Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. New York: HarperCollins Publication, 2007.
Reviewed by Jackie Fletcher.
Barbara Kingsolver takes her family on the adventure of a lifetime in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In an effort to educate herself, her husband, and her two daughters, and to be closer to family members, Kingsolver relocates her family to live on a farm in Virginia. Part of the family’s plan is to live off locally produced food for an entire year, learning to grow and raise most of it in their own backyard. Along the way, Kingsolver encounters social issues related to agriculture and American eating habits in this “Fast Food Nation.” Her message in the novel is to inform readers of their options as consumers and human beings, urging them to look beyond the label on the bottle to the entire process of food creation.
Kingsolver’s arguments are convincing perhaps mainly because it appears she has done her homework. Not only does Kingsolver offer little known pieces of agricultural information, but she also presents them in a way that concerns readers: “Modern U.S. consumers now get to taste less than one percent of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a century ago,” she observes (49). Therefore, preserving “heirlooms,” as she calls them, stands as a deserving endeavor to a woman who finds little similarity between supermarket and homegrown vegetables (48).
Kingsolver does not make readers feel as if they are missing out on magical experiences simply by not spending time on a farm. Readers of this novel will feel like part of her family, taken in for the day to enjoy the harvests of each month, from asparagus to pumpkin. They will pick weeds, slaughter turkeys, pickle green beans, and hold newborn chicks in their hands. With the help of Kingsolver’s daughter Camille, readers can even try out healthy recipes from spinach lasagna (61) to cucumber yogurt soup (192).
Not only will this book make readers want to get their hands dirty and at the least visit a farm, but it will also make them want to be more self-conscious of the products entering their mouths every day. One of the most interesting aspects about this book is that it can make a typical everyday American think twice before ordering a hamburger with fries. Kingsolver makes eating healthy seem less than a chore and more of a realization, informing readers that today’s kids “are predicted to be this country’s first generation to have a shorter life than their parents” (18). If this book does anything, it brings readers and agriculture together because “Growing food was the first activity that gave us enough prosperity to stay in one place, form complex social groups, tell our stories, and build our cities,” Kingsolver asserts (178).
As a personal account, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has its own unique style. The book is separated not by chapters, but by different seasons of agriculture. Its language is poetic yet educational, leaving readers touched by its stories and inspired by its call to action. Kingsolver is honest and fair. What she asks from readers is reasonable: as long as one believes in something, one should work for it, as Kingsolver has done in this book. She understands that her passions are not shared by everybody, but she points out that this may be due to ignorance on the part of the supermarket shopper: “I know what they’re really saying . . . ‘What a dope.’ They can think so. But they’re wrong” (308)—because without knowing the benefits of buying organic produce or the varieties of vegetables available, shoppers can miss out on taste, understanding and health benefits. Thanks to Kingsolver, ordinary shoppers can find inspiration in information: “We will change our ways significantly as a nation not when some laws tell us we have to . . . but when we want to” (338).
With the help of Camille and her husband Steve, Kingsolver takes readers on a ride through sacrifice and hard work. Giving a year to such work is not an accomplishment many will pursue. However, those who give it a try will find a reward: witnessing life beginning and ending, becoming one with the soil, and learning that the importance of food is not something easily denied.