Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Summary

Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Summary

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver begins with a decision to move from Arizona to the Appalachia region. Kingsolver and her husband, Steven, have two daughters: Camille and Lily. They had two homes as well, one in Appalachia and the other in Tucson. Barbara began to feel that they were too much of a drain on the environment with their water consumption needs in Tucson, so they decided to move permanently to their other home in the Appalachia region, which was previously used as their summer vacation home. At the time of their move, Camille was just one year away from starting college and Lily was headed into the third grade.

Even as they were settling into their new lifestyle of permanently living in Appalachia, Barbara and her family made plans to try eating only foods grown locally for an entire year. While they had a multitude of reasons for wanting to try this experiment, the two top reasons for the whole family were that local foods might not only taste better but decrease their negative impact on food consumption. Because they opted to eat only foods they grew, or foods grown by their neighbors, they were bringing food to the table at its freshest, so the Kingsolver family quickly noticed how much better the food tasted.

To better understand the impact following their second reason to eat local foods only, Kingsolver writes about the agricultural industry. Many commercial farms need to use chemicals in their food production. These chemicals are applied as sprays and they not only keep weeds away, but also pests, allowing farmers to have a larger profit margin since they don’t have to throw away as much of their crop.

Additionally, many modern commercial farms use genetically modified seeds to grow food that is resistant to disease. These seeds also produce a higher yield. While these seeds and chemicals allow farmers to produce and sell more food, there have been negative impacts of their use. Not only do the foods taste different, but these chemicals often contain carcinogens. They’re harmful not only to the people and animals who eat the food they produce, but also to the land and water. The Kingsolver family might have elected to simply eat certified organic foods, but the problem there is that organic farms don’t often take into consideration what happened on the land before they began organically farming there. In other words, there could be carcinogenic chemicals in the land and water that can affect even the most well-intentioned organic farmers’ crops.

Another benefit of eating only locally grown foods is that the Kingsolver family was able to decrease their collective carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is one’s quantified impact on the environment and takes into account everything from waste produced to resources consumed. They stopped buying foods that had to be shipped long distances, meaning that they were no longer contributing to the carbon emissions of the vehicles used in that transportation. Food can even have a bigger carbon footprint than other commodities, because it can require refrigeration during transport, which uses more energy. Because processed corn syrup is not only expensive to produce and transport, but also carries a big carbon footprint, the Kingsolver family opted to stop eating and drinking anything that contained that ingredient—including soda.

From there, Kingsolver goes on to discuss the actual farms where food is grown and raised. She’s critical of experts who demand that Americans buy from foreign farmers. These experts insist that the foreign farmers need Americans to support them financially, but Kingsolver argues that this foreign dependence leads the farmer to live a substandard life. Rather, it’s better for the farmer to grow his own food. Kingsolver cites the work of several organizations that are working to implement programs that help foreign farmers become more self-sufficient.

This covers the Kingsolvers’ choices for vegetables and fruits, but they also wished to include changes to their meat consumption. For a long time, they hadn’t bought commercially-produced meat because they disapproved of the deplorable treatment of animals raised for consumption. When they returned to buying meat, it was only from local farmers. They also raised some of their own animals. That way, they knew that the animals not only were treated with kindness, but also were not subjected to the kinds of chemicals and substandard foods offered by many commercial farmers. The only difficulty was in slaughtering the animals they raised, but they managed to do so as needed.

At the end of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver stresses the idea that people can make a difference without going to the extreme measures with which they experimented in their family. Kingsolver compares these changes to someone who goes from not exercising to making the decision to exercise three times a week. They don’t have to go from no exercise to seven days of exercise each week to make a difference. Finally, Kingsolver provides suggestions for how families can reduce their carbon footprint to help preserve the planet.