Not Oprah’s Book Club: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

This week’s book is not new exactly, but definitely relevant. It’s from 2007: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Transcript after the jump

Hi everybody. I’m Miriam and I’m doing this week’s edition of Not Oprah’s Book Club. I’m still stepping in for Courtney cause she’s on vacation, well actually she’s working on her new book in Italy.
I’m taking this opportunity to talk about another book I just read. It’s actually not new, it came out a few years ago but I wanted to talk about it anyway. The book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The subtitle is a year of food life.
I’ve been getting kind of into food politics lately, partially after watching the documentary Food Inc, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago but I’ve also read the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan which is another book about food politics and it’s something that I’ve been increasingly thinking more about. I think one of the things I like about the topic, and the reason I think it’s a feminist issue is that it’s at the crux of a lot of different issues we’re dealing with now, having to do with the environment, climate change, globalization, industrial food systems and how that affects the economy here and abroad, and also political things like poverty, health and immigration are all really brought together by this particular issue.
So this was a really interesting book to read because what Barbara and her family do is they spend a year eating almost entirely locally, foods grown in her community. Actually much of it is grown on her actual farm, they live on a number of acres and have a garden they eat from. They grow a bunch of things there, not for money, but to harvest. It has an orchard and also they start raising chickens and turkeys.
They spend a year eating locally. Barbara writes the narrative of the book and her husband writes more political sidebars. Their daughter who is about to go off to college writes little vignettes about her experience and also recipes.
The reason I liked the book is that it gives us some of the agricultural lessons we didn’t learn. If we had grown up 50 years ago, many more of us would have learned these lessons because many more of us would have grown up on or around a farm. Now most of us have very little knowledge of how vegetables are grown. One of things I really liked about this book was learning about what vegetables and fruits are seasonal. Growing up I had no idea if what I was eating was seasonal. One of the things Barbara points out in the book is that eating vegetables seasonally is a guarantee that you’re going to get the most nutrients from those fruits and vegetables. They’re going to be the freshest, they’re going to taste better because they’re not ripened in trucks or carted all the way across the world.
Not all of us can live on a farm, or spend the amount of time or energy that her family spends gardening and harvesting but a lot of us can shop at farmers markets, or buy things that are in season. Another thing she talks about is eating locally in the winter, things like preserving fruits and vegetables that are fresh in the summer by freezing, canning or making tomato sauce.
I really liked the book and I highly recommend it. For more information visit

Join the Conversation

  • Leeann

    I’m really interested in food politics too, and I just finished a great book that I cannot recommend highly enough as a follow-up to Pollan & Kingsolver: The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Sandor Ellix Katz. One review I saw called it the “queerer, punker omnivore’s dilemma.” :)

  • Miriam

    Thanks for the recommendation! I’m gonna check it out.

  • FrumiousB

    I’m hate to be the downer here, but I really resent all this “grow it yourself, buy it locally, or can it yourself” advice. We can’t all live on a farm. Even those of us with no kids or partners to attach us to our locale cannot necessarily up and move from our urban location to a farm location. We can’t all even live in the suburbs with a yard, or live in an urban apartment with a balcony or sufficient sunlight to grow plants. We can’t all live in a region with a decent growing season. We can’t all have a full- or part-time stay-at-home partner who is going to do the watering, weeding, canning and preserving. We can’t all live in a apartment which has room for canning and preserving supplies. I can’t even afford an apartment large enough and well-situated enough to have a container garden or to keep my preserving supplies in, and I make 6 figures, for god’s sake. It’s all very nice to think that people should eat local food grown in the growing season and locally canned, but it’s just not feasible for a really large segment of the population.

  • bklynchica

    I agree that perhaps growing your own farm is not feasible, but we can do little things to change how we eat. Buying from local farmers markets and buying organic are two very easy ways to do this. I don’t make six figures and I have a child. (and quite a lot of debt if I may add.) I don’t always eat healthy, but it’s the little steps that add up in the long run.

  • Sasha

    Barbara’s book Prodigal Summer is also a great read if you are interested in some of the debates surrounding farming practices today. It shows the importance of pesticide-free practices and the balance between man and nature that should not be upset through an engaging work of fiction.

  • shelilia

    Miriam, just an fyi, i had a lot of trouble hearing this video. idk if there is a way to turn up the microphone or adjusting the sound levels?

  • Miriam

    Thanks for the feedback–I’ll look into for next time.

  • Miriam

    That’s the truth. We can’t all do it. But many more of us than currently do, can.
    And those of us who can’t grow our own, or even shop at farmers markets, could make grocery store decisions differently–requesting locally grown produce, buying vegetables from a few states away rather than a few countries away.
    There are international examples where most food eaten is grown regionally, if not locally, like Italy for example. It is possible for many more of us than the industrial food system would have you believe.

  • KungFuGurl

    You may not be able to can your own tomato sauce, but you can hold those accountable that can it for you. I would really recommend watching Food Inc., because the documentary does a great job of addressing what people in your situation can do, as in voting with your food dollars- even if it means shopping at Wal-Mart!

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    I read AVM last year and it was very inspirational, but be warned!
    She lies through her teeth about how “easy” it is to make your own cheese.
    It’s neat, sure, but it takes way more than an hour and until cheese starts costing more per pound than I make in an hour, I’m fine picking it up from the store. The problem is that you have to squeeze Every. Last. Inch. of Whey. out of the cheese before you start the final steps to firm it up. The more whey you have in your cheese, the more it tastes like milk. And let’s face it, milk is not the taste you want on your pizza. On a humid summer day? forget it–it’s impossible to wring the moisture out of your curds. You need to make the cheese when your feet are splitting open because the air is so dry, or else it’s going to be hard to press all the moisture out.
    That said, we’re in on the community garden this year and we’re definitely more localvore than we’ve been and we’ve enjoyed it.

  • Ni Putes Ni Soumises

    All the more reason to read the book! As an accomplished author, Kingsolver leads a life with some perks a lot of us don’t have, but as a socially conscious author and feminist (have you ever read anything by her?) she’s very aware of this fact. Therefore, she makes an effort in the book to show how almost anyone in any situation can make a few adjustments to his or her eating and living habits and therefore exist more sustainably.
    And — as Kingsolver also points out — lots and lots of areas now have farmers markets, especially urban locations. You may be surprised at how many once you start looking, I was! Kingsolver negates the idea that locally grown and organic foods tend to be more expensive…with your 6 figure salary, I suspect you may be able to afford some nice veggies for next week’s dinner! (Especially in the summer!)

  • lyndorr

    A lot of people live near farms. Does it really make sense for them to send all the food the produce far away while we buy our food from other countries?
    I am starting to get into growing herbs since hopefully they can grow inside.

  • Glauke

    Hey ponygirl, I remember reading the part about cheese making and being really enthusiastic. So I picked up another book about it, and I decided to just keep buying it.
    But I do think she meant mozzarella only, because you are supposed to eat that young and fresh.
    I loved the book. Weirdly, as I was reading it, my mum announced she was starting an allotment. We’re buried in zuchinis right now. And I bought her a copy for sinterklaas (the Dutch family-gift-giving day).

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    Mozzarella was all I tried to make — like I said, it’s not as simple as she tries to paint it out to be. Curds do not give up their whey as easily as all that.
    You can have “cheese” without a lot of work, but the cheese will taste like milk and not be very appetizing. If you want your cheese to taste like cheese, you need to spend a lot of time getting the whey out.
    I suppose if you got a cheese press, that would make it a lot quicker and easier, but those things are big and (I assume) expensive, which is a big investment in money and space.

  • AgnesScottie

    You can get small personal use cheese presses for fairly cheaply.
    I have been thinking about getting one of these…but I imagine no matter what your tools are, making cheese isn’t a walk in the park.

  • MLF

    I don’t understand why so many feminists think it’s cool to steal milk from female cows that was intended for baby calves – not to mention, you waste a lot more of that milk by processing it into cheese or icecream. The bottom line – such food is NOT made for human beings, all of those growth hormones – perfectly formulated to make a very samll cow turn into a very large one. Most of us cringe at the mere thought of drinking human breast milk but it is okay from another animal?
    The whle industry is horrible. I mean – if you support dairy farms (whether large or small) you support the slaughter of male calves. Even on small farms – the animals don’t live a fraction of their natural life span – simply because poor human beings can’t handle the taste and texture of animal flesh from old animals (or because the producers can’t make profits as quickly).
    People should check out this perspective:

  • electrictoaster

    “Most of us cringe at the mere thought of drinking human breast milk…”
    We do? O_o I mean, I’m not sure b/c I never bothered to ask, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a time when human breast milk was my favorite food. I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea behind veganism but I don’t think “eww boobies” is a particularly good supporting argument.

  • IndigoCharm

    I’m not sure what being feminist has to do with it…
    While I agree that the industry is horrible, I think that if you want people to change their opinions of it and reduce their contributions to it, it is better to encourage them (non-judgmentally!) to consume less of the products, or to at least get the products from farms where the animals are treated relatively well, rather than shaming them about.