Monday, June 21, 2010

Book review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

The June book club book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and although June book club happened a week and a half ago, I finally finished the book. This is unusual -- I am usually one of the two people who consistently finishes reading on time, but this one was 12 CDs worth, which I would argue is six CDs too many. So, on Saturday, I finally finished listening to the book, while on the way to a bachelorette party, no less.

If you're not familiar with this story, it's the nonfiction account of Kingsolver's family participating in a year-long experiment of eating locally. Just as eating locally was a family effort, three of the four family members participate in the writing of this book. Kingsolver is the main narrator, but 19-year-old daughter Camille writes little anecdotes from the young-adult perspective, and husband Steven adds sidebars about local eating research, trends and nutritional information that puts the family's experiment in a more global perspective.

Kingsolver and her family were not trying to say that this year of experimentation and lots of farming and canning and freezing is for everyone. In fact, toward the end of the book Kingsolver admits this lifestyle is for few people. I am glad she finally admitted that, because, frankly, that was the main thing going on inside my head as I spent a month listening to this story while driving to and from work.

Overall, I appreciate the concept of eating organically and locally. I also recognize, though, that local and organic produce can be a luxury for many. Working families have limited time and limited money. Local and organic produce is available at farmer's markets, but in my opinion attending those is a luxury for the upper-middle class. Moreover, organic produce at a grocery store almost always costs more than non-organic produce. Finally, growing the organic produce yourself requires time (another disadvantage for the working class) and space (something that even the wealthy may not have).

There are messages about the value of local and organic food contained within this book that most readers can apply to their own lives in however small ways, but these are messages I've read in other books about food, such as The Omnivore's Dilemma, Twinkie Deconstructed and Fast Food Nation. I guess I view her entire experiment as a luxury few people could realistically pursue. As a popular, accomplished author, Kingsolver has a lot more flexibility with her schedule. Kind of like a full-time blogger who writes about home improvement and can therefore spend time every day taking on home-improvement tasks, Kingsolver is ultimately getting paid to conduct this experiment.

The book is accompanied by the family's website, which features recipes from the book and resources about local eating.

I'm not upset I read this book, but I didn't feel overly connected to much of it. There was, though, somewhat randomly this one line I loved when she was talking about the winter holiday season, "We do not adhere to the admonition of any religion that encourages its followers to buy stuff no one needs." My sentiments exactly.

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