Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

by Paula Apynys for Book Recommendations

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

by Barbara Kingsolver

Buy at Barnes & Noble

This is a terrific book. Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven, and daughters Camille and Lily embark in a year spent eating, as much as possible, locally grown food. Their reasons, and all the associated implications, are woven through a highly entertaining as well as deeply informative narrative. Many of the issues are addressed in other books and articles — industrial food production, organic versus conventional agriculture, the state of America’s family farms and America’s ever-increasing waistlines, etc. But the book is far more than a restatement of these themes. One of the key subjects is America’s food culture, or lack thereof. Kingsolver contrasts our can-get-any-food-from-anywhere-at-any- time-even-if-it’s-tasteless culture, to food traditions in other parts of the world that rely on local and regional foods that are in season, specific to the area and surpassingly flavorful and healthy. She reminds us of skills our forbears had about food preservation and land stewardship.

Did you know that virtually all turkeys grown and eaten in America are the result of artificial insemination followed by less than 6 months of life? When Kingsolver embarks on starting an ongoing turkey flock by keeping some of her heirloom turkeys for reproduction instead of meat, she discovers they have no idea how to reproduce. The instincts have been bred out of modern fowl. There isn’t even modern information available to help as farmers and agriculturalists have also lost this knowledge. Help comes from a 50-year-old book in her husband’s book collection. Using the knowledge gained she is able to shepherd her male and female turkeys through a successful natural cycle of fertilization, egg-laying, hatching and nurturing. She writes: “Our purpose for keeping heritage animals is food-system security, but also something that is less self-serving: the dignity of each breed’s true and specific nature.”

The loss of innate knowledge by portions of our animal population; the ongoing loss of fruit and vegetable varieties, and the movements in this country and worldwide to counteract these trends are addressed along the way. But most of all, the book emphasizes the benefits of experiencing a diet based on in-season foods. As you move through the growing season there’s always something new to eat that’s local, fresh, flavorful and nutritious, and if you’re smart, you’ll can or freeze such produce when it is at it’s peak, so that you have terrific tasting and nourishing food all winter as well. It’s not about deprivation, it’s about celebrating foods in their glory, starting by simply tasting it.

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