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Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

July 22, 2011

Teacher Musings:
One of the “genres” of I want my students to practice writing is book reviews.  I haven’t quite figured out how to integrate these book reviews into my classroom, but it is something I aspire to do, and I always want to practice writing what I’m having my students write.  On that note, here is my book review for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver)
I was very excited to finally pick up the copy of this book from the reserve shelf of my local library.  I had heard about the book back when I was in California.  It seemed to be the original bible of the locavores (or wanna-be locavores like me).  I knew it was about Kingsolver’s, and her family’s, quest to eat locally for a year, so I figured it would be an interesting read especially as I was in the midst of cooking from our CSA box.  However, the book was much more engaging than I expected.  As I read I was drawn in by Kingsolvers honest and forthright tone, and I laughed along with her and her family at they figured out what each of their “cheat” food would be for the year.  I was completely enthralled when Kingsolver described the mythical Vegetannual, and her narratives around asparagus, zucchini and fireflies totally drew me in and made me long for that idealized pastoral life.  I really loved and enjoyed about 85% of this book.

But let’s talk about the other 15%.  The chapters that discussed the animals.  While I am impressed by the way this book pushes the reader to question one’s values and ethics around food (we don’t really need to eat tomatoes all year round!)  the Kingsolver/Hopp family never seems to question the ethical implications of eating meat.  When they commit to growing most of what they eat, that seems to “naturally” include ordering laying hens, roosters and turkeys (which arrive in packed crates after being separated from their mother) all for their own consumption.  What bothered me the most was not the fact that the family did this, but the way the Kingsolver and her daughter write about it.  Several times in the book the idea of “humanly” raised animals and the importance of knowing “where your meat comes from” come up.  But the idea that meat is either necessary or a right is never questioned.  While Kingsolver and her family did a fantastic job educating themselves and the rest of us about the true cost of our food, they miss a major and important point when they don’t factor in the cost of animal and human suffering that must happen when they go out to the slaughtering shed.

I have to be honest – there were entire sections of this book that I did not read because they were too difficult for me – the chicken and turkey slaughtering being one of the main ones.  But if they are written as beautifully and humorously as the rest of the book I’m sure they were appealing parts to all those folks who don’t really question meat-eating, or who are looking for an excuse to eat “humanly-raised and slaughtered” animals.  I do think that this is a book that all Americans should read because it is an accessible text (I think more accessible than Omnivores Dilemma) that has a lot to teach us about our relationship with food.  But I hope that others can start to think as critically about meat, dairy and egg consumption as Kingsolver’s family did about their food’s location.  If we could do that, the pastoral and peaceful dairy and the supposedly “humane” killing of birds would seem as ridiculous as buying tomatoes in January.

Feel free to comment with your own book review, or link to one.  I’m always looking for models of writing for my students!  Also, I highly recommend reading the article The Moral Crusade Against Foodies every time you read a book or article that glamorizes “humane” meat or dairy – it provides a healthy balance!

Yummy Stuff:
We continue to be swimming in cucumbers and we also still have some wheatberries.  So, in the name of summer produce, here is another wheatberry salad, this one with some lentils and other goodies thrown in!  This is also great topped with avocado – but what istn’t!

Lentil-Wheatberry Salad
1 cup dry brown/green lentils
1 1/2 cups un-cooked wheatberries
1/4 cup packed fresh minced parsley
1/2 small red onion, minced
2 cucumbers diced
1 large tomato diced
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved

Dressing ingredients:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 TB of fresh mint leaves (this stuff grows really easily. Start some in your backyard today!)
1 TB dried dill
Fresh black pepper to taste

1. Cook the wheatberries but putting them in a pan and adding 3 cups of water.  Bring it to a boil and then cover and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours OR cook in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes.  Drain the wheatberries and set aside.
2) Place the lentils in a medium-sized saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, partially cover, and allow to simmer without agitation for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lentils are tender (but not mushy). Drain and transfer to a large bowl
3) When the lentils and wheatberries are all done, mix them with the rest of the salad ingredients.
4) In a separate bowl or glass, mix the dressing ingredients, and then pour them over the salad and mix well. This is best chilled before serving – or let it live in your fridge and pull out a little for lunch every day!

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