Review of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver

I recently finished the above book and was both pleasantly pleased and violently displeased. Here are the liner notes:

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life-vowing that, for one year, they'd only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

I did really enjoy most of this book. Living in urban Los Angeles, it felt like a nice escape everytime I picked up this book and got to read about Barbara working on her garden, tilling soil, harvesting veggies, cooking, etc. I sort of felt like I was transported about 100 years back to a time when Americans did used to grow their own food, live on a farm, feed themselves, etc. On the surface it seems like a "simple" way of life, yet it really is quite complex and multi-faceted. People who live and run on a farm are busy, overworked, tired, and frustrated, just like the rest of us. But they also end most days with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of taking care of their families, a sense of "getting back to basics", and just a general sense of understanding the circle of life and of being involved in the entire cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, and eating crops.

The book is organized in chapters that follow the calendar. It starts in late March and ends in late March, so we see the full cycle of what a sustainable home garden goes through. We also get a sense of what types of food are meant to be eaten in what time of year (at last in Appalacia where this family lives). Most of us don't really have an idea of when the seasons of certain fruits/veggies are because in most grocery stores (including places like Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc) carry just about every kind of produce possible year round. Unless you are a die hard Farmers Market shopper, you wouldn't know when persimmon season, potato season, or tomato season is.

One thing I loved about this book is that there were lots and lots of recipes printed in the book (most easy to veganize, since they are mostly whole plant based dishes).

Now, my one issue with this book (of course) is that Kingsolver and her family eat meat. They even raise their own Heritage turkeys, chickens, etc. and kill them themselves. While I do not disrespect her choice to do this (we all have the freedom to make a choice), I disagree with her reasons for being a carnivore. Here are some excerpts directly from her book:

"I find myself fundamentally allied with a vegetarian position in every way except one: however selectively, I eat meat." *A big difference, eh Barbara?

"We raise these creatures for a reason." *What, to kill them? It seems that sensitivity and compassion to animals is lacking in this comment.

"To envision a vegan version of civilization, start by erasing from all time the Three Little Pigs, the boy who cried wolf, Charlotte's Web, the golden calf, Tess of the d'Urbervilles." *Here it appears the Kingsolver justifies eating animals and animal products so that we can have warm, fuzzy stories to read to our children? Does anyone else see the ridiculousness of this comment?

"Recently while I was coking eggs, my kids sat at the kitchen table entertaining me with readings from a magazine profile of a famous, rather young vegan movie star....What a life's work for that poor gal: traipsing about the farm in her strappy heels, weaving among the cow flops, bending gracefully to pick up eggs and stick them in an incubator where they would maddeningly hatch, and grow bent on laying more eggs. It's dirty work, trying to save an endless chain of uneaten lives. Realisticially, my kids observed, she'd hire somebody." *Here it seems that Kingsolver is putting herself (and other "struggling" and "hard working" people) on a pedestal and looking down on someone because she has money? I don't think this is fair. Just because someone is a "famous actress" does not mean that we, as the public, should dismiss her thoughts/beliefs as trite and unimportant. I believe that people are capable of being wealthy, famous, etc and also being able to make decisions that THEY choose to follow.

"They're human property, not just legally, but biologically." *I could not disagree more. The animals on this planet belong to Mother Earth, Patchamama, God, or whatever your set of beliefs call it. We all belong to each other.

"My animals all had a good life, with death as its natural end. It's not without thought and gratitude that I slaughter my own animals, it is a hard thing to do. It's taken me time to be able to eat my own lambs that I had played with." *I have all kinds of problems with these comments. Killing an animal (to me) is not a natural end.

"I would venture to say that 75% of the vegans/vegetarians who stayed at least a week here began to eat our meat or animal products, simply because they see what I am doing as right-for the animals, for the environment, for humans." *The only thing I'll say here is that I'd like to be able to stay there for a week and see how I feel. I don't think that I would go back to eating meat.

"Yes, I am a person who raises some animals for the purpose of whacking them into cuts of meat to feed my family. But this work has made me more sympathetic, not less, toward the poor wretches that have to live shoulder-to-shoulder with their breathren waiting for the next meal of stomach-corriding porridge." *Ok, so she feels bad and sympathizes for the factory farmed animals.....what about for her animals? Does their death not affect her?

Those are all my thoughts today on this book. You can get more information about this book on www.animalvegetablemiracle.com.


  1. I agree with your comments 100%. It's amazing what some people will say in order to justify their flesh eating habits.

  2. Thanks for the review- I'm reading this book now, and just finished the "vegan celebrity" paragraph and felt so angry I Googled hoping to find someone else who felt the same way. Trying to enjoy this book, but she makes it hard with nonsense like this.

  3. Thank you! I took the same issue; I thought the book was incredibly inspiring for one who wants to grow food and eat local... and terribly snarky to veg*nism at large.