Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A couple of weeks ago a friend handed me Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. Since it’s winter, it’s the season of reading and learning more than doing. I have been pouring over all sorts of non-fiction gardening books that focus on “how to.” She handed me this one to help remind me of the “why.” Why is a question we don’t ask often enough after we get out of the perpetual “Why?” stage as children. I am actually considering re-aquiring that phase. There are altogether too many answers that we’re given that should be challenged with a five-year-old’s tenacity.

The story is about a family that moves to Appalachia to grow their own food for one year. They aren’t new at this. In fact, they’d been gardening in that particular farm for years during the summer as a break from their lives in Tucson, Arizona. It wasn’t just gardening and hen-raising that they were already familiar with. The family hadn’t been eating CAFO meat for years by the time the story started. Barbara has a degree in evolutionary biology. Her husband, Steven Hopp has a Ph.D. in animal behavior and has taught everything from ornithology to natural history. Their older daughter, Camille Kingsolver, was, at the time of writing, in college for biology, anatomy, and dance. She also had the benefit of being raised by a family that took food and science seriously. The younger daughter, Lily, has fewer titles, given her age, but the story wouldn’t be the same without her.

The bulk of the story is told by Barbara. It is nonfiction, but she does have a flair for making it a story anyway. Gardening and eating what they produce is not a totally new concept, but they learn a lot along the way. Things like, when to start? After all, the beginning of the calendar year is not the beginning of the growing year. Steven adds more scientific and factual asides. Camille offers a young adult’s prospective and quite a few recipes for each season. Each person, including Lily who wasn’t old enough to actually contribute to the writing, added skills and insight into the whole process. At the end is an impressive list of additional resources.

The book was a great read. I intend to pass it on to my mother because I think she will get a kick out of the story, having fed a family out of a vegetable garden herself. The story also made me seriously nostalgic for the family meals that I don’t have any more and probably didn’t appreciate enough when I did. It made me think about the bar Mom put in when she redid the kitchen. That way everyone could still gather there like they always did, but she would have space of her own for the cooking and other kitchen chores that seemed to be neverending. I used to bemoan the fact that my mother’s world seemed to revolve around food. Feeding a family of six on home-made meals will do that to you. Now I’m beginning to think that there are far worse things for a world to revolve around. After all, how else would you aquire memories of the women in the family gathering in the kitchen for canning and gossip?

I will say that by the end of the book, with her descriptions of the trials of her breeding-stock turkeys, I am thinking about possibly starting with turkeys for my own fowl experiments. After all, they did almost become our national bird, so they shouldn’t be allowed to die out. If all else fails, they taste good, too.

“How to” is very important. I will continue reading up on that, but it’s good to be reminded of why we need to learn how. The end result. While I don’t have the need, or at the moment the ability, to harvest 400 pounds of tomatoes, I do have the need to be reminded that food grows in dirt and that tomatoes are best eaten during tomato season.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Ah, but tomatoes eaten as chili (sauce) or pasta (sauce) during the cold winter months are pretty awesome, too! Canning during the summer can get a bit tedious, but it’s worth it.


    • My mom was telling me about her tomato puree that she makes over the summer- I think it was tomatoes and- shoot- forgot which herbs. Anyway- puree, divvy up, and freeze. It’s one of her favorite soup bases through the winter. I can’t wait to try it as soon as I get my hands on some proper tomatoes! I’ve dabbled in canning- but I’m thinking I will be taking it more seriously this summer if I have enough produce to make it worth my time.


  2. Posted by namelessw0nder on February 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    You know, ducks apparently make pretty good pets! I wonder if the breed for eating is the same time that people keep for pets, or if that matters. Another fowl possibility!


    • I’ve tossed around the idea of ducks- but they’ve always struck me as a rather- ah- foul fowl. I think it’s because they have ponds or other sources of water to play in. Somehow that just seems to make them a little dirtier than chickens. But maybe I just need to dive in and give them a try!


  3. I loved this book, too! I am not nearly as far along in food self-sufficiency as Barbara Kingsolver, but I try to do a little more each year. Last year I was up to 60 pounds of tomatoes. I guess I just have 340 to go! 🙂 Best of luck in your own efforts.


    • Thank you! I think most people are not as far along as she is, but it’s good to have a target 🙂

      60 pounds of tomatoes really might be enough for me, but I’m also not feeding a family. Good luck with your annual improvements!


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