MacKinnon, J.B., Smith A. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet: a year of local eating. Vintage Canada, Toronto, Ontario.
The first half of this year long journey introduces a young couple from downtown Vancouver. Alisa and James, two adventurous authors, are visiting their isolated cabin in Northern British Columbia when they are forced to forage for a final meal before returning home. A week later, while reading a disturbing news story from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University on the distance food travels from farm to plate, James was reminded of this meal. Inspired, he comes up with the idea of the 100-mile diet; to eat, for an entire year, only foods grown or raised within 100 miles of their small apartment in Vancouver.
Each chapter of the book breaks down monthly what foods they ate and where those foods are from. There is a consistent struggle of seasonal change and the need for greater knowledge for the foods they eat.
I am appreciative of the way the book is written one step at time with each author taking turns after the other. It is easy to get know Alisa and James on (what feels like) a personal level just from how they write and relay their story. The characters are what change the book from a regurgitation of events to a story. I’m not just talking about the characters of Alisa and James. In fact, I am not even sure I considered either of the authors as a character at all. Every food item is discussed in detail until it becomes of characteristic importance. Alisa’s mother and grandma or James’ friends join along. The farmer or fisherman who grew or harvested the food is introduced with appreciation and on a first name bases with background life stories and family history. The authors take it to the next level and by the end of the chapter you know who in history brought the food to Canada or who decided to grow it in what ways and how it’s use has changed over the years. Readers are introduced to characters who haven’t been around for hundreds of years. The way the writing connects the characters is portraying the way the land and food and people are all connected. After reading you feel uplifted, happy and inspired.
The descriptive writing is fabulous; so engaging that it feels like you were on every trip with them, right down to picking strawberries in Westham Island (this was my particularly favourite foraging adventure) or digging for camas with James in a forest meadow. Even a bike ride to the University of British Columbia (uphill) for eggs is exciting. I was hoping to include some examples of specific descriptive lines, However I am not sure how to cite them using a “Kobo” so I will have to figure that out and maybe include some in a later post.
This book is close to home for me, well in two ways, since I live not far out of this 100-mile radius and because I am not a stranger to eating close to home. I thought that it was great how Alisa and James not only bought local, but also put in an effort to go and grow food for themselves or collect food themselves. They sometimes visited farmers markets and sometimes visited the actual farms and talked to the farmers. The book does make eating local and obtaining all this knowledge sound extremely expensive and time consuming, which I am sure is true for living in the center of Vancouver. However, I think that perhaps if it would be dependent on location, especially if you were able to grow more foods at home. Many friends and family members of mine are local farmers in the B.C. interior and struggle to get enough profit to keep going. This seems ridiculous when you think about how much of the same foods the local people eat every day, purchased from a grocery store that gets the food shipped from miles away in the unknown. I know where I would rather get my food from. There is nothing more satisfying than eating food that you, yourself put genuine effort into. It even seems to taste better. My mom grows a small garden in her backyard each summer, not very big at all mainly consisting of tomatoes, squashes carrots and herbs. Every vegetable that’s picked usually gets left on the kitchen counter for a week for praise and appreciation before its used for anything. She is just too excited that she grew it herself to cut up the poor thing.
One line that stands out to me in “July” was in reference to historic Canada and the pioneers of the New world, “our forebears simply and immediately began to recreate the food culture of Europe.” European settlers overlooked the natives unique food sources customs and brought over there own. My parents are from England and therefore my family eats off a pretty consistent British menu. This note on history got me thinking of what items I consider local and what historically is local to this country, Canada. It even got me wondering if it even mattered what foods were from where, just where they are grown. I am still not too sure what I think. Mostly this line has me wondering what types of plants are still growing local that no one uses. Something new! (or old?).
James brings up the question of “boredom” in the month of July. All the variety of foods that are possible in just a small scale of land is incredible. It really makes you admire the earth and its great ability to produce life. I agree with James in saying that no, it is not boring in the least and I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring James and Alisa.