42 pages 1 hour read

Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2007

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007) is, on its surface, a memoir detailing a year in the life of one family, told through an account of their food. However, it is also at times a manifesto and frequently veers into academic exploration of themes like sustainability and the current state of farming in the US. Author Barbara Kingsolver sets out to chronicle a year in her family’s food life when they undertake an experiment: to “attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew […] our highest shopping goal was to get our food from so close to home, we’d know the person who grew it. Often that turned out to be us” (10).

 

Kingsolver’s family undertakes this experiment out of a growing concern for the planet and the massive fuel waste and pollution that results from the current food industry. Additional concerns, such as the relative health concerns associated with processed foods and the inhumane treatment of conventionally farmed animals, contribute to this decision. Notably, the entire family agrees to take on this challenge, and all contribute to the growing and preparing of food throughout the year.

 

Barbara Kingsolver wrote most of the book herself, but her husband, Steven L. Hopp, and elder daughter, Camille, also contribute essays throughout. In this way, the book, like the central experiment in eating local, is a family affair.

 

As the year wears on, the family confronts challenges—like if they can find any fruit in winter—but also find that some of the problems they expect do not happen. For example, January and February, the “hungry months,” are not in fact hungry; there is still plenty of food around.

 

In each chapter, Kingsolver uses stories of her family’s experiences to explore larger cultural issues that have led them to conduct the experiment in the first place. For example, she shows the difficult transition and change in mindset required to eat local to reveal how much waste the current food industry contributes to, as the year-round transport of food is a global phenomenon.

 

Ultimately, the family’s purpose in writing the book is to educate their primarily American audience about the state of food culture. More than this, they mean to inspire change and lead the way by including a kind of roadmap for others to follow, even those who do not live on their own farm as they do. Recipes, easy produce guides, and numerous tips and tricks make the book both memoir and manual for future locavores.

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