100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B.
Today we have the pleasure to bring you
a guest review written by John Miemeda, who
writes the excellent blog Slow
Reading. John generously allowed us to reprint
his review of The 100-Mile Diet to our Monday's green books
series. The review was originally published on Slow Reading
on Dec 12, 2007.
Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon (2007).
100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. Vintage.
It was the kind of meal that, when
the plates were clean, led some to dark corners to sleep with
the hushing of the wind, and others to drink mulled wine until
our voices had climbed an octave and finally deepened, in
the small hours, into whispers. (pg. 3)
The 100-Mile Diet begins in a cottage with no light, fridge,
car or hot water; the kind of place I dream of when too immersed
in the hectic daily business of life. Most of us would starve
out there, or so we believe. After an inspired meal gathered
only from the wild, Alisa and James launched a year-long diet
of food only found within 100 miles of their home. They found
themselves returning from their cottage not starving, but
with armfuls more food than they arrived with.
Why would anyone limit themselves to eating locally? How
does that help anyone? Doesn’t it deprive third-world
farmers and truckers of their livelihoods? There are a number
of persuasive reasons. Local foods have fewer pesticides and
more nutrition. Seasonal variety is good for developing immunity.
Unprocessed foods represent a real solution to the obesity
problem. Distant foods are only affordable through cheap oil,
arguably enforced politically.
Sparing the miles reduces the carbon emissions that cause
global warming. And about those third-world farmers: when
the 1994 free trade agreement was signed, subsidized corn
from America overwhelmed Mexico’s two million small
farmers and their 5000 varieties of corn. The collapse of
a local industry due to economic deals (or a train derailment
spilling ten thousand gallons of caustic soda into the river
and killing half a million fish) is merely one disaster in
a global economy in which we can always go elsewhere. In a
local economy, we are reminded that such events are a catastrophe.
Works for me. But how does one go about eating locally? And
can it be done without a “depression style diet of beets,
cabbage and potatoes” (pg. 24)? Alisa and James started
simply, eating seasonally from the farmer’s markets.
It is not tough to find these in your area, e.g., Ontario.
They sensibly used up supplies like salt that were already
in their cupboards, but when they ran out they improvised,
e.g., refining salt from the ocean. They used honey instead
of sugar; I have got to get me some of that pumpkin honey.
The great revelation from local eating is the immense variety
of tastes that can be found. It reminds me of my half-dozen
batches of home-brewing I did a couple years ago. I started
with simple recipes but then discovered real flavour by adding
freshly rolled grains and hops.
I went grocery shopping when I was reading their book. I
read the source of each product on its label. Local apple
juice replaced California grapefruit juice, and blueberries
replaced my sultan raisins from Iran. I had no idea that carbonated
water came all the way from Italy or Germany; dropped that.
I have not replaced coffee yet but I am thinking about herbal
tea. I am sure olive oil can be exchanged for a healthy local
vegetable oil. And local vegetables frozen when fresh are
always a good choice.
Turning over a local leaf can get quite philosophical. Their
diet was not vegetarian, and this raised the question of whether
the animals had been fed locally. They lived near the US border;
should they break the law by taking local foods across it?
Inevitably, you have to ask yourself if you are doing this
because you believe the world is falling apart. When Alisa
and James were shucking corn in their apartment they felt
like part of some apocalyptic cult. While it is hard not to
wonder at times if our fast global culture can sustain itself,
I have to count myself with them among the non-believers.
Instead, I see progress as something that is not always linear;
sometimes we have to take a few steps back to pick up something
we missed. A few weeks ago I read an objection to slow food
on the grounds that women would likely have to do most of
the work (see comments in this Metafilter
post). Both Alisa and James worked hard, but James did most
of the cooking. Perhaps we had to step away from slow food
for awhile to advance women’s rights, but now may be
a time to return to it for our health and that of the planet.
Alisa and James are journalists by trade but they sure know
how to have fun with language; they “scuffed over to
the farmer’s stand” (pg. 53) and ate strawberries
“superlatively sun-sweetened to the brink of sweet booziness”
(pg. 54). The edge in their relationship was of no more interest
to me than it appeared to be to James as they alternated narration
by chapter; I wondered if Alisa was simply missing some nutrient
in her diet. I much preferred the drama of their quest for
wheat: the disappointment at the ruined bag, the discovery
that wheat had been grown locally in 1890, and Alisa’s
delight when she declared, “I found a wheat farmer”
(pg. 184). With a little effort, everything was possible.
Website: 100 Mile Diet:
Local Eating for Global Change
Stories: A Year of Reading Locally
Food/Information, Part I
book review was originally posted on Eco-Libris blog.
Eco-Libris green books page