Review: Vivien Horler
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Our year of seasonal eating, by Barbara Kingsolver (faber and faber)
We’re descended from a long line of Cornish tin miners, with not a farmer among us, so the fact my nephew Shaun is now living and working on an ostrich farm near Oudtshoorn is something of a novelty.
We were talking about sustainable farming and good practice and I mentioned Barbara Kingsolver’s book, first published in 2007. Best known for her bestseller novel, The Poisonwood Bible, she has written a non-fiction account of a year in the life of her family on a small farm in Virginia in the US.
The premise was that, for a year, the family would eat only in-season food that came from a 100-mile (160km) radius of their farm, although each was allowed a regular treat, like coffee and chocolate and spices. (We’re spoilt in Cape Town – all sorts of meat, fish, veggies, fruit, olives and olive oil, dairy, wine, beer and rooibos – fall within the limit.)
I read it years ago and enjoyed it enormously. Around the same time I was sent Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home, a collection of brilliant recipes inspired by what he was growing in his vegetable patch, and the two books complemented each other beautifully.
I resolved to buy the Kingsolver book for Shaun’s birthday – I had to order it – and it arrived this week. I read the first chapter, carefully so as not to break the spine, and then the second. One of the (tiny) drawbacks of being a book reviewer is that if you give someone a book they assume you got it for free. And sometimes this is true – I do pass on books to people I think they will enjoy, but only after I’ve “paid” for them in the form of a book review.
When I got to chapter three I decided to dig out my own old copy of Kingsolver’s book so Shaun’s copy didn’t look too lop-eared when I passed it on.
And it’s just as good as I remembered. Look, it’s a bit preachy, but it’s truly interesting. Kingsolver quotes some terrifying statistics about feedlot farming and antibiotics, the US promotion of corn syrup which is in just about everything, the epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes, and fast foods.
She also goes into a lot of detail about growing your own food, or at least buying food from farmers in your community. This helps them stay on the land, and helps us maintain an important lifestyle a long way from industrial farming. It also means we know where our food is from.
She is fulsome about farmers’ markets, which are increasingly popular here.
But the book is not just a sermon – it is a celebration of a way of life, of people getting together over the dinner table with good food, honestly grown, of experimentation and hope.
I have been delighted to read it again.