Animals, Vegetables, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

As I was checking the label on the eight-ounce container of baby bella mushrooms, I was pleased to see their origin was only a state away in nearby Mauldin, South Carolina. I live in Augusta, Georgia. That’s barely one hundred miles from Point A to Point B, so by most accounts, that is considered a local food.
It was only a few days later when I examined the label more closely, and discovered the fine print to proclaim that the produce was simply “distributed” by a grocery store chain in Mauldin, South Carolina. The ‘shrooms were actually grown in Idaho, wherever that is! Certainly, the local accolade had been squashed.
It can be an all-consuming constant battle to find, eat, and support locally grown foods. Instead of shopping and outsourcing, one idiosyncratic mom, wife, author, political activist, and biologist decided to take 365 days and execute a science experiment in rural southwestern Virginia.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle humorously and intellectually chronicles the story of Barbara Kingsolver’s journey with her environmental scientist husband and two daughters as they strive to put food on the table that was harvested in their back yard, back field, the neighbor’s field, or at least the neighbor’s brother’s uncle’s field.
After several family meetings, Kingsolver’s family packed up the family car and left all that was familiar in Tucson, Arizona, to head to the Appalachian Mountains. Awaiting them in Virginia was an inherited, slightly neglected, overgrown family homestead that would eventually set the stage for the year-long experiment. The learning curve was steep. The countdown to begin the project loomed overhead.
While Kingsolver clearly possesses a passion with her pen, she is equally adept with her green thumb. Armed with a pair of biology degrees, environmental insights, and political spunk, she maintains “the main barrier standing between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements being patience and a pinch of restraint.” If a food is out-of-season, then it is unavailable. What responsibility do we have as a culture to not only just say “No” to our children, but to accept “No” as adults.
“No, we cannot have strawberries until next year, because they are simply out of season.” We can buy in bulk. We can learn to freeze and can. But we cannot continue to have our cake (which is often made from a horrendous concoction of fake ingredients) and eat it too.
Kingsolver lectures that Americans are overfed and undernourished. If the old adage holds true that we are what we eat, then most Americans are fast, fake, and cheap. Is that the image we chose or has it chosen us? When did moms and dads pass the torch to marketers and allow them to decide what foods we place on the dinner table? That is assuming, of course, that families are even sitting together at the dinner table. And whether it’s mom or dad, someone is buying the food. Someone is preparing it. And somewhere along the way, the food was manufactured, grown, harvested, butchered or processed in some way, shape, or form. Are we too apathetic as a culture to even care? Kingsolver encourages readers to do something, anything, to change the food culture.
“When the grocery store clerk asks if I’ve found everything I needed, I take a minute to voice my desire for more local foods. Why isn’t there more local produce on the grocery shelves? Do I really have to go to the farmer’s market to buy it?” offers one reader.
Another step in the awareness direction is to be cognizant of the transportation time it takes to deliver goods to the supermarket. Everyone supports an economy. Think about your hard-earned dollar and to which economy you want to fund.
One reader in our club called the book provocative and preachy. Season it with research, a bit of self-righteousness, and a decade after its initial printing the author has banked quite a profit and popular following. At the risk of sounding like a fan, one critical reader labeled the book sanctimonious, asserting that most Americans lack an inherited piece of farm land as well as enough cash in the bank to launch such an adventure.
In the end, food is here to stay. It’s the universal language and had its birth in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. It is our sustenance, our energy, our necessity for life. But Kingsolver sparked a controversy, or maybe just fanned the flame, regarding the food culture. It begs the question of consumers. To what extent will communities support local foods and farmers, or will many continue to passively place drive-thru orders ‘till the cows come home? (Home from their wide open green pastures, of course.)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a treasure trove of all things dirty, foodie, and environmental. It’s packed with chapter titles such as “Zucchini Larceny” and “You Can’t Run Away on Harvest Day.” There are turkey tales, plant protests, and a short list of the exceptions that each family member is allowed to consume that are nowhere to be found locally. (Think coffee or boxed mac ‘n’ cheese.)
With recipes, recommendations, and reports from Kingsolver’s husband and daughter, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is worth reading and re-reading. It’s a book about life; the beginning, the middle, and the end.