Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)

By Barbara Kingsolver & Camille Kingsolver & Steven L. Hopp
Publisher:Harper Perennial, (5/1/2008)

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4.25 out of 5 (4 Clubie's ratings)

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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.

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This is a true story of how the author and her family are living off the land. A good read for anyone trying to live a more sustainable life. So far so good!

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"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)"
By Barbara Kingsolver & Camille Kingsolver & Steven L. Hopp

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.25 out of 5 (4 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. What was your perception of America's food industry prior to reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? What did you learn from this book? How has it altered your views on the way food is acquired and consumed? 

2. In what ways, if any, have you changed your eating habits since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Depending on where you live—in an urban, suburban, or rural environment—what other steps would you like to take to modify your lifestyle with regard to eating local? 

3. "It had felt arbitrary when we sat around the table with our shopping list, making our rules. It felt almost silly to us in fact, as it may now seem to you. Why impose restrictions on ourselves? Who cares?" asks Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Did you, in fact, care about Kingsolver's story and find it to be compelling? Why or why not? What was the family's aim for their year-long initiative, and did they accomplish that goal? 

4. The writing of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a family affair, with Kingsolver's husband, Steven L. Hopp, contributing factual sidebars and her daughter, Camille Kingsolver, serving up commentary and recipes. Did you find that these additional elements enhanced the book? How so? What facts or statistics in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle surprised you the most? 

5. How does each member of the Kingsolver-Hopp family contribute during their year-long eating adventure? Were you surprised that the author's children not only participated in the endeavor but that they did so with such enthusiasm? Why or why not? 

6. "A majority of North Americans do understand, at some level, that our food choices are politically charged," says Kingsolver, "affecting arenas from rural culture to international oil cartels and global climate change." How do politics affect America's food production and consumption? What global ramifications are there for the food choices we make? 

7. Kingsolver advocates the pleasures of seasonal eating, but she acknowledges that many people would view this as deprivation "because we've grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything always." Do you believe that American society can—or will— overcome the need for instant gratification in order to be able to eat seasonally? How does Kingsolver present this aspect in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Did you get the sense that she and her family ever felt deprived in their eating options 

8. Kingsolver points out that eating what we want, when we want comes "at a price." The cost, she says, "is not measured in money, but in untallied debts that will be paid by our children in the currency of extinctions, economic unravelings, and global climate change." What responsibility do we bear for keeping the environment safe for future generations? How does eating locally factor in to this? 

9. Kingsolver asserts that "we have dealt to today's kids the statistical hand of a shorter life expectancy than their parents, which would be us, the ones taking care of them." How is our "thrown-away food culture" a detriment to children's health? She also says, "We're raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket." What responsibility do parents have to teach their children about the value and necessity of a local food culture? 

10. In what ways do Kingsolver's descriptions of the places she visited on her travels—Italy, New England, Montreal, and Ohio—enhance her portrayal of local and seasonal eating? 

11. "Marketing jingles from every angle lure patrons to turn our backs on our locally owned stores, restaurants, and farms," says Kingsolver. "And nobody considers that unpatriotic." How much of a role do the media play in determining what Americans eat? Discuss the decline of America's diversified family farms, and what it means for the country as a whole. 

Action Items—With Your Book Club

Take a tour of a local farm, visit a farmers' market, or try your hand at a u-pick operation (strawberries in the summer, for example, or apples in the fall).

 If you're inclined to take your book club international, follow in Barbara Kingsolver's footsteps and experience Italy's agriturismo, a guest accommodation on a working family farm.

For your club's discussion of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, devise your own menu or use the recipes in the book to prepare a feast with locally produced ingredients that are in season. Alternately, hold your book club discussion at a farmer's diner or a restaurant that uses local ingredients.

In the spirit of Barbara Kingsolver's 50th birthday festivities, which she describes in the book, have a plant exchange. (Just don't thank each other for the blooms!)

Take a class or meet up at a member's home for a session of cheese-, yogurt-, or bread-making.

Donate to a hunger-relief organization that teaches sustainable farming practices. Visit (World Neighbors),, or (Heifer International) for information.

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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [Signature]Reviewed by Nina PlanckMichael Pollan is the crack investigator and graceful narrator of the ecology of local food and the toxic logic of industrial agriculture. Now he has a peer. Novelist Kingsolver recounts a year spent eating home-grown food and, if not that, local. Accomplished gardeners, the Kingsolver clan grow a large garden in southern Appalachia and spend summers "putting food by," as the classic kitchen title goes. They make pickles, chutney and mozzarella; they jar tomatoes, braid garlic and stuff turkey sausage. Nine-year-old Lily runs a heritage poultry business, selling eggs and meat. What they don't raise (lamb, beef, apples) comes from local farms. Come winter, they feast on root crops and canned goods, menus slouching toward asparagus. Along the way, the Kingsolver family, having given up industrial meat years before, abandons its vegetarian ways and discovers the pleasures of conscientious carnivory.This field—local food and sustainable agriculture—is crowded with books in increasingly predictable flavors: the earnest manual, diary of an epicure, the environmental battle cry, the accidental gardener. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is all of these, and much smarter. Kingsolver takes the genre to a new literary level; a well-paced narrative and the apparent ease of the beautiful prose makes the pages fly. Her tale is both classy and disarming, substantive and entertaining, earnest and funny. Kingsolver is a moralist ("the conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners"), but more often wry than pious. Another hazard of the genre is snobbery. You won't find it here. Seldom do paeans to heirloom tomatoes (which I grew up selling at farmers' markets) include equal respect for outstanding modern hybrids like Early Girl.Kingsolver has the ear of a journalist and the accuracy of a naturalist. She makes short, neat work of complex topics: what's risky about the vegan diet, why animals belong on ecologically sound farms, why bitterness in lettuce is good. Kingsolver's clue to help greenhorns remember what's in season is the best I've seen. You trace the harvest by botanical development, from buds to fruits to roots. Kingsolver is not the first to note our national "eating disorder" and the injuries industrial agriculture wreaks, yet this practical vision of how we might eat instead is as fresh as just-picked sweet corn. The narrative is peppered with useful sidebars on industrial agriculture and ecology (by husband Steven Hopp) and recipes (by daughter Camille), as if to show that local food—in the growing, buying, cooking, eating and the telling—demands teamwork. (May)Nina Planck is the author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why (Bloomsbury USA, 2006). 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–This book chronicles the year that Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband and two daughters, made a commitment to become locavores–those who eat only locally grown foods. This first entailed a move away from their home in non-food-producing Tuscon to a family farm in Virginia, where they got right down to the business of growing and raising their own food and supporting local farmers. For teens who grew up on supermarket offerings, the notion not only of growing one's own produce but also of harvesting one's own poultry was as foreign as the concept that different foods relate to different seasons. While the volume begins as an environmental treatise–the oil consumption related to transporting foodstuffs around the world is enormous–it ends, as the year ends, in a celebration of the food that physically nourishes even as the recipes and the memories of cooks and gardeners past nourish our hearts and souls. Although the book maintains that eating well is not a class issue, discussions of heirloom breeds and making cheese at home may strike some as high-flown; however, those looking for healthful alternatives to processed foods will find inspiration to seek out farmers' markets and to learn to cook and enjoy seasonal foods. Give this title to budding Martha Stewarts, green-leaning fans of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, 2006), and kids outraged by Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (Houghton, 2001).–Jenny Gasset, Orange County Public Library, CA 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From The Washington Post
Reviewed by Bunny Crumpacker

If you've ever been lucky enough to eat a tomato in the middle of summer, while it's still warm from the sun, if you've seen a farmer's market filled with fresh produce and happy people, if you've stopped at a farm stand, even (or especially) if it's just a table at the side of the road, you know the difference between the taste of real food and what's sold at the grocery store. But advocates of locally grown produce contend that it's much more than a matter of taste. There's the horror of stockyards and poultry farms and slaughterhouses, and the excessive amounts of energy needed to transport food from one part of the country to another and from the summer of another continent to the winter shelves of our town's stores. But beyond all this, supermarket vegetables and fruits are grown with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and patented modified genes, and supermarket meat comes from animals raised in dense crowds, given hormones and antibiotics (which we in turn swallow), and then killed with abiding cruelty.

To the swelling chorus of concern about the food we grow, buy and eat, add three powerful voices, the authors of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In a way, the book adds four voices, because its main author -- novelist, essayist and poet Barbara Kingsolver -- speaks in two tones. One is charming, zestful, funny and poetic, while the other is serious and dry, indeed sometimes lecturing and didactic. Both are passionate and caring.

Kingsolver has written most of the book, describing the year in which her family resolved to eat only food they had grown themselves, or that had grown within a hundred miles of their home, a farm in Virginia. The book's informative sidebars are by her husband, Steven L. Hopp, a biologist. Her daughter, Camille (in college, studying biology), has contributed engaging short essays for each month, accompanied by clear, uncomplicated recipes. (A younger daughter, Lily, was the family CEO of fresh eggs.)

Their remarkable year begins in April, when the first asparagus spears poke up from the ground. Sowing, weeding, watering, picking, canning, preserving and joyful eating follow the calendar, with an overabundance of zucchini in the summer, and the food the family has dried, frozen and canned seeing them through the cold months of winter. When March comes, about all that's left are a few quarts of spaghetti sauce, four onions, one head of garlic and, in the freezer, some vegetables and the last turkey.

The raising of the turkeys is a wonderful story all by itself, from the first fluffy babies to the mating, roosting and hatching of next year's batch. Turkey sex is an amazing saga, no less miraculous -- and perhaps even much more so -- than our own.

Can we all do this? Probably not. We may not have the necessary time, energy or access to a shared community plot. We may not be blessed with a sufficiently inspired -- and happy -- family. We may not be willing or able to spend the hot days of August canning all those tomatoes. And we may not have the freezer space (not to mention the barn) required for a year's supply of turkeys and chickens. But all is not lost -- unless we continue to lose it at the supermarket where the food we buy contributes to global warming on the long way from wherever it was raised. ("Americans," writes Hopp in a sidebar, "put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as [into] our cars.") The book offers a host of suggestions to make a difference, and there are lengthy lists of places to go, things to do and Web sites to visit. Alas, the book lacks an index.

This is a serious book about important problems. Its concerns are real and urgent. It is clear, thoughtful, often amusing, passionate and appealing. It may give you a serious case of supermarket guilt, thinking of the energy footprint left by each out-of-season tomato, but you'll also find unexpected knowledge and gain the ability to make informed choices about what -- and how -- you're willing to eat.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Bookmarks Magazine
In this very topical memoir, Kingsolver has penned a "heroic story" that demonstrates how "growing your own fruits and vegetables, with people you love, can be as rewarding an experience as any on the face of the earth" (San Francisco Chronicle). It also may mark the first time fresh asparagus has been documented with such rapture. The author's passion and narrative prowess make Animal an entertaining, often page-turning read. Her biologist husband Steven offers pithy sidebars about the politics of sustainable agriculture, as well as advice on how to make a change at home. Eldest daughter Camille supplies simple, nutritious recipes. Their combined efforts resulted in nearly universal praise from the critics.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Booklist
Living the American consumerist's good life in Arizona's desert makes abundantly obvious how everyday existence depends on nearly limitless consumption of fossil fuel. It's not just the ubiquitous automobile guzzling gas. Even more gas is consumed by trucks that must deliver most foodstuffs, since so very little of what Arizonans eat grows locally. Those plants that manage to thrive in the desert fields require irrigation through massive diversion of rivers. Despite their genuine love of life in the Southwest, the Kingsolver family moved back to reconnect with ancestral roots in Appalachia, to a farm that has been in the author's family for years. There they have at least some chance of re-creating a profounder and more intimate relationship with the foods they put on the table. Kingsolver's passionate new tome records in detail a year lived in sync with the season's ebb and flow. Starting with spring's first asparagus, summer's chickens, and the fall's surfeit of vegetables, Kingsolver's family consumes what they and their farming neighbors produce. Writing with her usual sharp eye for irony, she urges readers to follow her example and reconnect with their food's source. To that end, she provides a bibliography, Web sites, and a listing of organizations supporting sustainable agriculture. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio CD edition. 

Praise for the National Bestseller, Small Wonder (Essays) -- --

"Anyone who read and appreciated THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan will want to read Barbara Kingsolver’s book." -- Roanoke Times

"As illuminating as it is absorbing…Resonates with the author’s overarching wisdom and passion" -- New York Times Book Review

"Compelling, lyrical, and utterly believable" -- Chicago Tribune 

"Kingsolver beautifully describes this experience." -- More Magazine

"Kingsolver dresses down the American food complex…These down-on-the-farm sections are inspiring and…compelling." -- Outside magazine

"Kingsolver elegantly chronicles a year of back-to-the-land living…Readers...will take heart and inspiration here." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Powerful…Kingsolver is a gifted magician of words." -- Time magazine

"Warmhearted, resilient…Barbara Kingsolver writes in a voice that is not only for the people, but of the people." -- Women's Review of Books

Praise for the New York Times bestseller, The Poisonwood Bible (Novel) -- -- --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

"Full.of zest and sometimes ribald humor. Reading this book will make you hungry." (Raleigh News & Observer )

"Other notable writers have addressed this topic, but Kingsolver claims it as her own....Self-deprecating instead of self-righteous." (Charlotte Observer )

"Highly digestible.Engaging." (Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe )

"If you're interested in learning more about healthful eating, you'll want to read.ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE." (Charlotte Observer )

"Kingsolver.adds enough texture and zest to stir wistful yearnings in all of us...[A] vicarious taste of domesticity." (Christian Science Monitor )

"ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE makes an important contribution to the chorus of voices calling for change."" (Chicago Tribune )

"Lessons learned in sustainability are worth feasting on-and taking to heart." (Self )

"Kingsolver beautifully describes this experience." (More Magazine )

"Delectable . . . steeped in elegant prose and seasoned with smart morsels about the food industry." (Chicago Tribune )

"Kingsolver elegantly chronicles a year of back-to-the-land living.Readers...will take heart and inspiration here." (Kirkus Reviews )

"[This] is a book that, without being preachy, makes a solid case for eating locally instead of globally." (Richmond Times-Dispatch )

"A profound, graceful, and literary work . . . Timeless. . . . It can change who you are." (Rick Bass, Boston Globe )

"Kingsolver dresses down the American food complex.These down-on-the-farm sections are inspiring and.compelling." (Outside magazine )

"Charming...and persuasive...Each season-and chapter-unfolds with a natural rhythm and mouth-watering appeal." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )

"Homespun, unassuming, informed, positive, inspiring. . . . Unstinting in its concerns about this imperiled planet." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer )

"ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE is a chronicle of food feats.I'm inclined to agree with most points Kingsolver makes." (Chicago Sun-Times )

"Engaging.Absorbing.Lovely food writing.[Kingsolver] succeeds at adopting the warm tone of a confiding friend." (Corby Kummer, New York Times Book Review )

"Anyone who read and appreciated THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan will want to read Barbara Kingsolver's book." (Roanoke Times )

"A lovely book. " (Los Angeles Times )

"[Written] with passion and hope.This novelist paints a compelling big picture-broad and ambitious, with nary an extraneous stroke." (Rocky Mountain News )

"Wry, insightful and inspiring to anyone who yearns to work with the earth." (Chicago Tribune (on the audiobook) )

"Charming, zestful, funny and poetic.a serious book about important problems." (Washington Post Book World )

"Kingsolver carries us along in her distinct and breezy prose." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )

"Provocative . . . Kingsolver . . . evokes the sheer joy of producing one's own food." (People )

"If book this summer, make it this one...As satisfying and complete as a down home supper." (Tucson Citizen )

"Kingsolver, who writes evocatively about our connection to place, does so here with characteristic glowing prose. She provides the rapture." (Miami Herald )

"Equal parts folk wisdom and political activism . . . This family effort instructs as much as it entertains." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch )

"I defy anyone to read this book and walk away from it without gaining at least the desire to change." ( )

"[Kingsolver is] a master storyteller, and even those who've heard this tale before will be captivated." (Daily News )

"Faithful, funny, and thought-provoking...Readers-whether vegetarian or carnivore-will not go hungry, literally or literarily." (BookPage )

"A terrific effort. The delight for the chance to experience the rediscovery of community through food." (The Oregonian (Portland) )

"An impassioned, sensual, smart and witty narrative.Kinsolver is a master at leavening a serious message with humor." (St. Petersburg Times )

"Classy and disarming, substantive and entertaining, earnest and funny....Kingsolver takes the genre to a new literary level." (Publishers Weekly (starred review) )

"Charming . . . Literary magic . . . If you love the narrative voice of Barbara Kingsolver, you will be thrilled." (Houston Chronicle )

"Every bit as transporting as-and more ecologically relevant than-any "Year In Provence"-style escapism...Earthy...informative....[and] englightened." (Washington Post )

"Loaded with terrific information about everything from growth hormones to farm subsidies." (Entertainment Weekly ) 

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Barbara Kingsolver's twelve books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction include the novels The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. Translated into nineteen languages, her work has won a devoted worldwide readership and many awards, including the National Humanities Medal. Her most recent book is the highly praised, New York Times bestselling Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, published in May 2007. She lives with her family on a farm in southwestern Virginia.

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