Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060852566
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/29/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 254,281
Product dimensions: 7.96(w) x 5.14(h) x 0.96(d)
Lexile: 1160L (what's this?)

About the Author

Barbara Kingsolver's work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. In 2000 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country's highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain's Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Date of Birth:

April 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Annapolis, Maryland


B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981

Read an Excerpt

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Chapter One

Called Home

This story about good food begins in a quick-stop convenience market. It was our family's last day in Arizona, where I'd lived half my life and raised two kids for the whole of theirs. Now we were moving away forever, taking our nostalgic inventory of the things we would never see again: the bush where the roadrunner built a nest and fed lizards to her weird-looking babies; the tree Camille crashed into learning to ride a bike; the exact spot where Lily touched a dead snake. Our driveway was just the first tributary on a memory river sweeping us out.

One person's picture postcard is someone else's normal. This was the landscape whose every face we knew: giant saguaro cacti, coyotes, mountains, the wicked sun reflecting off bare gravel. We were leaving it now in one of its uglier moments, which made good-bye easier, but also seemed like a cheap shot—like ending a romance right when your partner has really bad bed hair. The desert that day looked like a nasty case of prickly heat caught in a long, naked wince.

This was the end of May. Our rainfall since Thanksgiving had measured less than one inch. The cacti, denizens of deprivation, looked ready to pull up roots and hitch a ride out if they could. The prickly pears waved good-bye with puckered, grayish pads. The tall, dehydrated saguaros stood around all teetery and sucked-in like very prickly supermodels. Even in the best of times desert creatures live on the edge of survival, getting by mostly on vapor and their own life savings. Now, as the southern tier of U.S. states came into a third consecutive yearof drought, people elsewhere debated how seriously they should take global warming. We were staring it in the face.

Away went our little family, like rats leaping off the burning ship. It hurt to think about everything at once: our friends, our desert, old home, new home. We felt giddy and tragic as we pulled up at a little gas-and-go market on the outside edge of Tucson. Before we set off to seek our fortunes we had to gas up, of course, and buy snacks for the road. We did have a cooler in the back seat packed with respectable lunch fare. But we had more than two thousand miles to go. Before we crossed a few state lines we'd need to give our car a salt treatment and indulge in some things that go crunch.

This was the trip of our lives. We were ending our existence outside the city limits of Tucson, Arizona, to begin a rural one in southern Appalachia. We'd sold our house and stuffed the car with the most crucial things: birth certificates, books-on-tape, and a dog on drugs. (Just for the trip, I swear.) All other stuff would come in the moving van. For better or worse, we would soon be living on a farm.

For twenty years Steven had owned a piece of land in the southern Appalachians with a farmhouse, barn, orchards and fields, and a tax zoning known as "farm use." He was living there when I met him, teaching college and fixing up his old house one salvaged window at a time. I'd come as a visiting writer, recently divorced, with something of a fixer-upper life. We proceeded to wreck our agendas in the predictable fashion by falling in love. My young daughter and I were attached to our community in Tucson; Steven was just as attached to his own green pastures and the birdsong chorus of deciduous eastern woodlands. My father-in-law to be, upon hearing the exciting news about us, asked Steven, "Couldn't you find one closer?"

Apparently not. We held on to the farm by renting the farmhouse to another family, and maintained marital happiness by migrating like birds: for the school year we lived in Tucson, but every summer headed back to our rich foraging grounds, the farm. For three months a year we lived in a tiny, extremely crooked log cabin in the woods behind the farmhouse, listening to wood thrushes, growing our own food. The girls (for another child came along shortly) loved playing in the creek, catching turtles, experiencing real mud. I liked working the land, and increasingly came to think of this place as my home too. When all of us were ready, we decided, we'd go there for keeps.

We had many conventional reasons for relocation, including extended family. My Kingsolver ancestors came from that county in Virginia; I'd grown up only a few hours away, over the Kentucky line. Returning now would allow my kids more than just a hit-and-run, holiday acquaintance with grandparents and cousins. In my adult life I'd hardly shared a phone book with anyone else using my last name. Now I could spend Memorial Day decorating my ancestors' graves with peonies from my backyard. Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me a writing career, legions of friends, and a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets. But after twenty-five years in the desert, I'd been called home.

There is another reason the move felt right to us, and it's the purview of this book. We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground. This might seem an abstract reason for leaving beloved friends and one of the most idyllic destination cities in the United States. But it was real to us. As it closes in on the million-souls mark, Tucson's charms have made it one of this country's fastest-growing cities. It keeps its people serviced across the wide, wide spectrum of daily human wants, with its banks, shops, symphonies, colleges, art galleries, city parks, and more golf courses than you can shake a stick at. By all accounts . . .

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Copyright © by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Called Home     1
Waiting for Asparagus: Late March     23
Springing Forward     43
Stalking the Vegetannual     63
Molly Mooching: April     70
The Birds and the Bees     86
Gratitude: May     100
Growing Trust: Mid-June     111
Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Late June     124
Eating Neighborly: Late June     148
Slow Food Nations: Late June     154
Zucchini Larceny: July     173
Life in a Red State: August     196
You Can't Run Away on Harvest Day: September     219
Where Fish Wear Crowns: September     242
Smashing Pumpkins: October     259
Celebration Days: November-December     277
What Do You Eat in January?     296
Hungry Month: February-March     315
Time Begins     334
Acknowledgments     353
References     355
Organizations     358
Sidebar Resources     364

What People are Saying About This

Corby Kummer

“Engaging…Absorbing…Lovely food writing…[Kingsolver] succeeds at adopting the warm tone of a confiding friend.”

Rick Bass

“A profound, graceful, and literary work . . . Timeless. . . . It can change who you are.”

Customer Reviews

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 282 reviews.
Ed-Philosopher More than 1 year ago
How can a memoir about food possibly be so enthralling, so inspiring? This is a book for every American. It is a key component to a more sustainable and responsible future, to living more in sync with our planet. I have made subtle changes in my diet over the years, trying to "eat right," but this book was the nudge I needed to go all the way. You will laugh about turkey sex and cry over poor farm children (and swear at the agribusiness conglomerates). Don't miss this life-changing book co-written by Barbara Kingsolver (my favorite author), her husband Steven Hopp (who adds thought-provoking inserts), and her daughter Camille Kingsolver (whose brief narratives and recipes left me begging for more).
Guest More than 1 year ago
The delightful three person voice of this book can not hide the alarm it sounds for those Americans who eat, prepare or otherwise relate to food. It is a poignant rendering of the brainwashing of Americans in relationship with what they put into their bodies. In gentle tones the warning comes in side bar fashion along with hope, a plan to make positive changes for good healthy eating and is seasoned with some yummy recipes, too. It was an eye opening and life changing read. This book is a gift for anyone who eats and wants to be healthy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having lived on a farm the first 17 years of my life I have found that I want to share this book with all my siblings. I am the oldest of 10 and not all of us experienced the farm the same way. The youngest sibling taught me about 'range eggs' when I was 50 something. Learned that range eggs are the only kind we knew existed. Of what Barbara Kingsolver writes is the life we lived in south central North Dakota. We never had money but we worked sun up to sun down and beyond, chickens and roosters were all around and cows and horses were a part of daily life. We were never hungry but learned how to weed a garden and long rows of baby trees when we were 3 feet tall. 'To the reviewer who rated the book one star, all I can say is that if you want the good things you gotta work awfully hard -- money or rich or poor is not the limiting factor, only your work ethic'. The author has enlightened me about a few things such as the information about the rooster and chickens. I am about 75% finished reading and don't want the book to end. It will make fabulous Christmas gifts!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is another winning book by Barbara Kingsolver. It is informative and highly entertaining. The Kingsolver family was very successful in eating locally and reducing their 'footprint' on the ecosystem in comparison with the average American. Obviously most of us are not going to devote ourselves to the degree that they did, but EVERYONE CAN make changes that improve their impact on the environment by better food choices. Buy the milk, eggs, meat, produce, whatever that traveled the shortest distance to reach you. How hard is that? Read the label. Support food producers that give a more ecofriendly alternate when you put some if not most or all things in your basket. By the way, she does write about some programs in place for lower income people. Ask if they are available where you live whether or not you are the family who qualifies. Can you make a difference? Yes, you can - one choice at a time. Try it, you'll like it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When referring to organic produce, the author asks who put the sanctimony into the phrase organic. If she has read her own book it should be crystal clear that it was none other than herself. Sanctimonious perfectly describes almost the entire book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I say almost, because the portions added by her daughter and husband are actually informative and enjoyable. The book must not be aimed at the American consumers to which it would be sold, because the author does not have one nice thing to say about her fellow Americans. She has even trained her younger daughter to deny her American heritage by saying that she is American, but not really. You can¿t possibly hope to influence people¿s attitudes by attacking them and then explaining why you are so much better, and this is what Kingsolver tries to do. The sad thing is that she even attacks like-minded people. She criticizes a ¿starlet¿ for wanting to save farm animals, saying that her logic is flawed. Then the author proceeds to say that dairy cows are bred to produce milk and cannot live without being milked. She should check out her facts before ridiculing someone else for getting them wrong. If a milking cow is not milked, the milk will eventually stop being produced, just like it does for us humans. For large-scale dairy farming, the cow could be milked less and less until the milk dries up. So it is pretty ridiculous to giggle about the starlet¿s stupidity and then say something really stupid herself. Ms. Kingsolver repeats over and over in the book that America has no food culture. This is totally untrue. America is a melting pot and has the richest food culture of anywhere else. America absorbed peoples from every nationality and their food cultures along with them. She also avows that the French sample McDonalds, but they don¿t really eat there. I hate to break it to her, but there are McDonalds restaurants in almost every European city, and if you want to buy a burger there you will have to wait in line. France is no different. The lines are always nearly out the door. I live in a European city with a population of only about 100,000 people, and there are no less than 4 McDonald¿s here. They are never empty. Ever. It was difficult for me to get all the way through the book. Most of the factual material was no news to me, and I think the book was a big waste of my time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the reviewer who gave this a 'Poor' rating... ''This is an unrealistic personal account...'' is missing the point. I don't think Ms. Kingsolver is asking anyone to 'rough it', but to be aware that there are many choices we ALL have in making decisions that affect our health, our local economies, our enjoyment of fresh food... Only 80 pages into the book I was researching our Local Food Alliance and finding a CSA to join. Hardly 'roughing it' to start enjoying real fresh produce, and supporting a local farmer, to boot! This is a very enlightening book, written in her wonderful voice, that has changed my attitude about seasonal and local eating. I'm no green thumb, so I'm fortunate to live in a city where local growers are supported by many restaurants, daily farmers markets, and the Cooperative grocery. I'm sure these opportunities exist all around the US, if you are willing to seek them out.
Ponytonitail More than 1 year ago
Wow! In my part of the country, it's challenging enough to be a vegetarian trying to eat organic - but locally grown - Everything??!!. Kudos to Kingsolver and her family for taking "green" eating to the next level. Makes the rest of us more aware and inspired to do a little more ourselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. This book was used in a book club I belong to and I passed it on to my husband to read. We both felt inspired.
EILEEN_07 More than 1 year ago
This is a great novel; there are many things that make it fascinating. First of all just the impressive writing of Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven, and her daughter Camille. Although my favorite part would have to be the segment Camille writes at the end of almost every chapter, she gives somewhat an overview and gives a recipe to a certain healthy dish. I have to say I have made one (Four Seasons Of Potato Salad [winter]) [pg.273] and it was very good.

Barbara¿s writing is inspirational she writes a lot about the fact that we as Americans have a lot to be proud of as a country. When it comes to something important as well such as food, we have fast food. Yes, it is quite good but what is really in it? Processed food, corn syrup (made from real corn but you get nothing good out if it) and basically just the unhealthy habits we as a whole have.

She goes with her family and starts basically new. They don¿t have a lot of land to their name but they work as a family, grow their own produce, and make great healthy meals by it. It made me believe that many people could be like this if we just took the time away from our everyday hectic schedules. Like I stated already, it is inspirational and just makes you want to get up and do something.
Chet_Guevara More than 1 year ago
A book that will change the way you eat. And the way you think about turkeys.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to this on CD, and absolutely loved it. Each portion is read by its author, and you can truly feel their passion for the process of sustainable living. 'My parents have organically composted their small vegetable garden for more than 35 years. Their produce is indeed far superior to that found in mass market chains.' Listening to this book was delightful. It reinforced my own belief in the power of each of us to make a difference. I really enjoyed the resources and recipes, and am planning the purchase of the book in written format for further review. This will definitely be one I will encourage my husband and teens to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A neighbor gave me the book for Christmas. I am loving it! We own a farm and, while we are not organic, raise most of our crops using the sustainable agriculture measures talked about in this book. It gives me great hope to see some one write about living what has been part of my life and passion for many years now. We have a CSA and two farm markets. If America could wake up and see that, not only does it take a village to raise a child, but it takes that village to save the village, our country will be stronger in the long run.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read all books by Barbara Kingsolver and have enjoyed all of them. Different from her usual 'NORM' Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an outstanding book that EVERYONE will enjoy!
maidmarian More than 1 year ago
I have read Barbara Kingsolver before and absolutely LOVED her writing; however, our book club chose this book, and I could barely make it through the first four chapters. I felt so guilty as I sat there eating my Smartfood popcorn reading about how I am contributing to Global Warming and other ills of society. I certainly admire Ms Kingsolver and her family's dedication, and Barbara's writing style is as beautiful as ever, it's just that my personal reaction was difficult to overcome and I could not get lost in the book. A wonderful read for someone who is thinking of sustaining themselves on the fruits of their labor (I should note that the Kingsolver's neighbors also provided some of their necessities as well, but that they spurned anything that was mass produced and thus had to be shipped in from different parts of the country). Please try reading "The Bean Trees" before you give up on Barbara Kingsolver. She has the ability to captivate me, move me and leave me with a literature masterpiece that will live in my soul for some time to come.
mike-v More than 1 year ago
After hearing an interview with the author--my first podcast!--I was intrigued enough to break out of my rut of social science, business, and economics books to read a book all about food. This family's year-long experiment in growing their own food was fascinating, like The Real World, but with vegetables. I was impressed by what they were able to do with not a whole lot of land, and I sometimes caught myself daydreaming about living that farm life...waking up before dawn to pick vegetables I would later make into dinner, etc. Not to mention the issues surrounding local and organic food and America's food security, which she weaves into the story.

Only four stars, though, because of a few distractions. Kingsolver's husband writes a sidebar article in each chapter--in the middle of it. They're interesting, but distracting. You have to find a good stopping point, read the sidebar, and hope you remember where you left off in the chapter. The daughter's sidebars at the end of each chapter were better.

Also, I got a little vibe of preachiness from Kingsolver from this book. She acknowledges that not everyone has a garden or can be expected to raise and slaughter their own poultry, but I get the feeling that she's a little disappointed by that. It just struck me as a little hypocritical that she becomes a local food grower for one year and now feels like we're not living quite as well as her unless we're growing our own mushrooms. I get her point, and it definitely opened my eyes, but she just kind of beat me over the head with it.

Overall, an excellent good book, and Kingsolver is an excellent, engaging writer
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again, Barbara Kingsolver has not disappointed me. She has taken a topic most people don't even consider, and made me pause and think. It is like sitting down with a cup of Fair Trade coffee and chatting with an old friend. I know my trip to the grocery store yesterday yielded different purchases. Her books always give me pause to consider and think - and then share what I have learned. I also enjoyed the added perspective from her daughter and husband. This is a book worth passing along to friends. Thanks for the wake-up call!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many people love Kingsolver's books - 'Poisonwood Bible', 'Prodigal Summer', etc. I, however, have not been a big fan of her work previously and would have passed it by entirely, except that the title and jacket cover caught my eye. If you are a 'Foodie' - or - someone who is interested in organic or healthy eating - or - worried about the petroleum problems this country is facing I think you will find this book a great read. It is extremely entertaining and humorous, but makes a great point for a new food lifestyle movement known as being a 'Locavore'. Reading the section about her daughter deciding to raise 'meat' chickens vs. laying chickens to earn money for a horse had my husband and I both in stitches. Maybe it is because spring and summer are a time for renewed energy, interest in growing things, or simply the thoughts of hitting the local farmers' market and EATING all that wonderful, fresh food, but this book really struck a cord with me and I have enjoyed it and been inspired from the first page of the prologue! So far, if I had to recommend one book to read this summer - this is it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Another wonderful book that only Kingsolver could have given us. Not that the topic hasn't been covered before -- it has, and thank God, it will get more coverage as time goes on. But only Barbara Kingsolver could bring the particular kind of self-deprecating, honest wit I appreciate so much, to her observations about humankind and its environs. Her husband and eldest daughter contribute to this book, too, which is an extra treat. Particularly as Camille's sections almost always include seasonal recipes. Her youngest daughter, too, is someone I'd like to meet someday. The whole family just seems a delight. Yeah, they'e probably got some money -- now, anyway -- but that is SO not the point, here. Anyone really can do a lot of what they're doing -- and even when we maybe can't, we can all decide to frequent farmers markets and stop eating the over-processed food that's killing us. I especially loved the reference in the book to Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa -- I know the place, since I live not far away -- and it is truly a national treasure!
LeighMason More than 1 year ago
I have always loved her novels and short pieces, so I was not sure if I wanted to get into this book...but I could not put it down...Everyone should read it and apply it to one's life. I am now shopping at the farmers' markets for just about all of my veggies, fruits, eggs, some meat, and breads...We are eating less meat anyway and I've begun to make my own whole grain yeast breads again...We live on a "deer-infested" four acres (well, they were here first!), so cannot have a garden, but will sign up for one at a local park for 2010.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Barbara Kingsolver is a sweet person, I am convinced. I have read and enjoyed her novels, which gave me a hint of this, but now it becomes clearer than ever. For even when she is writing about such difficult topics as our unfortunate dependence on fossil fuels in food production, she finds goodness just around every corner. She might be upset for a moment, but then we can almost hear her chuckle as she chases a chicken out the kitchen door. This book is serious, but it is a pleasure to read, mainly because we are hearing a wise and humble mother talk with humor about her struggles to be a good parent. Dipping with Ms. Kingsolver into ecological and genetic topics could be daunting but before you can feel overwhelmed, her poetic talent comes through to brighten every paragraph. Ms. Kingsolver has co-authors this time: her college-age daughter Camille and her scientist husband Steven Hopp, who give us mini-essays on our conventional food sources and the ways we can have better quality eating that is good for the creation. But the best part of the book is the narrative of a one-year adventure in eating local food. Her family of four found they could live affordably and have great meals without having to buy food trucked from thousands of miles away. It wasn't always easy, but it sounds fun enough, and we even get some of the family's recipes. This book sets up an implicit challenge, since Ms. Kingsolver clearly (like any good mother) wants us to lead a good life. That challenge avoids sounding preachy, however, because it is delivered with the down-to-earth personality of this feisty, friendly, adventurous Appalachian mother, who just happens to be a gifted writer.
DijitalDharma More than 1 year ago
This book truly made me rethink my eating/purchasing habits. The locavore movement seems like a really sustainable and beneficial lifestyle change that modern families can really take a part in without too much effort. You can grow a garden on your property or at a community garden, shop at farmers markets, eat grass fed, local meats...Kingsolver really makes this life seem attainable and because of this book I've rented a plot at my city garden.
GrowGirl More than 1 year ago
Posted 05/06/10: This book was recommended to me by a friend and I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of "A Year In Provence", but with a locavore twist. Anyone who is interested in food, cooking, greening their life, or gardening will enjoy this. It makes one think about all the fuel that is used (wasted) on shipping fresh food around the country/world. It will definitely inspire you to make more concious, deliberate choices when you shop. This is an easy, pleasant read that still manages to make you think. I highly recommend it. Lastly, watch the documentaries I have put in the "also recommended" section. They are alarming, eye opening, and very worthwhile watching.
NJPeg More than 1 year ago
What an inspirational reminder that a farmer exists in all of us if we stop long enough to cultivate our soul. What struck me the deepest was the lack of our government's support of the non-corporate farmer. This summer will bring me to the farm market, canning and freezing of local produce. No vacation planned for August! Thank you Barbara for this gentle reminder of our roots.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Barbara Kingsolver was already one of my favorite authors. Though not a humorist per se, she always incorporates enough humor to balance the hard facts. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has opened my eyes to the American food chain and completely changed my view of food. I am much more thoughtful when making food purchases and am now working to design our own vegetable garden. We've been contemplating a garden for the past couple of years; this book has moved us into action. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is politically charged - in all the right ways. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The good: lots of information for people with a little land and interest in doing some of it for themselves. Also, brings to light some of the dark underbelly of how our food is made (although in my opinion the documentary Food Inc does a better job in two hours). The bad: the guilt. Oh, the guilt. There is one line early on about raspberries in New York in winter, and how she ate them politely, and thought about 'how would she ever explain those seven raspberries to her grandchildren'. Get real. I bet some people will be so discouraged by the heavy-handedness so as to think if they don't change *everything*, they are a failure. There are many take away points that could be presented without the groan factor. Also, the meal plans for each week are for 1 meal a day, not three plus snacks. That part fell VERY short for me. Lastly, neither good nor bad, I do think Kingsolver's financial success made this experiment possible. I'm not financially independent, and so all the suggestions and recommendations in the book are constrained by a budget.