Summer Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

My days of required summer reading have passed, but now I have the fun of choosing which books to occupy my summer reading time. The current choice: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. Part narrative, part informational, Kingsolver’s book traces the year she and her family moved from arid Tucson to lush Appalachia to live off the land. Vowing to only eat food they themselves produced or was produced by someone they know, the family learns not only learns how to grow vegetables or raise chickens, but learns what it is to wait for summer’s cherries and why good food costs as much as it does.

Stories are powerful means of conveying life’s lessons, and Kingsolver skillfully intertwines stories of her family’s experiences during their year of food change with solid research concerning related food movement information. I’ve read Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food and thought they were excellent, but I like how Kingsolver adds another dimension to the food conversation. Each chapter in her book is titled by month, and the corresponding stories and information in each month are effective at impressing upon the reader what happens each month in the food world e.g. the first crop, asparagus, bursts through the dormant ground for only one precious week in April; a lull occurs in the garden in June because the seedlings are planted but their fruit has not yet matured. For someone who struggles with understanding seasonality of food, reading this book is an entertaining and informative way to learn about the life cycle of food.

Three things in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I’ve found fascinating include:

  • Kingsolver’s discussion of what it means to have a national cuisine and questions about what would constitute a U.S. national cuisine.
  • The life cycle of asparagus. Did you know it takes 3 years before an asparagus plant produces its signature stalk? I had no idea growing asparagus was such a labor of love.
  • 7-year old Lily’s chicken and eggs business. Lily consents to move to Appalachia with her family on the condition that she can raise chickens and sell the eggs. What follows is a sweet and humorous story of her chicken enterprise.

I’m only 124 pages into the 354-page book, so I’ll keep you posted on what I else I discover in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Happy Summer Reading!

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