Plants and People: The 100-Mile Diet (part I)

Smith, A. D., & MacKinnon, J. B. (2007). The 100-mile diet: A year of local eating. Toronto: Random House Canada.

The 100-Mile Diet is a book co-written by couple Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon as they narrate their attempt to eat locally-grown food within a hundred mile radius of Vancouver BC. They begin their journey in March, and write month by month the challenges they face, as well as their successes. The intention of their project aims at facing the issues of the global food systems, and attempts to show a possible alternative. But when contrasting a typical pantry, with one stocked locally, it is likecomparing apples and oranges. Alisa and James write to a broad audience, and incorporate shocking statistics that aim at striking a chord with the readers, and to promote change in the current state of eating habits.

In the first half of James and Alisa’s recollection, they explain the reasoning for attempting their year-long local-eating experiment with a radius of only 100 miles from the core of Vancouver. Right off the bat, this eliminates a massive amount of food products. Large grocery store, with the delights of foreign foods, were now off the table so to speak.

Being an East Vancouver native myself, I instantly connected to the challenge of eating locally in the buzzing metropolis of a port city. I grew up just a 15 minute bike ride from the Trout Lake Farmers Market, and have fond memories as a child being given fresh berries from farmers, honey tasters from apiarist, and of course fresh cheese straight from the gulf islands. And as I continue to read, it turns out that farmers markets become the bread and butter of the duo’s shopping ritual. As a child, food security was never an issue, but as an adult I understand that living on a local diet in Vancouver is impossible for many. As James and Alisa find out with their first local meal, the price of local good can me astronomical. But as the pair acquire a taste for the local diet, they find ways to reduce cost.

Although the quality local food they were finding was often literally the cream of the crop, they also faced food-sourcing challenges. As their project continues, it turns out that perhaps they have managed to bite off more than they can chew. Many items, such as salt and grain are hard to find within the Fraser Valley and surrounding area. And when potatoes, an all year staple, is not longer their cup of tea, they are faced with the challenge of creativity. How to use the ingredients available to them to create interesting and fulfilling meals. James, who does the bulk of the cooking between the two, proves that it is truly possible for the to have their cake and eat it too, by making innovative meals with the food they can source locally. They become very connected to the food they eat, and can really enjoy the fruits of their labour.

As I stew over the prospect of only eating local food, I find myself thinking about all the forbidden fruit: a hot coffee in the morning, a fresh mango, a vibrant avocado… Although many of us would be a hard nut to crack to give up our favourite foreign foods, James and Alisa find new favourites growing right in their (100-mile) back yard. Although they seems to have a lot on their plate throughout their project, the fact that they make it through the first 6 months without ‘accidentally’ having a papaya, for example, is a feat in and of itself.

I look forward to the second half of their adventure


Introspective Nomad


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