HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Environment & Energy » Frugal and Energy Efficient Living (Group) » A review of Barbara Kings...

Wed Jun 5, 2013, 04:39 PM

 

A review of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

This is in response to Flaxbee's request that I write a review of this 2007 book about Kingsolver's year of living off the land.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
P.S./HarperCollins Pub., N.Y., copyright 2007


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a work of clarity and demonstrated practicality, and as such, supremely threatening. Threatening to Food, Inc., threatening to the custodians of the mass market, above all threatening to ourselves. Kingsolver, the best-seller novelist, essayist, and story-teller, took her family to the hills of Virginia with the mission of eating local and au naturel for a year. They grew most of their own food and bought locally to plug any dietary holes. In were berries and apples, out were grapefruit and oranges. They not only survived, they prevailed, as daughter Camille's robust recipes (seeded throughout) attest.

Her's was not a moralizing quest. She admitted to a few hundred pounds of flour not available nearby, the family graciously accepted meals from non-involved friends, and openly promoted Plan B: buying from other local growers at the farmers' market (for many of us, this may be the most practical choice). Nor did she draw a grim line-in-the-sand between vegetarianism and meat-eating. The Kingsolvers raised heirloom chickens and turkeys, and bought local "grass-finished" beef and lamb. In fact, Kingsolver gave a rather stout defense of eco-friendly herding: "I'm unimpressed by arguments that condemn animal harvest while ignoring, wholesale, the animal killing that underwrites vegetal foods. Uncountable deaths by pesticide and habitat removal -- the beetles and bunnies that die collaterally for our bread and veggie-burgers -- are lives plumb wasted." She went on to call the hand of some vegetarians when it came to livestock: "They're [livestock] human property, not just legally but biologically. Over the millenia of our clever history, we created from wild progenitors whole new classes of beasts whose sole purpose was to feed us. If turned loose in the wild, they would haplessly starve, succumb to predation, and destroy the habitats and lives of most or all natural things." Sentimentality has a limited role in the Kingsolver family pantry.

Daughter Camille made up recipes and weekly meal plans, Husband Steven Hopp number-crunched and demystified agriculture lore, and youngest daughter Lily tended to the schedules of poultry and eggs. If it isn't clear by now, one has to keep book on not only the costs but the timing of stuff going into the ground and stuff coming out again. And what of that ground, that land? Doesn't a well-off writer have the luxury to buy a farm few others could afford? Well, yes. But that misses the point. The Kingsolver family didn't (and couldn't) utilize all the land on their place's hilly terrain. Maybe you have enough land already. "It wasn't a lot of land: 3,524 square feet of tilled beds gave us all our produce... one doesn't eat a nature preserve." When land for fruit trees and berry bushes and pasture was figured in, the land total rose to all of one-quarter acre. Add in flour grain, market purchases and Kingsolver estimated her family of four's "foot print" for a year at one acre, less than 25% of what a family needs on the modern agriculture grid. That grid is estimated to provide only .6 acre-per-person by 2050, down by half from what is needed now.

That brings up a disturbing outlook. Increasingly, Kingsolver hears of friends keeping two months supply of food on-hand. Nothing unusual by farming standards a century ago, but why now? "Food security is no longer the sole concern of the paranoid schizophrenic," she reports. Nor, it seems, is it fear of terrorism or a duck-and-cover nuclear holocaust. "Global climate change has... opened the season on catastrophes we are ill-prepared to predict."

Practical points abound: "The time to think about [winter shortages] would be in August," or "Cooking is good citizenship. it's the only way to get serious about putting locally raised foods into your diet, which keeps farmlands healthy and grocery money in your neighborhood," or "if a friend had a coronary scare and finally started exercising three days a week, who would hound him about the other four days?" Kingsolver brooks little tolerance for those demanding "absolute conversion." "Search out redemption where we can find it: recycling or carpooling or growing a garden or saving a species or something."

If we feel a little threatened by this book, maybe it's time to do something about it; action is, after all, the best antidote to fear. Steven Hopp summed it up simply. "By pushing the market with our buying habits, we continually shape our buying choices, and the nature of farming." And that will change not only the shape and use of the land, but change how we control our own lives.

(Eleanors38, 2013)




10 replies, 2596 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 10 replies Author Time Post
Reply A review of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: (Original post)
Eleanors38 Jun 2013 OP
Curmudgeoness Jun 2013 #1
Eleanors38 Jun 2013 #8
Flaxbee Jun 2013 #2
Eleanors38 Jun 2013 #3
Flaxbee Jun 2013 #4
Eleanors38 Jun 2013 #5
Curmudgeoness Jun 2013 #9
Flaxbee Jun 2013 #10
cbayer Jun 2013 #6
Eleanors38 Jun 2013 #7

Response to Eleanors38 (Original post)

Wed Jun 5, 2013, 04:58 PM

1. Excellent review.

I read this book when it first came out, and I still remember a lot about it (and I still have the book for reference). I came to the conclusion that I was not cut from the same cloth as Kingsolver and her family, but it did change some of my habits. I now shop at my farmer's market whenever there is one here. I found someone who raises free-range chickens for eggs (and they are very reasonably priced because I was not willing to pay three times the price in a grocery store). I started to raise some of my own veggies here on my tiny city lot using containers.

What I do is no comparison to what they did, but every step in the right direction is progress.

The thing that hit me was the time that they chose to start this, which was very early in the growing year. And how she worried about starving in some parts of the year (although this did not happen). But it was a LOT of work for the whole family. I was impressed.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #1)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 09:28 AM

8. Thank you. Emphasized throughout is the farmers' market..

 

Even if you can't grow your own you can become a part of the change to organic locally-grown produce. I've noticed this happening in Detroit well before Whole Foods decided to enter the "food desert."

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Eleanors38 (Original post)

Wed Jun 5, 2013, 05:50 PM

2. Thanks so much, Eleanors38

Thank you for posting this! The book really opened my eyes about local foods, factory farms, and how to try to tread as lightly on the land as possible while getting the most efficient use out of what is available. I appreciated her ruthless eye and no-nonsense approach, even though some of it made me squirm as I rethought my values (and realized I'd completely missed the boat on others, namely, that vegetarians also need to be very mindful of the huge amounts of land used / habitat destroyed just to avoid eating meat).

She's "wicked smart" and I have always enjoyed her books (Prodigal Summer - fiction - has an excellent explanation woven throughout of the havoc wreaked by pesticides); I wish more had read A, V, M. I had the book at one point but loaned it to a very Republican friend who was starting his own farm ... he had his whole family read it and passed it on to other friends (with my blessing); it's now one area we have in common - smart, truly sustainable, pesticide-free farming.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Flaxbee (Reply #2)

Wed Jun 5, 2013, 06:31 PM

3. Your welcome. Steven Hopp said in the book that small farms make the most profit...

 

in terms of money-per-acre.

"According to USDA records from the 1990s, farms less than four acres in size had an average net income of $1,400 per acre. the per-acre profit declines steadily as farm size grows, to less than $40 an acre for farms above a thousand acres." It would be curious if there is a maximum economic point where land amount and net income meet on the graph.

The reasons are: Intense use, Diversity (according to local preferences), Direct selling. Ironically, this last one comes about because supermarket chains don't want to deal with a box of local (or otherwise) grown produce -- they want truck loads; hence the (re)rise of the farmer's market.

Kingsolver made note of those areas in the world where vegetable growing is impractical; arid areas, northern climbs, etc., and said many of these places get by on herding as the animals can make-do on what vegetation there is, and humans make-do by eating the products of animals or the animals themselves. And as we know, some of these cultures are nomadic, allowing for habitat re-generation and taking advantage of rainy seasons.

Not mentioned is the predicament Inuit peoples face. They mainly subsist on fish catches, seals, waterfowl, and caribou. While some animals are available as before, the ocean catch is threatened by high levels of mercury -- top predator sea animals have compounded amounts of this toxic element, courtesy of the rest of the world. This is primarily a hunting/fishing culture.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Eleanors38 (Reply #3)

Wed Jun 5, 2013, 06:38 PM

4. did you see the recent post about small-scale organic farming in Russia?

Very interesting:
http://www.nationofchange.org/russians-prove-small-scale-organic-can-feed-world-1369923601

Climate change is going to really harm some long-established food cultures ... Inuits, for one.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Flaxbee (Reply #4)

Wed Jun 5, 2013, 10:40 PM

5. I think most nations can provide for their food wants...

 

If their systems are not intentionally disrupted.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Flaxbee (Reply #2)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 11:08 AM

9. I was apprehensive about reading this book,

but a friend had given it to me, so I owed her that much to read it. What I really loved about it was that it was not preachy. I expected to be chastised for not doing the same thing that she was doing, or for going to the grocery store or eating meat, or all the other things that I do wrong. She did not offend me at all. This book was just a story of her family's experience with a year of surviving on what they could produce or get locally. She did not tell me that I should do this.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #9)

Mon Jun 10, 2013, 05:40 PM

10. I know; that's one of the reasons I loved it, too.

Extremely informative, and she tells you why she and her family made certain decisions but she never was didactic or bossy or annoying ... and much more effective because of that. It's very hard to do when you feel strongly about something - not be preachy.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Eleanors38 (Original post)

Fri Jun 7, 2013, 06:14 PM

6. Wonderful review and I look forward to reading it.

I can't do that at this time, but I would sure love to at some point.

Thanks, Eleanor!

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to cbayer (Reply #6)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 09:22 AM

7. You're welcome. You'll like it.

 

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread