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A year of eating locally in 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle'

This book follows a novelist and her family in an experiment in love – for family, good food, and the planet.

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If you live in North America and cherish the seemingly innocent pleasure of slicing a banana over your cereal in the morning, think twice before picking up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. For afterward that pleasure will never be innocent again.

"Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles," writes Steven L. Hopp, Kingsolver's husband, in the first of a series of sidebars sprinkled throughout her book. "If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil

every week."

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" is the story of how the Kingsolver-Hopp family moved from Tucson, Ariz., to southern Appalachia in a conscious attempt to liberate themselves from industrial food. They would eat only, they decided, what they grew themselves or what was grown by others within 10 miles of their home. They were seeking, Kingsolver writes, "an affinity between people and the land that feeds them."

This may sound like a pretty crunchy read – either a frivolous ecofantasy or an uncomfortable scold aimed at those of us unable or unwilling to raise chickens in our backyards. But rest assured, it's neither.

This is largely an informational book, short on plot, and don't expect any deep insights into the Kingsolver-Hopp family. Yet Kingsolver, author of bestselling novels "Bean Trees" and "Poisonwood Bible," adds enough texture and zest to stir wistful yearnings in all of us who have "lost the soul of cooking from [our] routines." Very sweetly Kingsolver reminds us of "the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven." There is no shortage of that kind of soul in the Kingsolver-Hopp home, and readers will enjoy the vicarious taste of domesticity that comes with descriptions of crusty homemade bread topped with (yes, really) homemade cheese.

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" begins with the family leaving Tucson ("a space station where human sustenance is concerned") and follows them through their first year of life as "locavores" in their new home in Virginia. (Kingsolver's "year" begins, naturally, in the spring when the asparagus blooms.)

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