Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (reviewed October 2007)

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007). [****] I'm a pretty unsophisticated reader of novels; the husband of one of my best friends is a writer and says that "serious writers" hate Barbara Kingsolver, but I actually love her stories. So I was really excited to hear about her latest book, a memoir of her family's year of eating locally. Kingsolver, her husband, and two daughters, ages 17 and 10, spend a year eating only food in season and grown within 100 miles (or is it one hour's drive?) of their home in rural Kentucky. They make just a few exceptions. Each member of the family chooses one food they can't live without – he chooses coffee
(fair trade, naturally), the youngest daughter chooses chocolate (again, fair trade), the older daughter chooses dried fruit, and Barbara chooses spices. They also have to compromise a bit on their flour, as there is not a local, whole wheat mill; I think they also "cheat" on wine and olive oil. The freezer is pretty skimpy by March, but they make it through with imagination and without going hungry. I found this book familiar and compelling in many ways – my dad is an organic vegetable farmer, and my partner and I are urban gardeners who put up much of our food for the winter. I know about kitchen counters full of tomatoes in August and September, and the stickiness of the kitchen floor during canning season, and late nights blanching and freezing big boxes of corn and green beans from New Jersey or the local Amish farm stand. Kingsolver is neither sentimental nor righteous about her family's "locavore" year, and I expect that for many of her fans, this will be an important introduction to the politics, economics and ecology of food production and consumption in this country. Having been steeped in all of that for most of my life, though, I was hoping more for a really good story about her family's experience, with well-developed characters and lots of local color. While there are a few nice portraits and scenes, I really didn't feel like I got to know her family or their community well at all. The side-bar "essays" by her husband and older daughter didn't help, and I found them distracting and even annoying, although my partner Julie, the real cook in our family, loved all the recipes.

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