Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, describes a year of eating deliberately and from her family’s own backyard in rural Virginia. As she puts it, “Our plan was to spend one whole year in genuine acquaintance with our food sources.” Kingsolver’s biologist husband, Steven L. Hopp, pitches in with informational sidebars about food and farm policy and the environmental impacts of our industrial system. Her 19-year-old daughter Camille pitches in with delicious, easy recipes and nutritional information. Youngest daughter Lily figures prominently in the narrative.
It was Lily who inspired Farm Aid to call Kingsolver back in 2005 when we were putting together our own book to celebrate Farm Aid’s 20th anniversary. We excerpted Kingsolver’s essay, “Lily’s Chickens,” a sweet tale of the joys of raising chickens and eggs and the importance of kids knowing from where their food comes. In fact, Kingsolver and her family had just begun this project at that time and her assistant told me that the next book would have to do with the kind of work Farm Aid does, but she couldn’t tell me more than that. Two years later, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral was worth waiting for. This book is to be savored, devoured, gone back to again and again, its pages stained with dirt, tomato sauce, and possibly chicken feathers!
Michael Pollan is known for his ability to write about difficult concepts like our national farm policy in a way that makes it accessible to all. Barbara Kingsolver takes it to the next level, writing about our farm policy in the same way she wrote about the mountains of Appalachia in Prodigal Summer and rivers of man-eating ants in The Poisonwood Bible. Reading this book as a person working and writing on these issues, I just kept thinking, “Why can’t I say it so eloquently?” Kingsolver cooks concepts down to an easily-digestible and palatable nugget, while avoiding any sort of looking down her nose or preachy my-values-are-better-than-your-values talk. Her argument for eating natural, pasture-based, humanely-raised animals is the best I’ve seen for not becoming a vegetarian. Her description of August and the 300-plus pounds of tomatoes she and her family harvested and canned, froze, cooked, and dried will make you wish it was summer and you could stand over a steaming pot in a hot kitchen for hours on end.
But last night, when Kingsolver did a reading here in Massachusetts, it was her description (and video!) of turkey sex that brought the house to laughing tears. The reading was sponsored by the Harvard Book Store, which donated 10% of the evening’s book sales to Farm Aid (and for which are extremely thankful), and made for a wonderful evening, with our growing season just beginning and farmers markets readying to open in the next few weeks. If you haven’t already, go to your local bookstore or library and get the book… It will make you rush out to hug your farmer (and buy everything he or she has in season!), make an acquaintance with a farmer, or become one yourself – no matter, the results are delicious!