A Story About Good Food

“That is a very good book,” said the girl sitting next to me on the airplane as she noticed my copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.  The entire one and a half hour flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia this young woman said nothing to me.  This may have been due to the fact that I had only had two hours of sleep the night before and slept most of the flight but, despite this, it was Kingsolver’s book started a short conversation between the two of us.

So what, you may wonder, is so special about Kingsolver’s book that it could spark a conversation between two strangers in a world where strangers now avoid even eye contact?  Well, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of a year of Kingsolver’s life in which she did something that most people would hardly consider.  Kingsolver and her family moved from the only home her two girls, Camille and Lily, knew in the dry heat of Arizona to the lush green land of the southern Appalachians.  The astonishing goal of this college graduate was for her family to live off of the land and eat only foods they had grown or bought locally.  This year-long adventure was not easy for the family, but they always tried to look toward the best when things were rough and eventually, the commitment was no longer just a commitment.  It was a way of life for them.

The book, however, was not limited to the story of Kingsolver and her family and their commitment to eating locally.  It was a memoir of Kingsolver’s food journey and the ways in which this changed her; as she explained towards the end of the book, “I took myself a woman changed by experience” [1].  The book also included aspects of an educational text and a cookbook.  It was educational text because Kingsolver, her husband Steven and also Camille describe some of the food issues currently present in the United States and ways in which people can start to eat more locally to minimize these issues.  One of Steven’s many contributions to the book was a section entitled “Legislating Local”, which he began by addressing “the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States” and continued to describe legislation that is being enacted to encourage schools to buy locally to help reduce the rates of obesity in children [2].  It also included aspects of a cookbook because Camille provided recipes, such as that for spinach lasagna found on page 61 and weekly food schedules describing meals that could be eaten on certain days of the week [3].

These genres were all blended together to create a successful book.  Kingsolver connected her entertaining experiences and thoughts to current food issues and suggestions to handle these issues in a way that kept the audience enticed.  For instance, Kingsolver began the book by describe their move from Arizona and connected their reason for moving to the issues of water and food being transported long distances to reach them.  She even questioned the country concerning the state of the water by explaining, “Oh America the beautiful, where are our standards?” [4]. Therefore, it was not solely an educational text but also not solely a memoir.  It was a combination of these genres, along with the cookbook genre, and Kingsolver wrote it in a way that connected her life to food and even the lives of some her readers, mine being one of them.  The book was a real eye-opener.

Although the idea of living primarily off of the land as Kingsolver and her family did sends most “regular” people running for the hills, there are simpler ways for people eat healthier and be more like the family in the book .  Some foods can be grown in people’s backyards, like tomatoes or leeks.  Also, many towns have farmer’s markets, at which local vendors will sell foods produced in the area that have not been shipped hundreds of miles across the country.  A large number of organic farmers also sell at these markets and they can provide food that is “grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation” [5].  Before Kingsolver was producing a large number of food items on her land, she shopped for many goods at one of these markets to provide substitutes for food they could not get at the time.  If there is not a farmer’s market near you, some grocery stores sells foods produced by local farmers or at least foods that are considered organic.

I think the family learned a lot from their year-long experience.  They learned that some sacrifices must be made.  For instance, the family knew that committing to eating locally would mean that they could not get foods that are not growing in the area all the time.  When examining her first shopping list, Kingsolver crossed off many lives that could not be obtained locally and consciously avoided her youngest daughter’s plea for “FREST FRUIT, PLEASE??” because fruit was not in season in their location [6].  However, after going a nearby market, Kingsolver and her family quickly discovered that these sacrifices could be substituted for with food produced locally in season.  Realizing this, the family eventually became more comfortable it this lifestyle and by the end of the book Kingsolver noticed a change in herself and she “noticed the kids had changed too” [7].  This year-long dedication to food had made food a real part of their lives and I do not think they will ever been able to rely on packaged commercial food the way many Americans do.

I am almost ashamed to admit this, but as poor college student, a large portion of my meals come from packaged food items.  Dinner will usually include a meat purchased from Wal-Mart and some form of canned vegetable and noodles form a bag that includes both hard noodles and seasoning (I merely add water).  I learned from reading this book that (1) I really need to change the way I eat and (2) options are available for me to eat locally.  This lifestyle of eating only the things I grow is something I would love to experience.  However, I know I will never have the guts to take such a risk.  Still, I learned that farmer’s markets are a great way for me to try to buy locally and obtained healthier, organic food.  I have actually been holding off on my grocery shopping so that I can go to a nearby farmer’s market that is only open from Thursday to Saturday.  Not only did I learn that healthier (and presumably tastier) food is only a short drive away, Kingsolver’s book also got me thinking about the changes that American and other nations need to undergo to make food more important.  Food is essential and should be eaten and taste good without causing irreversible harm to the environment or our future generations.

This is a book I would recommend to others.  Personally, it is not the type of book I would grab right off of the shelf, but it has changed the way I view food and has increased my understanding of the organic and health food kick that it now taking the country by storm.  I now want to eat healthier and I believe this book could influence others to think the same way.  This book does not simply tell people what they should do, but it instead informs them of a better way to live and how they can change their eating habits to both live healthier and eat tastier food.  All of the foods she mentions in her book are described with delicious detail, such as the Molly Mooches she cooked and explained that her family was “seduced by the fragrance [of the dish] even before [they] took it out of the oven” [8].  These descriptions, along with the informative nature of the book make it appealing to many audiences, especially those interested in food.  And I won’t lie; I am definitely one of those people interested in food.

-Makayla Boyd

[1] Kingsolver, Barbara, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. 336. Print.

[2] Kingsolver (2007), 324

[3] Kingsolver (2007), 61

[4] Kingsolver (2007), 4

[5] Organic Community. “Organic Frequently Asked Questions.” Foerstel Design, n.d. Web. 26 March 2013.

[6] Kingsolver (2007), 36

[7] Kingsolver (2007), 336

[8] Kingsolver (2007), 80

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