Kingsolver’s family went on quite the journey. Starting off as a family living a typical American life, they packed their bags and shipped out, As Kingsolver says on leaving, “It hurt to think about everything at once: our friends, our desert, our old home, our new home.” (Animal Vegetable Miracle, 18) After moving onto a farm owned by Kingsolver’s husband, they gradually learn to live off the land instead of buying everything they need from a supermarket. It is an inspiring tale that both grips the heart and the mind, with real, relevant characters and a message that relates to the lives of every reader.
Each character grows and changes as the story progresses, like Kingsolver’s young daughter for instance. Though she loves her pet chickens dearly in the beginning, she eventually is perfectly willing to kill them and sell their meat. This gain could be considered both a blessing and a curse. Though a child is losing some form of innocence in a considerably disturbing manner, she also learns more about food, business, and the inevitability of death. She grows up the way people often grow up when a pet or loved one passes on, but also gains more real-world knowledge. This experiment brings the family closer to both each other and the land. In a section called “Growing up in the Kitchen,” Camille says, “In our house, the kitchen is the place to be. The time we spend making dinner is hugely important because it gets us together after all our separate agendas, and when we sit down to eat we have a sense that the food in front of us is special.” (158) As a reader, I thought back to times in the kitchen with my own family, and feel now that maybe we could have bonded more if we were creating our meals together.
The question is, can the readers follow her call to action? Can every family do what Kingsolver did? The answer is no, we cannot. Not every person can afford to run their own farm, and still work their jobs and bring home the metaphorical bacon. However, on a smaller scale, everyone can try to be more conscious of their eating. Buying less meat, buying locally, and reading labels are all easy things to do to improve the situation. Having a vegetable garden to fill with food for your family is an option, just like the Kingsolver family did. If everyone did their part, the world would be a better place.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life is many things. It is certainly autobiographical, chronicling a year in the author and her family’s lives. This is blended with informative writing, teaching the reader about things like factory farming and its alternatives, as well as writing for social justice, portraying the urgent need for readers to use these alternatives. This is highly effective, creating an environment where we as readers relate to a real-life family and their struggle to do something good in the world, while being subtly influenced by their choices in action.
In short, I would fully recommend this book to anyone who knows how to read and eats food, because those are the people Kingsolver’s content affects. Learning about how our store-bought, factory farmed foods are brought into this world versus how her family’s sustainable meals are made is a wakeup call to us all, calling us to be conscious of our eating habits not only towards the benefit of our own health, but in relation to what our food does to the whole world. It shows readers that instead of throwing away one thing in our lifestyle that is “wrong,” we must completely reevaluate our lives. She says, “The more we know about our food system, they more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.” (241)