Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life - Barbara Kingsolver


I don't even know where to start with this one. We've spoken previously of my love for A Year of Doing X memoirs, and this is that at the TOP OF ITS GAME. Because the point of these books, if there is one, is that the author Learns Something, and that the reader, by extension and without having to sacrifice a year of their lives in hilarious pursuits, Learns Something as well.

Only this isn't just gimmicky times. Kingsolver and her family are on an honest, earnest, genuine endeavor and you can't help but HUG said endeavor. Ok so. They move to a farm, spend a few years gearing up (planting shit, scoping out locally-raised cattle, looking for a MILL TO GRIND THEIR WHEAT, standard operating procedure) and then spend a year eating only what they can grow themselves or buy from their neighbors. It is ambitious.

And there are interesting chewy bits (see below) but also A,V,M is a JOY to read. THE FIRST PAGE she's talking about how they're leaving home, and she's all, 'The desert that day looked like a nasty case of prickly heat caught in a long, naked wince' and 'The tall, dehydrated saguaros stood around all teetery and sucked-in like very prickly supermodels' and I am like BARBARA I LOVE YOUR BRAIN.
Almost as much as I love this lemur OMG LOOK AT HIM.

But she isn't just yammering, for all that she's so conversational. At one point, for reasons I won't get into, she's talking about the freedom of living in America 'without some drudge scolding: "You don't know where that's been!" And boy howdy, we do not.' And then she goes off about how we got to this place where our children don't know that vegetables grow in dirt or that milk comes from cows or that BEEF comes from cows and you are like, Get your shit together, Us.

Because Kingsolver has feels about local food, but she also has thinks about it, and numbery fact-bits, and part of my beef with The Heavy was that I read it just after I read this, and Weiss keeps being like, I'm not a scientist so anecdotal gut feeling etc, and I'm like, BK-solver isn't a scientist either but she is like, RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE AND REASONED ARGUMENT.

And it is compelling. I don't even want to touch it because I won't do it justice, about how commodity crops are bred for standardized appearance and hardiness of travel and not for taste, which is why we all hate our vegetables (and I read that very chapter and then went to the store and was like, OH LOOK, cherry tomatoes, and I got them home and they tasted like sad, droopy winter, and I was like, Barbara was right) and how modern turkeys can't even reproduce by themselves and I was like, Oh  my god we are halfway to Margaret Atwood and her ChickieNobs already.

I think what won me over the most is how gentle she is. She's talking about busy lives vs healthy eating and how, 'if fast food is the only way to get kids to their healthy fresh-air soccer practice on time, that's an interesting call.' If it had been me making that point I would have been like, DUMB MOVE, SOCCER MOMS. And then put in a gif of Honey Boo Boo pulling a face, or something. There's a reason BK is a Published Author and I am On The Internet.

Ha, just jokes. This is blog is HBB-free. Have a baby duck instead.

And through all this reasoned argumenting is her family, planting zucchini and canning tomatoes and raising chickens and it's bucolic and hilarious and hard and I just, I wanted to kiss the whole thing in the face.

This probably isn't a perfect book, but it's the perfect book for me. Nine caterpillars.


Karen said...

I found AVM positively life-changing. BK taught me so much without preaching (I found her daughter a wee bit preachy, though). I loved that they all had "cheats" -- coffee, spices, olive oil -- and were no way no how going to turn down that crate of oranges someone sent them at Xmas. I haven't implemented everything I hoped to after reading the book, but I definitely changed my ways a bit, and hope to do so even more. My review is here: http://verbatim.blogs.com/verbatim/2007/09/the-newest-resp.html

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I love Kingsolver's fiction (or at least much of it) but in her fiction I feel that her politics/agenda always serve the writing, not vice versa, but with her essays and other nonficion it was always the other way around. I think that's why I never gravitated towards this one. Granted, this is pretty much a Stance book, taking Stands on things I already pretty much agree with, so I reckon I need to just go ahead and read it already.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Wow, looks like I managed to work "vice versa" AND "the other way around" into a single sentence. Merp.

Reading Rambo said...

"The tall, dehydrated saguaros stood around all teetery and sucked-in like very prickly supermodels."

...how are our brains so different but SO THE SAME. Because that totally makes me roll my eyes and say 'NO MORE SIMILES YOU ARE TRYING TOO HARD.'

Sara said...

Amen on loving BK's brain. Also, you might be interested to know she is actually a scientist. Or was. Either way. Science (and all its reasoned, thinky bits)is her bag.

Ali said...

I really enjoyed this one, too. I'm reading Flight Behavior right now, but I'm thinking I need to delve into some more of her nonfiction.

Jennifer said...

OH MY GOD A MILL. But for realsies, I was impressed when this blogger grew her whole Thanksgiving dinner (except for some of it). Kingsolver is THE LADY. I can't believe I haven't read any of these A Year Of... memoirs yet because they really appeal to me and OMG save us from the ChickieNobs! (Seriously...they sound horrifying. Chickens should have heads and not nearly so many legs. I don't know why I'm saying this because I really hope you know that already.)

Laura said...

I heart Kingsolver's writing (by which I mean, I read The Poisonwood Bible and it was good!) but this sounds perfect for me cause I am all about the whole thinking about where your food comes from thing. And I'm not exactly averse to A Year of... memoirs either (Julie and Julia ftw, is what I'm saying.)

Anyway, yes, I shall read this. *nods decisively*

Sarah said...

I have had this on my shelf basically since it came out, obviously I need to read it!

I'm glad that it sounds like she doesn't get TOO preachy or judgemental. I think that's why I was hesitating to read it. But saying that sometimes you have to eat crappy food to have time to get exercise? Good point. A lot of us have trouble finding time to balance everything. Also, it would have been annoying if she was being preachy, cause we can't all pack up, buy a farm, and start growing plants and raising animals.

Yes, I will read this soon.

Lindsey said...

"Dumb move, soccer moms." I am cracking up. And I just want to point out that BK may be a published author and you are on the interwebs, but hey, we are all here reading your stuff, are we not? :)

Anyway, I feel like this is one of those books I should read but I'm scared to...it might make me change things in my life or something crazy like that.

Jenners said...

How much do I love your use of graphics and video? SO SO MUCH.

I've heard so many bad things about Kingsolver lately (preachy moslty) but I guess the point of this book is to preach and not disguise it in fiction so it goes down easier. Makes me wonder what good veggies taste like now.

Becca Lostinbooks said...

I am a fan of Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite books ever. I have heard her latest release was blah and not her best, but hey, we can't all be perfect all the time, can we?

I enjoyed reading about Barbara's family growing their own garden and eating fresh and healthy. It is something I aspire to, even if I soo fall short. For one, I can't even keep a houseplant alive, much less a garden LOL.

Hmm...now I am craving zucchini and squash...

Anonymous said...

I love the way BK writes as well, plus I really enjoy these kinds of books so I will add it to my TBR list.

There's another one I want to read like this called, "We took to the Woods." (going from memory so I hope I got it right) I read a book called The Dirty Life a couple of years ago about this hipster gal from NY who meets a cropshare farmer and sort of falls into the life. I liked the way she openly shared how much work it all was and what she had to sacrifice to create this "dirty" and healthy lifestyle. There are also sheepfarmer and chicken farmer memoirs out there, but I can't see myself delving that far.

Anyway memoirs are always better, I think, than those journalistic types who are over informed and spell out too much doom and overwhelm with high standards and preachiness. M.Pollan's books have a sort of richness, but are soooooo borrrring!

Bybee said...

I loved the book and more than anything else, I loved the cover photo of the red and white Lima beans.

Kat said...

I'm glad her husband got to have coffee, though.:)

Anonymous said...


Sparkling Squirrel said...

AVM saddened me because it was a book I was going to write and BK went ahead and did it so much better (I feel the same way about Natural History of the Sense by Diane Ackerman). I'm a huge fan of Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven (Poisonwood not so much) and just read Lacuna last fall (and somehow didn't blog about it) which was the best first half of a book I'd read in a long long time.
The second half was okay. Alas.