Books, Food & Dining

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L Hopp and Camille Kingsolver)If there’s one book you read this year, make sure it’s this one.

It took me a month of Sundays to finish on account of the detailed content, (and reading another book in between) but wow, was it worth it! I came away inspired, informed and far more aware of the adage, ‘you are what you eat’.

American author, Barbara Kingsolver, best known for her fiction titles, The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees – (two of 12 published works), tells the story of her family’s year-long sojourn – their challenge to only eat food produced on their 100-year-old farm or sourced from the area.

 In her words, “this is the story…of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place we worked, went to school, loved our neighbours, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

It gives fascinating, and sometimes shocking insight into the American food industry often monopolised by huge corporates. While her husband, Steven, an environmental studies expert interjects her story with informative theory, facts and figures, her daughter, Camille offers insight from a student’s perspective – providing family favourite recipes at the end of her chapters. I tried the zucchini choc chip cookies which looked somewhat suspicious with their green bits but were surprisingly well received.

What does come across in the book, is that living off the land is not all romance – it takes perseverance and pure hard work. A bountiful crop has to first be planted – and then harvested. Excess produce has to be frozen, bottled or roasted, roosters have to be culled and turkeys killed for Thanksgiving … not for the faint hearted.

There are some charming life lessons learnt along the way, for example the adorable sounding Lilly’s foray into the egg business – working out profit, expenditure and losses – how to market her product and reap the rewards.

There is triumph when Barbara’s carefully raised Heirloom Bourbon Red turkeys learn the art of procreation and how to sit on eggs. Shocking to learn that battery raised turkeys are unable to procreate and have to be artificially inseminated so fat and listless do they become.

With her artful prose, clever humour and ability to tell a really good story, Barbara captures her reader from the start. While we can’t all live on a 100-year-old farm, we can still make informed choices. I came away inspired to grow a veggie or two, support local farmers’ markets, check labels and know what’s seasonal before forking out money for Californian oranges in January.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is published by HarperCollins

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Lois Nicholls is an Australian freelance journalist. She is also the author of "Aussie, Actually," which captures her heartfelt experiences as a South African migrant living in Australia. Her second book, "Bye-bye Bikini", published in August 2018, is a series of frank and humorous essays navigating everyday life from the perspective of a fifty-something former newspaper and magazine journalist. Her first children's book, "What Dog is That?" available in hardcopy from was published in May 2019. Her books on Amazon: