that life. We can’t all do that obviously, but we can make some better choices. Her writing is exquisite and I can’t wait to read some of her fiction now. I’m hoping to love it just as much. You’ll find the book to be enticing, I promise. You’ll WANT to start doing some of these things. You’ll start eyeing the mason jars at the hardware store and thinking of what you can can. You’ll start noticing seed packets in places you never noticed them before. You’ll start wondering where the best place is to start a compost pile in your backyard…and how your neighbors would feel about a couple of hens in the neighborhood…..

The best thing of all about this book is that Kingsolver is never preachy. She’s certainly less preachy than I’ve been in this post :p She just shares her story and I’m sure she hopes that other readers might follow her lead, but never says you should. She writes with love, with wonderful humor, with frustration, and with a great warmth. Her husband adds fantastic facts and numbers and resources throughout the book and her daughter shares some wonderful recipes and anecdotes. I sincerely hope that Kingsolver one day returns with a follow up to this one.

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22 Responses

  1. It was so fun to read too! I’ve definitely given thought to what I buy since reading it. When given a choice between 2 items, I go for the one grown closest.

    I just planted more radishes today and a couple of herbs. I’m really enjoying the garden.

  2. Hmm, I’d better check to see if this one’s on my wish list. I think it is, but I’m not sure. I’ve tried to make it up in time for our weekly summer-only farmer’s market, but I am hella bad with mornings. LOL I’ll keep trying. At least we’re growing tomatoes. That’s one thing, right? πŸ™‚

    I seem to always be at least one post behind on commenting at your blog, so . . . just so you know, I just commented on that last post. And, in case you missed it, I finally found some lavender. Wahoo! Now, I really need to actually plant the stuff. Almost everything else is done and flowers are already blooming like crazy. I love flowers and try to make myself a blooming porch jungle, every year, so I’m happy. Keep having fun with that garden!!!

  3. Great review, Chris! Have you read Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating”? He talks about much of the same concepts and in just the few weeks since I finished it, I’ve changed a few things – like shopping more at the farmer’s markets (we’re lucky enough to be in a rural sort of area with several of them). It really does make a difference … and makes you think.

  4. Tried to find this one again last night…still no luck. 😦 Might have to order it, as I’m like 6,299,384 on the paperbackswap wish list. And Chris, be sure to netflix Food, Inc. You’ll love it. (And hate it, if you know what I mean.) Rich and I fenced Annie’s garden today, and Annie planted her strawberries and cherry tomatoes. And Rich and Max removed a lot of sod in prep for putting the new family garden in…but we’ve still got a lot more work to do there. The little farmer’s market we go doesn’t start until next weekend…and I cannot wait! Can’t wait to see tomorrow’s garden pics!!!

  5. I’ll have to check this out. My own problem with the local food movement is that it is near impossible for lower income folks. Healthy food is expensive and the time it takes to bake bread, grow plants, and research healthy food is not so easy for low income folks. I know there are programs in California and a few more progressive states, but in Northeast Georgia you’re lucky we have a farmer’s market.

    I do try to eat local as much as possible, my inner socialist just has problems with healthy eating being inaccessible to people who most likely need it most.

  6. I really like Kingsolver’s books, but haven’t read this one (yet). I live in southern California and we shop the farmer’s market for all our fruits, veggies, and even some of our bread. I do love to eat whatever is in season! In fact, today I have scarfed down a large amount of olloliberries, blueberries, and raspberries!

  7. Other Chris, That’s the same thing I do now…look at the origin of the product and buy the closest one! Yay for radishes and herbs πŸ˜€ Hope you enjoy them! You should post pics of your plants sometime!

    Nancy, Oh I’m the same way 😦 Luckily, our farmer’s market tends to run until 1 pm on Tuesdays (the only day I can make it) so I can normally get out of bed in time to get there. And they bring LOTS of stuff. I’m so glad that you finally got some lavender!!! You did tell me that on one of my other posts! I did get your other comment. Glad to hear that you’ve escaped the migraines lately!!! I hope that continues to go on for you. Lord knows you don’t need them. My head is so fuzzy right now :/ You should post pics of your patio!!

    Melissa, I have not read Food Matters! But it’s totally going onto my TBR list now!! I’ve been wanting to read more books like this one ever since I closed the last page. I could read about this topic for ages…it truly does make a difference. Thanks for the rec πŸ™‚

    Debi, Man! I can’t believe you can’t find it!! It’s such a good book Debi…I wish you could get your hands on it. I don’t have netflix anymore 😦 I’m trying to get rid of debt, so I might just have to see if the library has Food, Inc AND FLOW! Oh, the gardening stuff has me so excited πŸ˜€ I can’t wait to see it all!! Both in pictures and in real life πŸ˜€

    Amanda A., You know…I’m so totally with you on those thoughts 😦 My inner socialist feels the same way. I’m lucky to live in New Orleans where we are a rather poor city that does have a pretty strong movement to support the lower socio-economic class if you look for it. Our local farmer’s market accepts both food stamps and WIC so that people who fall into that category can eat healthier foods. A lot of low income neighborhoods are also starting to do community gardens now too which are really awesome, but you’re right…we could do so much more as a SOCIETY when it comes to this. It’s something that needs to be reworked both from the top down and the bottom up. I know Michelle Obama is extremely passionate about this…maybe she can get something done..or started at least.

    Helen, Olloliberries??? I haven’t even heard of those but I so want some now just because of their name! It sounds delicious! I’m glad to hear that you like Kingsolver’s books! I’ve really never paid much attention to them before, but I certainly will from here on out.

  8. I was very disappointed once I found myself back here in florida that our local “U pick it” farms have all disappeared! They had large farms of strawberries and beans and such and you took a bucket and picked your own for a very reasonable price..but they are no more.. I’ve often remembered how nice they were..but maybe as a much older person now I understand that the area may be too old to be in the sun picking them… but I still miss them

  9. You better post all about your cheese-making experience when you get around to it! I’m fascinated!!

  10. YES! This is one of my fave books of all time for the reasons you mentioned. When I finished it I was simply bowled over, and it’s changed my mindset about food a great deal as well. It’s up for a re-read this year, and I’m actually off to buy some pepper and herb plants for my patio today. Fun! Loving your gardening posts, by the way.

  11. […] expensive and pointless.Β  My buddy Chris over at Stuff As Dreams are Made On just happened to review this book yesterday and I can think of no better way to put this than how he did: Think of that tomato that you buy in […]

  12. I feel a bit as Amanda does about these things. Well, more than a bit, really. I can’t help but roll my eyes sometimes when I read blog posts (NOT yours!) or books whose tone is all, it’s-so-easy-if-only-you-WANT-to-do-it. I live in a part of the world that simply doesn’t have the resources that are mentioned in these types of books. Farmer’s markets? Come again? Organic food stores? Unheard of. I’m lucky that because this is still a somewhat rural area, you DO find small greengrocers that mostly sell local produce. But the rest is not so easy. And the low-income thing comes in again because those small shops are more expensive than the large supermarkets, and there all the fruit and vegetables come from Spain or North Africa or whatever. I *wish* they’d sell more local produce, but I can’t look down on people who don’t have the time or the money to go elsewhere just because they don’t.

    Anyway…sorry for the rant πŸ˜› I do love your enthusiasm, Chris. Your posts have made me want to redouble my efforts to resuscitate my basil, and maybe get a few more pots with other things.

  13. I loved this book! It so inspired me to start gardening more seriously. I haven’t the nerve to try canning or making cheese yet! but my mother used to bake bread and I’d like to learn how. It is sad, though, that what Nymeth and Amanda say is true- organic food is so much more costly. We found our local farmer’s market just last week and a carton of eggs there was $5! I know several years ago when we were newly married and didn’t have much money, I wanted to buy organic but simply couldn’t afford it. Even when I was getting WIC, I thought it was so cool I could use the food stamps at the farmer’s market, until I discovered it would barely buy me one bunch of carrots. I can’t see any way around it, though, because the very practices that make processed foods bad for you is what makes them cheap, too….

  14. Deslily, I SO wish we had a “U Pick it” farm down here!! Those are so cool. And you’re right. The prices are usually very reasonable on those and they’re tons of fun too! Sorry to hear that they’ve disappeared around you 😦

    Christina, Oh don’t worry about it…there will definitely be a post all about my cheese making experience :p

    Andi, Yay for peppers and herbs!! I’m so with you on this being a life changing book..it’s just such an incredible book. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!!

    Nymeth, I wish I would’ve talked about those things in my post 😦 I’m totally with you and Amanda on that. The truth is, it is slightly more expensive to eat this way in the short term…in the long term if you’re growing your own stuff it saves money. But those who don’t have access to this kind of eating for whatever reason can’t easily eat this way…be it for money, location, etc. And it’s sad. And it’s NOT their fault in the least bit. It’s the fault of our society, starting from the top. It’s a problem that we ever let 2000 chickens be raised in an area the size of a bathroom, that we ever let cattle that can’t even walk be turned into beef. That we allow our food to be sprayed with poisons. And that jacks up the price. And makes the price soar for people who handle their food responsibly. It really is sad 😦 I didn’t mean to get super preachy here. I think this is something that needs to really change all the way around…but sadly, it’ll be ages before it’s even addressed if it ever is…

    Jeane, I’m so glad you did!! I haven’t tried canning or cheese making yet, but I’m dying to! Like I was telling Nymeth and Amanda, it really is sad 😦 It’s sad that the price of organics shoot up just because the rest of the country is so irresponsible about the way they handle food. And with programs like WIC, you’re so right…it’s hard to buy that one bunch of carrots when you can buy so much more. But at the same time, so much crap goes into your body with that “so much more”…it’s all one huge dilemma that needs to be addressed more by the government and better standards need to be set up by the FDA.

  15. Preaching to the choir here! I haven’t read the book because I can imagine what it has to say.

    We’ve been eating primarily local for at last a decade. In the summer–when we belong to an organic CSA and shop at the farmers market–I am almost never in the grocery store. We buy all our meats and dairy products from local farmers; all animals are grass fed and humanely treated. In the winter we buy from a wholesale organic food distributor (although that requires fuel once a month).

    We generally eat in season. I’ve been baking bread for years and years — and a bread machine is a great way to go. Soon you’ll be canning or freezing to keep your produce through the winter; although you may be able to grow some things year round.

    So exciting to see people “converted” to real food.

    I don’t think you have to be rich to enjoy real food. It is possible to bake bread at night and it’s cheaper and healthier than white bread. Processed foods offer false economy when you consider the health problems related to eating fats and salt, chemicals and pesticides. I may be living in a dream world, but I don’t think it is more expensive to start with fresh over processed.

  16. I don’t know. The thing is, though I can see how having a bread machine and baking your own bread is cheaper in the long run, and how the same goes for growing your own produce, you have to have the money to make that initial investment, to buy whatever you need to get started. And so many people live a hand-to-mouth existence and simply don’t. They just can’t afford it, unless they don’t eat at all for a week or something.

    I’m slightly playing devil’s advocate here, as I do believe that all this stuff is extremely important. And I don’t buy into the sense of entitlement that makes people say that people have the right to have access to cheap food more than animals have the right to live in humane conditions. I really, really don’t. But I think this is an extremely complex problem with no easy solution :\ I think that overpopulation is a huge part of the problem, but I’ll shut up before I write another whole rant about that in your comments section, Chris.

  17. Another great post as usual, Chris. Thanks to you and Heather, I just started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’m loving the book so far. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention again.

  18. I need to read this. It’s hard for me to grown my own,cause I only have a tiny yard, but I might as well try it. I just heard that only few blocks from my house there’s an allotment where people can share its produce by giving only 2 hours of work on it each person. I don’t know how big it is or if I can squeeze in the project, but I want to look into it. This could be a solution for us low income folks, who don’t have time or space or money to grow their own or to buy in local markets. Shared allotments!

  19. This is a subject that is very close to my heart. I firmly believe that people who have the means to buy local, organic, ethical and sustainable produce should at least try to make the effort. Not only does local in-season food taste a whole lot better, it is so much better for the environment and for local farmers. I am lucky enough to have several farmers markets and green food stores selling local produce in my county, and earn enough to be able to afford it at least some of the time. Sadly not everyone has that luxury, but it is so great seeing people do what they can.

    Great review πŸ™‚

  20. I loved this book too and was so very inspired by it. Maybe today I’ll break out my seed packets and plant some herbs in my kitchen pots.

  21. I have this book on my TBR pile. I am looking forward to reading it sooner rather than later

  22. I’m warming up to this book after the initial review onslaught. I want my hub to read it, actually. (and SHHHH! he’s not much of a book reader – but he loves cookbooks.)
    Also, fyi – I’m watching a show on NOLA RIGHT NOW! and I want to come visit Magazine St! looks SO cool… anyway, hello – how’s the garden?

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