Posted by: Kate | April 2, 2012

Book Review: Chicken Poop for the Soul

A return to the land is a common theme these days amongst over-worked and rushed urbanites and suburbanites. A genuine desire to re-connect with nature, to grow our own food, to slow down. Kristeva Dowling, the author of Chicken Poop for the Soul, writes about doing these very things. Her book is not a how-to, it is a very personal story about one person’s determination to stand on her own.

Similar in vein to the book I reviewed last year, The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball, this story is laced with humour and mishap. There the comparisons end, however, as these are two very different women with two very different stories.

Kristeva’s journey begins in a place not commonly thought of as ideal for agriculture – Bella Coola in the Bella Coola Valley. The area is steeped in history, and Kristeva plays on some of this in her book. She clearly outlines how and why she begins homesteading and is very honest the trials and successes. Along the way she dabbles in hunting and gathering, as well as cheese-making, animal raising and gardening.

Perhaps for me that was the biggest issue with the book – there was too much in too many places. The book doesn’t follow chronological order, it is a series of memories and stories. I never quite felt a connection with Kristeva, although I was very interested in her journey and what she did to get her farm working. Somehow the book didn’t quite reach my soul, and that was too bad.

The best part, for me, was the discussion on living close to the wild, as so many on the west coast do. I thought her words were well chosen and thought-provoking, and are questions that are going to have to be answered at some point by the governing bodies. Also her discussion on food safety regulations, and what that does to small communities who want to grow or raise their own food and sell the excess to the neighbours. Canada’s food safety rules are incredibly stringent, and they have been putting many small farms out of the farm-gate sales business, especially meat producers. Her comments and knowledge in this area were very insightful.

“When the costs of running a slaughterhouse are basically the same whether it is a small plant or a large one, it doesn’t make sense to operate a small, custom plant. At the same time, many of the smaller slaughterhouses, which traditionally did the majority of the custom and special work, as closing down or have already closed as they simply cannot afford to install the stainless steel equipment, high-end stun guns, saws and knives required to meet the new standards or such niceties as a separate office and bathroom for the meat inspector….”

“The most disquieting aspect of all this new legislation is that just because meat has been inspected by the government doesn’t mean it is safe.”

Perhaps that is the crux of how I felt about this book. When she was dealing with controversial topics, or how-to topics, she was very good and interesting. But telling her own story I felt she had a slight disconnect, like she was holding me at arm’s length even while sharing, although I enjoyed her knowledge and experience. That may be her writing style, but as the book talks about Soul, I was expecting more of an emotional connection.

All in all, a good read if you are someone who is interested in food sovereignty, especially if you are Canadian.



  1. I love your book reviews! Though this one didn’t exactly ‘blow the wind up your skirt’, I’m sure you gleaned a bit of info from her book, even if it wasn’t soulful.

    btw – did I tell you I read “Clara and Mr. Tiffany”, Susan Vreeland? I LOVED it! Now I’m paying more attention to Tiffany lamps, et al. Thx, Kate!

  2. Good review. I have never gotten around to “Food Inc” but everyone urges me to do so…your mention of slaughterhouses reminded me.

    Knit soon? I miss you!

  3. Hmmm…Your review leaves me torn as to whether or not to read this. I think I will see if the library has it. From your description she has touched on some of the food issues I feel strongly about. Thanks for the review!

  4. I can appreciate that you didn’t connect with the writer…which is too bad because it seems like at least at the concept level, it was a good book. I’m adding it to the list for the future…

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