October 2014. A book review written as an Editorial Researcher for Lexicon of Sustainability.
When you hear the name Barbara Kingsolver, your mind probably brings up tags related to excellent works of fiction such as The Poisonwood Bible. However, Kingsolver also pinned a notable book titled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicling her family’s efforts to eat within their local foodshed for a year.
Having been raised in rural Kentucky, Kingsolver had an understanding of farming and rural life from an early age. As she grew up, she moved away from her agricultural background and started her family while growing her writing career. However she never quite forgot her personal history. In 2005, she and her family moved from Arizona to a farm they owned in rural Virginia. For the next year, they made every effort to eat from the local foodshed. Although this involved foregoing certain foods that were either unable to be grown in the region or could only be enjoyed seasonally, Kingsolver illuminated the joys of living off the local land and the sense of community and accomplishment that comes along for the ride.
The book highlights the benefits of the local foodshed, from economical, ecological and societal perspectives. Peppered throughout the chapters are insightful looks at the modern day food chain, noting the astronomical rise in food miles and striking a chord on the implications of such behaviors on future agricultural sustainability.
She also makes good work of reminding readers about how to preserve food, an art form often lost in today’s busy world. In one chapter, she shares her adventures in cheese making; another highlights the benefits of freezing. Throughout the book, the family also notes the importance of canning to enjoy favorite flavors throughout the year. Be it tomatoes or cucumbers, beans or apples, Kingsolver makes a solid case for the benefits of preserving food, including the elimination of chemical preservatives present in most supermarket products.
While there are many words devoted to sharing the hard work that comes with committing to eating locally, especially when attempting to produce the majority of your own food, Kingsolver and family paint a beautiful picture of the community benefits that are also to be reaped.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of the book is the inclusion of daughter Camille’s seasonal recipes at the end of each chapter. To eat from the local foodshed also entails eating seasonally, and the recipes provide an excellent framework for tapping into the mindset of living off the land. While it may seem daunting or perhaps a hardship not to have year-round access to any fruit, vegetable, herb or protein you desire, the recipes within serve as imaginative resources for shifting your way of thinking about local eating.