Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

*This book review is a cross-post. I enjoyed it so much, and feel it so worth reading, that I am sharing it on both Tummy Treasure, and The Savvy Bookworm.

by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara has been making a few appearances on my reading list lately. This one is a bit different, as it is not fiction. Not in the least. This is the chronicle of one family's attempt to eat local for the period of one year. Essentially, this book chronicles the way of life I so want to attempt, and as such, I loved it.

I grew up on Little House On The Prairie. I loved the books and would read them over and over. I can't tell you how many times I would read an account of food life and think that I could do that. As an example, in Little House In The Big Woods the family slaughters and preserves a pig for winter. It's a big deal, and as I finished reading Laura's account of the process, I felt certain that I could do the same thing if needed-even at the age of 10. I have always felt this deep-seeded desire to return to rustic life and grow much of my family's food and attempt raising our family's meat. We're still a long way off from doing just that, but for a few days I was able to live vicariously through Barbara Kingsolver and her family.

This book is so full of information, that it's hard to know where to begin a proper review. I learned so much about organic farming and why we really should be buying local. I'm still not 100% convinced that eating local all the time is the best way to go, but I loved seeing it done. With young children who practically live on fruit, I don't know how willing I would be to let go of our daily fruit ration- however out of season it may be. One of my favorite parts of this book was the argument against vegetarianism. Ms. Kingsolver actually used to be a vegetarian, and I have also considered it many times in the past. She clearly pointed out that we are designed to be a carnivorous species, and actually took us through the calendar year and proved that during the winter months we are designed to sustain on carbohydrates and proteins from animal products. I do agree with her wholeheartedly about sourcing meat as local as possible. If we lived in the country, you can bet that before I even finished this book I would have been out back building a chicken coop and ordering some chicks. Our family has taken almost exclusively to buying meat from a local butcher who gets all their meat products locally. The only exception is fish- and since we live in the Midwest, fresh fish is hard to come by.

This book was entertaining and informative the whole way through. As I'm reading their daily accounts with the massive garden, I kept heading out to my tiny garden plots, wondering how I could squeeze more into my tiny space. I found out that I am not insane to want to grow all I can and "put it by" for winter times. In fact, yesterday as I finished up the book, I promptly headed into the kitchen and put up three quarts of pickles. It may not be very much, but those cucumbers fresh from my garden will be a welcome addition to my Thanksgiving table. Provided they make it that long. While we are thoroughly enjoying every morsel that comes out of my garden, I am inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to try and save every scrap I can for leaner months ahead. At the end of harvest, as Barbara talked about the shelves lined with jars of tomatoes and bushels of root vegetables, I want my pantry to look the same.

And I learned about potatoes. Every year I consider buying a big 50# bag of potatoes from local farmers, and I always figure that we'd never eat them all before they spoil. After all, there are plenty of times where a 5# bag doesn't make it before the potatoes begins sprouting an shriveling. I learned in this book that I should buy the local potatoes in the fall and that they will likely survive until March or so without rotting from the inside out. Potatoes have a natural life cycle that permits them to sit in a root cellar for months without sprouting. When we buy potatoes in the grocery store and they begin sprouting shorty thereafter, that means that the potatoes are at the end of their life cycle and were easily pulled from the ground some 6 months ago in another climate. I never knew that! You can bet that I will be on the prowl for some bushel baskets to tuck in my larder and that those jumbo bags of potatoes at the farmer's market will be making their way into them this fall.

Same thing with onions! I always have onions go bad on me in my pantry- and this of course affects the rest of the onions. By purchasing onions at the farmer's market in the fall, I am ensuring that my onions will make it to early spring still intact.

I could go on and on about this book and all that I learned from it. Yes, there were some things that I don't particularly agree with in the book, but those were few and far between. Mostly I learned that it is entirely possible to do what I want to do, and do it in a way that doesn't leave us feeling deprived. The Kingsolver family ate well the entire year- they did not starve come the end of winter. Instead they looked ahead at what was to come, and they continue to eat locally as much as possible. You can see some of their progress and see some great pictures at their website You definitely need to check out their turkeys. The turkeys get a few special sections of this book and I love that they give us a picture of them on their website- they are gorgeous birds.

So overall, read this book. It is an excellent book about sourcing food locally, and the many reasons for doing so. I know I will be going back to it time and time again to re-read a section here and there. Right now I'm thinking about sourcing some heirloom seeds for next year's vegetable garden. We'll see how I do.


Anonymous said...

Hi Erika,
I try to read your post daily and really enjoy it. This post was especially great as the company I work for, Heifer International, is focusing on just this issue. I looked up the website and sent it to our USA team for them to review. I think I will buy the book also. Thanks for sending it out!
Carol Freier

Erika said...

Hi Carol!!! :-)
This book actually referenced Heifer International a few times and I was thrilled to see that. I can also see where the issue of eating locally and sourcing locally would be right up Heifer's alley. I will be interested to hear how it all works out.