Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a book review

Okay, this book review is a long time in coming to you. I originally wrote it back in October but just haven't posted it yet!

The book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.

It was on someone's blog that I first heard of this book. (And I'm sorry, but I can't remember whose blog it was.) It was listed with several other books as a resource in a post regarding how to eat healthier or something. The author, Barbara Kingsolver, didn't necessarily appeal to me, as I wasn't actually a huge fan of Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible when I read that years ago. But I would like to learn more about eating healthier so I made a mental note of the title. The next time I thought of it I looked it up online and read a review. The review told me a little more about the book and it was enough to make me decide to put it on hold at our library. Little did I know everyone *else* in the city was also on our library's hold list for this book. I think I was 91st in line or something.

By the time I got an email from the library telling me the book was waiting for me, I'd nearly forgotten all about it. I took it home and picked it up to skim through it. (And truth be told, at this point I figured that was all I would do: skim through the book. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to READ an entire book about eating healthier. Skim, yes. But read? I'd have to be convinced.) But I began reading and that was that. I was hooked.

Kingsolver, in a very conversational style, takes the reader on a journey her family made one year, which was basically to grow or raise all their own food. For an entire year. Or, as Kingsolver describes it: "This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew". [Provenance, for those like me who need a definition, is "the origin or source from which something comes."] Kingsolver continues:
We tried to wring most of the petroleum out of our food chain, even if that meant giving up some things. Our highest shopping goal was to get our food from so close to home, we'd know the person who grew it. Often that turned out to be us, as we learned to produced more of what we needed, starting with dirt, seeds, and enough knowledge to muddle through. Or starting with baby animals and enough sense to refrain from naming them.
While this is not my personal goal, I was truly fascinated to find out how this family achieved it. What did that look like, exactly?

Kingsolver, with the help of her husband and daughter, tells us how they did it. We are told what they planted, and when. With each new month, we learn what comes up in their garden and- my favorite part- what they did with all that came up in their garden. We learn of her daughter Lily's egg (and meat) business. (And I learned that Lily has the same affection for her hens as Ella does for ours.) We learn of their decision to raise turkeys for meat.

We read about their ever-prolific zucchini in July and of countertops overflowing with ripe tomatoes in August. Following each month's information is an excerpt written by her daughter Camille, who shares some of their family recipes as well as their meal plans. When asparagus was up in garden, they had all sorts of meal variations on asparagus, when the squash came up, their menus shifted to accommodate the squash. To get an idea for the types of recipes they share in the book, go here.

I enjoyed the fact that this was a family venture for them. Each family member worked hard from planning to planting to weeding to harvest, and when it was canning time, they all lined up to do their part in the kitchen. There is something so comforting about this type of work to me. I have fond memories of going out to my grandpa and grandma's home when it was bean-picking time. We'd gather in the garden to pick bags full of beans, meet up in the yard for snipping, and then head into the kitchen for the canning. Together. Working alongside one another towards a common purpose. I love that.

Now, I like to try my hand at growing vegetables in our garden, and I do like to go to our local farmer's market. But that's about it. Our garden has primarily been just a hobby for us. We do glean off of it throughout the summer months, but I've never looked at it as a primary way to feed our family, even during the months when it's at "peak" production. I really liked the idea of being intentional about what to plant, and how much, in order to feed our family for a sustained period of time. (Even if the period of time may be 2 months, in our case!) Kingsolver is a woman who planned out how many onions she thought her family would go through for the entire year, and then planted just that many. There's a section of the book that describes their pantry: shelf after shelf of canned tomatoes, dried herbs, root vegetables, and much, much more. All from their very own garden, planted, tended, and harvested by each one, and enough to feed their family for an entire year. Amazing.

While I don't aspire to do the one-year thing for our family, I would like to grow in these three areas:
1. Be more intentional in the planning of our garden (what to plant, how much to plant, what can we plant that will keep?)
2. Harvest more from our garden (I'm envisioning the whole family, working together in this)
3. Get better at planning our menus around the produce coming up in our garden, or the seasonal produce from the farmer's market.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So much that I told Mark repeatedly, "I want to own this book."

And now I do. [Thank you, honey!]


  1. Thanks for the review...I am quite interested to read it.

  2. Alright, it's on my hold list and I'm 343rd in line for one of 91 copies. Hopefully that won't take too long. Although this sounds like a book I'd like to have in my personal library anyway. :)

  3. Stacy,
    Do you have Simply in Season? It's a BEAUTIFUL cookbook from the Mennonites-- but one with seasonal, whole-food recipes. It's organized by the seasons. Look for it-- it' worth having if you want to eat more seasonally.
    Blessings, Annie

  4. Ooohh, this sounds like a good read! I'd like to grow more in the gardening area too, to where it really does make a difference in how much we have to buy. I'm always so inspired when I go to farmer's market in, say, June, and they are selling the produce of plants that are still only two inches high in my garden! I'll have to check on this one at the library!

  5. Okay, I just placed a hold on it- I only have to wait for 53 other people to read it, but they do have twenty copies. Also, here is a website that I enjoy visiting once in a while. It's by a family of four who grow most of their own food on their city lot. They live in southern CA so have more cooperative weather than we do, but it's pretty interesting.

  6. Yep, love this book too and I don't even have a garden (yet!).

    Your new picture on the sidebar is great, btw.

    So excited to hear about your license. What an answer to prayer, sweet Stacy!

  7. No way! What a timely post! While doing ALL of this for your family may not be your goal - just tonight, no joke - only several hours ago - I told Justin that this needs to be mine. It came about after reading that the FDA is going to allow cloned animals to be used for food without any warning label requirements. I should mention, though, that organic food will not be allowed to use them. Eeeek!

    Heck, no waiting for this girl - I'm just going to go on Amazon and buy it! Thanks for the review and I'm also excited to check out the cook book someone else commented on.

  8. I love this idea. It's posts like these that make me long for a farm. I'm with Cutzi on the cloned animals thing... gross! I've been thinking I'll need to start buying my meat from local farmers at the very least, and do my best to grow what I can. I'm not so great at that, though, so I hope I can draw on your expertise some - I loved your posts about your garden from last year. You've done so much better than I have at self-sufficiency, but I hope to make an improvement on that this year, including learning canning so I can make better use of what does actually grow, and doing more research on chickens!

  9. Mrs. M,
    I hope you like it!

    Yikes! Clearly it's a popular library-hold! :)

    I am intrigued by your recommendation of Simply in Season. What kinds of recipes does it have? Can you give me a few examples of meal ideas? (Not the full recipes, just the types of recipes!) I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for this one. (Our library doesn't have it. I checked. But maybe I can find it second-hand somewhere.)

    Well. I really liked it! I hope you guys, do, too.
    By the way, I got the seed catalog you recommended in your comment on my gardening posts, and I LOVE IT. Amy has it, too, and we both think it's the greatest!

    Thanks for the link! I'll check it out.

    Awww... thanks! I still need a new profile picture, too.

    Ooh. I recently heard that somewhere, too. We just need ourselves some land, Cutzi!

    Yep. Me too!
    And let me know if you have any chicken questions! :)



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