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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Written By Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver.

Illustrations. 370 pp. Harper Perennial. $15.99.

Here’s a comment from Barbara Kingsolver that might warm you on these bitter mid-winter days: “August is all about the tomatoes every year. That’s nothing new. For a serious gardener, the end of summer is when you walk into the kitchen and see red.”

Kingsolver is indeed a serious vegetable gardener. She’s also an award-winning novelist (Poisonwood Bible, The Lacuna, Bean Trees) and a biologist by training.

In 2008 she published Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her first work of full-length nonfiction. It records her family’s year of eating only locally-grown food, including produce from their garden and eggs and poultry from their ten-year-old’s flock of chickens and turkeys. It was a year without packaged snack food and without any processed food or out-of-season produce shipped from afar.

Raised in rural postwar Kentucky, Kingsolver remembers when the success of a season’s crop could make all the difference in what a family would eat in the coming year. She knows that growing your own food is possible and satisfying—but not necessarily easy.  Even so, Kingsolver urges us toward a food culture that relies less on fast food and fossil fuel and more on what can be grown on local, diversified farms.

Yet she’s never preachy. Here she is on her mail-order turkey chicks’ first feeding:

I scattered a handful of feed around the bottom of their crate. Some of the less gifted pushed the feed aside so they could keep pecking at the attractive newspaper dots…I picked up each one and dipped its tiny beak in the water. Soon they caught on and it was the rage, this water drinking, as all the poults tried dipping and stretching like yodelers, now urgently pecking at any shiny thing, including my wrist watch.

And while she’s not preachy, she is earnest.  She recounts her family’s year and interviews people who live—or make a living—in a similar way. Her husband contributes well-researched, informative sidebars in every chapter and her college-age daughter offers short personal essays and, best of all, recipes. (Try the pizza.)

A thoughtful message, delivered in a neighborly way, may be why readers of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle keep urging it upon others—even six years after its first appearance. Besides, now is the best time of year to be reading and dreaming of asparagus spears poking through the ground, of picking fresh lettuce and spinach, and of seeing juicy, red tomatoes take over our countertops.

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