CDW Reads Animal Vegetable Mineral… Remains Unmoved.

January 20th, 2009

The book, Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, left a bad taste in my mouth. Something about it was off. Too ripe, too green, too moldy, too full of worms… I don’t know, but the book did not agree with me and it has resulted in a churning stomach for the past several days. Maybe my innards just don’t agree with a ‘locovore’ diet. Give me an orange, give me a pineapple, I never realized that eating fruit could do so much harm.

Ultimately I think it is because I simply don’t understand Ms. Kingsolver’s particular brand of lunacy, which quite frankly was not lunatic enough for my own personal tastes. If you are going to go off the deep end and live by an extremely narrow regime that revolves around eating for one entire year, only food that either you or your nearby neighbors produce then by cracky, you oughtta be able to make that experience a lot more interesting than Ms. Kingsolver did.

What makes a challenge, any challenge, interesting for people to read about is the suffering that occurs as a result. Personally, I try to avoid suffering at any cost. But I don’t mind reading about other people suffering… once in a while… maybe… not really.

Here is my definition of suffering…

Suffering – One single solitary second of discomfort.

The Country Doctor would disagree with that definition. His would be more like this.

Suffering – Proof that you are alive.

This is Barbara Kingsolver’s definition of suffering…

Suffering – Let’s not be unreasonable. Who wants another cup of coffee?

Kingsolver was not really willing to suffer for the sake of her ‘art’ in this book. Her family did not give up chocolate, coffee, olive oil, or spices. They ate out occasionally. If an item was really necessary to make a special dish they would purchase it. For instance, they were unable to find a local source for organic whole wheat flour, but they did not give up homemade bread. Just don’t ask for a banana at their house. It will result in a stern lecture in the car on the way to the store. Bananas are shipped on trucks from far away and that uses up gas. Evidently wheat flour, coffee, chocolate and exotic spices all fly to Virginia on the back of carrier pigeons.

The only time I felt the book had any intrinsic charm was when Kingsolver wrote about her chickens and her turkeys. A momentary spark would flicker and flare as she spoke of her birds. Her daughter Lily was the primary poultry farmer in the family and the chapters that revolved around her and her chickens were sweet and fun to read. Then Kingsolver would go right back to reciting depressing farm factoids, speaking of CAFO’s (whatever those are) and her one and only joke – the professional turkey masturbators .

Yes, I just said turkey masturbators on my blog. I have been de-sensitized to the term now that I have read it four hundred times in Kingsolver’s book. Everything else made me feel judged, paranoid, or wishing the book was over already.Oh and also – the book is almost entirely mirthless (except for the solitary turkey joke). Sorry Kingsolver fans, but I have spent far too many joyous hours wrapped inside of a book about one man or one woman or one family, embracing and rejoicing in a back to the land lifestyle . I have read too many wonderful books about people who live the dream of producing their own food, glorying in the natural world, and understanding their dependence on their neighbors and their community in a much more dramatic way. I am speaking of books like Green Mountain Farm by Elliot Merrick and We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich. These books tell with arching beauty the struggle to survive off the land underneath the author’s feet.

Then there are books like Back to the Damn Soil by Mary Gubser and It Takes a Village Idiot by Jim Mullen which celebrate a life lived in the grasp of Mother Nature due to either economic necessity or to quit smoking (ha ha) with wit and humor.

These books mentioned above revel in the non-stop wrestling match of attempting to grow all your own food and they manage to delightfully scissor a story from the unyielding earth, the wily livestock, the crazy neighbors, and the inevitable visits from the green horn city folk.

Barbara Kingsolver does not even use the terms ‘green horn city folk’ in her book. Nor does she mention any crazy neighbors. Did she really live in the country? Or did she just make this whole book up?

Kingsolver is not the first person to attempt to live off a patch of land and subsequently write a book about it. She is just the first person to make that experience excruciatingly boring while at the same time passing judgement on everyone who grows a crop outside of her narrow ideal. (Except for the coffee and the chocolate farmers).

Now, who wants a copy of Animal Vegetable Miracle?



Seriously, lots of people purchased this book. Whether they managed to slog through to the end of it, I don’t know. I have two copies to give away today. It is possible that you will enjoy it far more than I. You could also give it away on your blog, or to someone who you are trying to impress with your ecologically sound choices.

I also have a copy of Elliot Merrick’s book Green Mountain Farm to give away today. Merrick is the author of the adventure classic True North. I have never read True North, nor the subsequent Northern Nurse, which told the story of his wife’s life in Labrador, but I have been utterly swept away several times, by the literary beauty of Green Mountain Farm. This book is everything that Kingsolver’s book is not. Merrick shows.. he doesn’t tell. If his book does not make you want to run to Vermont and buy a derelict, windswept farm just so you can crash through the ice on your cross country skis, when you are not chopping wood, planting a garden or attempting to resurrect a house and barn from scrap lumber, I don’t know what will. Like Merrick himself, this book is layered in lyrical beauty, sparkling with wisdom gained from extreme hardship and crosshatched in wit. Perhaps I should send a copy to Barbara Kingsolver?

This giveaway has come to an end.


  • I tried to read this book, and I made it about to the asparagus harvest. I couldn’t go on. I needed a nap. Not even the looming judgment of my book club peers could force me to finish it.