Review of Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon (Harmony Books, 2007)
This is where the whole 100 mile diet movement got off the ground. Aghast at the distances that supermarket food has to travel, and the waste of oil that goes into such insanities as shipping tomatoes from Ecuador to the U.S. at the same time that the U.S. is exporting tomatoes, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon made a rash vow: that for an entire year, they would eat only food that was grown or caught within a 100 mile radius of their home in Vancouver, B.C.
For a young couple living in a tiny efficiency apartment in the middle of a city, with only a 10 foot by 3 foot garden allotment a short drive away, unplugging from the industrial food system meant long drives in the country in search of food -- at times, any food at all. Their odyssey began in March, the time of year when most fresh foods are out of season and even the cold-storage root crops are beginning to show signs of their age. Potatoes and onions are fine for one meal, but as the authors soon discovered, a steady diet of little else can drive one mad. Fortunately the farmer's markets opened in May, bringing a steady stream of fresh produce for immediate eating and for preservation.
Throughout their culinary journey, the authors reexamine their relationship with food, and even with each other. They expose their mistakes as well as their successes, and draw colorful portraits of the farmers, fishermen, and other characters they met as they discovered just what eating locally means, and how removed we of Western culture have become from our own food.
The one hazard of this book is that it may leave readers with the feeling that this is all too hard. A rash of articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post have all insinuated that eating entirely locally just isn't practical, or is even impossible in today's global market, regardless of how wasteful and unsustainable the industrial food system has become. True, going cold turkey may be an excessive burden for most of us working stiffs who don't have time for tooling around the countryside week after week in search of direct-market farms.
But how hard does it really have to be?
Article writers approach the issue as though it's an either-or proposition: either we eat only locally or we just keep eating the way we are. Hmm, let me see, work very hard to eat locally, or just keep on doing what I'm already doing. Which would I choose? But those aren't our only options. The 100 Mile Diet website suggests starting small. The leap-in-with-both-feet approach is overwhelming, so why not stick a toe in first? Start with one meal, made entirely from local produce. Or one meal a week. Or some chosen percentage of the contents of your grocery cart.
Or start a garden and grow some of the food yourself, your rebel you. You can't get much more local than that.
There are no rules. If each of us does what we can, it will make a difference.