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    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Final Review

    October 8, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
    {Genesis 1:26-31}

    The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed…Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
    {Genesis 2:8, 15}

    I fully admit that one of the reasons why I romanticize gardening and farming is because the mere idea of such a thing brings forth a sense of First Things. Before there were cities and industries and governments and bureaucracies, before any of these things even entered the human imagination, there was a Garden. Now, of course, it is easy to romanticize The Garden, since it was perfect in every way. Not only was it laid out perfectly because it was conceived by an Imagination beyond fault, but is was also completely void of inconvenient things, like the need to sweat while working in it, or weeds of any kind.

    That came later.

    I find the urge to take hold and grasp these First Things, these simple gifts from God. I have a husband, we now have children, and now we even have a small bit of ground to cultivate.

    Dominion, where man reaches for his rightful place as benevolent ruler of the earth, whether he be a king, or, like us, the simple title-holders of almost half an acre. Man lovingly leads his home and he lovingly works the ground. This is the essence of the Genesis dominion mandate.

    As long as we can forget about the weeds in the way a woman forgets the pains of labor after they are gone, each spring will hold a new planting season.

    It is because of my attraction to gardening and my anticipation for what the spring might hold if our plans are allowed to take form that I was drawn to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.Author Kingsolver made sure to describe the great variety of fruits and vegetables with which the earth abounds. Reading her words encouraged me to do a little research and get creative with our own garden rather than allowing our backyard to become a mirror-image of the modern grocery store. And as I found myself putting purple carrots that look striped when you cut them, blue potatoes containing all the antioxidants of blueberries, and tomatoes that ripen slowly in your pantry just in time for Christmas on my seed list, I marveled at the creativity of our Lord, of the magnitude of His imagination.

    Once upon a time, grocery stores defined food for me, and I thought all carrots were orange, all potatoes brown, and all tomatoes ripe between May and September.

    Kingsolver described the growth of the peanut bush and how it looks so normal to begin with. It grows its leaves and flowers and begins to form its seeds, and then the stems lengthen and make a dash for the ground, digging in and effectually planting its own seeds without the assistance of any other part of nature! I read that part out loud to the children and, again, we all marveled at God’s goodness and agreed that we would have to grow peanuts at least once for the sake of our own amusement.

    It was with wonder that I read through the book, feeding that desire in myself to return to my birthright given to me at the dawn of creation. Yes, dominion doesn’t end in the Garden, it is true enough. The Garden of Eden would have naturally expanded as it was filled with people, and when people multiply, what results is first an immediate family, and then an extended family, and finally villages and towns, and maybe even cities.

    But in the beginning there was a marriage and a garden and a hope for the future: future fruits in the form of children and a harvest worth eating.

    Kingsolver mentions her beliefs in evolution in some of the earliest pages of her work, and it is mentioned throughout, and then again at the end. I wish I could say she is a comrade, seeking the same things for a similar reason, but she really isn’t. I think she is what Francis Schaeffer would have called a cobelligerent, someone with whom I might seek the same ends for completely different reasons.

    In the conclusion of the book, Kingsolver tries to explain her family’s year of growing their own food. She does so in the context of her first discussion with her youngest daughter concerning the origin of all things {emphasis mine}:

    “How did dinosaurs get on the earth, and why did they go away?” was her reasonable starting point.

    [snip] Lily and I talked about the millions and millions of years, the seaweeds and jellyfish and rabbits. I explained how most creatures have many children {some have thousands!} with lots of small differences between them. These specialities–things like quick hiding or slow, picky eating or just shoveling everything in–can make a difference in whether the baby lives to be a grown-up. The ones that survive will have children more like themselves. And so on. The group slowly changes.


    Is it possible to explain the year we had? I can tell you we came to think of ourselves, in the best way, as a family of animals living in our habitat. Does that reveal the meaning of our passage?

    As I work with my children in our garden in the coming years, we will talk of our Lord, of the First Things, of the original occupation given to man, of the responsibility to love what God has made that is inseparable from the work of dominion. We will stand upon the earth knowing that we were born, vitalized might be a better word, by the very life-giving breath of God. Ours is an origin of life, a heritage of life, a work of promoting life by cultivating the ground and taking its fruits into our bodies, and all the while we know that death has not defeated us and there will be life yet.

    Life in the beginning.

    Life in the end, after all.

    But Kingsolver? My soul weeps for her a bit, though I don’t really know her. Here she is, standing on millions of years of death, millions of tiny deaths that made her life possible, and when she dies, death is all that her life will reap. A family of animals living in our habitat? I am sure that, like most people, Kingsolver feels at home in the garden. It’s a natural response to creation, I think. But what hope is there when you are born out of death and all the future holds for you is death on the other end?

    Two dark bookends enclosing a life that leads to naught.

    So this is the end, I think, of my reviews of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. There is a richness of information in this book; I would never tell you not to read it. But if you do, say a prayer for Kingsolver. Unfortunately, even the path in her garden leads to despair.

    Other Posts Concerning Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

    Economics as a Form of Community
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Quote Selection One
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Quote Selection Two
    What to Look For in a Rooster

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  • Reply Julie October 22, 2012 at 3:05 am

    I love your review. I’ve tried to express my thoughts on this book in several conversation with not-like-minded gardeners – we all can agree on the wonder of tomatoes and home-grown food. I, too, was left with an ache for the author and for all the readers who set the book down and only hope for harvests of veggies, not knowing the Lord of the harvest. Well said.

  • Reply Brandy October 9, 2008 at 3:48 am

    Jeana, I loved it when you said that sharing a love for gardens can be a means of connecting with non-believers. I totally agree!

    We’ve talked as a family of the many side-benefits of gardening. For instance, we can give away some of our produce to those who need it. I will have to add your comment to the list!

  • Reply Jeana October 9, 2008 at 2:44 am

    I got so caught up in commenting on the book that I forgot to say how much I loved your post. You absolutely nailed it.

  • Reply Jeana October 9, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I’m reading it right now, at your recommendation. I find myself alternately fascinated and angry with what our “food” system has become (mainly “foods” that aren’t really foods at all!)and why it happened and the laws that protect the system at the cost of the people.

    (I realize that so far I’m not saying anything remotely related to this post.)

    Like you, I found myself in agreement with the author, but for different reasons. I think God gave us a perfectly wonderful food system and we, in our human wisdom, think we can do better. She would substitute “nature”.

    One encouraging thing is that sharing a love for gardens can, perhaps, be a starting ground for building relationships with non-believers.

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