Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

I happened to pick up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as some light beach reading when I was in Florida last month.  It was a good book, I enjoyed it. But I was also frustrated by it.

The book is a non-fiction account of how Kingsolver's family moves from Arizona to an old tobacco farm in rural Virginia and decides to eat only what they can grow themselves, or purchase and barter locally.  It's a noble experiment and one that I support. However, I felt like Kingsolver made the whole enterprise seem just a bit too neat and easily done. There's no struggle, just thousands of pounds of joyfully harvested summer tomatoes instantly turned into cans with a quick, amusing anecdote.

She tiptoes around the edges of what it means to give up eating from the grocery store. A casual mention of a lack of bananas here, a mournful plea from a daughter for fresh fruit in a snowstorm here. But none of these ever really touch on what it might really mean to give up the convenience of just buying whatever's on the shelf at the grocery store. The closest we get to really seeing a struggle is when the author and her youngest daughter spar briefly over the necessity of slaughtering the occasional rooster from the flock of chickens in the yard.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with writing something to inspire people to go outside and get some dirt under their nails. I keep a small herb garden in my yard, which I harvest from frequently. But I'm not a freelance writer who works from home. I don't have a small child I can cozen into helping me spread mulch. (I do have a husband, but he sort of melts when left in the sun too long.) I don't live in a farming area. I'd really like to see a more nuanced portrayal of what its like to live off the grid in the 21st century, rather than essays about the joys of making your own cheese.

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