For the first two decades of my life, food wasn’t something to which something I gave much serious consideration. I was guided—as I suspect most young adults are—by taste, convenience, and price. I knew what I liked, where I could get it, and that I could get it for cheap. My lack of interest in what I ate directly paralleled my ignorance and detachment from the landscapes in which I lived. My family moved every few years; I barely got to know a place before we moved again, never bothering to seriously try and set down “roots.”

As a first-year graduate student in the heart of Iowa, I became friends with a number of budding writers and scholars who grew up with an entirely different mindset. Almost all of them were deeply interested in place, the environment, and how body and land are more intrinsically linked than we might otherwise believe. At our cozy shared office one day, one colleague dropped off Kingsolver’s 2007 memoir, a year-long chronicle of her family’s efforts and experiences to raise and grow as much of their food as possible. I didn’t read it until the semester finished, when the freedom of summer allowed me to read, reflect, and honestly think about the text on a page.

Kingsolver is a beautiful writer, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is further proof of this. Scenes chronicling the gradual growth and progress of rhubarb, asparagus, tomatoes, and potatoes are described in poetic rhetoric, detailing such small changes with a clear sense of wonder, awe, and reverence. Beyond these observations and recordings, however, the books is laced with commentary about our contemporary food systems—farming, restaurants, soil management, corporatization, commodification and seed patents—and how alternatives exist, both small and large scale, right before our eyes.

I finished Kingsolver’s book wanting—needing—to both eat differently and think more deeply about how I lived as a part of the natural landscape. Trips to nearby farmer markets, supporting local growers, spending my dollars on organic products, learning to garden, learning to cook—all of these were habits gleaned from her memoir, and behaviors that led to me becoming a more passionate environmental activist over time.

Most of the courses I teach are grounded in environmental concerns—climate change, ocean acidification, soil erosion, drought—and how we write about them. What’s made Kingsolver’s memoir not only a personal favorite, but a classroom jewel as well, is that her book is empowering: my students frequently note in course evaluations that this memoir not only revealed and informed them about the realities underlying their current relationship with food, but also provided them with tangible, pragmatic solutions about how they might incorporate changes. Sometimes, I am self-conscious and wary when talking about what my research and teaching interests concern. I am a late-bloomer with my environmental passions; I didn’t grow up strongly intertwined with a sense of place or spend my formative years actively thinking about issues that bridge human and nonhuman worlds. Kingsolver’s writing, and this memoir in particular, show that it’s never too late to start paying attention, begin learning, or caring about where you live—an inspiring message that’s never more timely and needed than it is today.

– Luke Rodewald (Ph.D. Student)