MacKinnon, J.B., Smith A. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet: a year of local eating. Vintage Canada, Toronto, Ontario.
September and October were inspirational months. I would call them an inspired transition in the emotional undertone of the 100-mile diet. Before now, the cost of everything was frequently mentioned. The struggle to find foods in seasons stood rooted; however, the complaining that had before subtly edged it’s way into both authors notes slowly disappeared. Perhaps it was the time spent in Doreen at the cabin; time spent away can always be inspirational, but I think it was something more than that. It is said best during September on a visit to Hebda, an evolutionist and a rare paleoecologist. I might add that the picture painted of our part of the world as what it was or could be in this chapter is beyond extravagant.
Evolution has been sped up when it comes to humans and everything we get involved in. We have evolved these new “dominant freak” adaptations. For example “…the notion that everything can be valued in terms of money rather than the fundamental natural processes that actually keep us alive. The good news is this: it is only an idea.” To me, this thought changes everything. Society likes to lay everything out on the table in simple terms. There are unspoken rules and ways of life. I’m sure all of us at some point day dream about the road not taken, but for many, including myself, it is hard to stray from the set schedule of “life.” Thinking of these unspoken rules as ideas means that they can be changed by only the alteration of a simple thought. In other words, try a new idea. Interestingly enough that September sentence, highlighting the “idea” of money, is the topic sentence to the remainder of a story that never mentions money at all.
October wasn’t any less valuable. Making jam seems a messy but satisfying process and every year I say I am going to attempt it, but I never do. My aunt passed away this year leaving me some jewelry, a few books, and endless boxes of canning jars. I now see the jars differently, like one of those insurance TV adds: aunties old diamond ring – $1000, aunties gold bracelet with matching earrings – $500, jamming jars – priceless! The hunter-gatherers of way back when may have only worked a few hours a week. My first question to this is well what would they have done with the other 166 hours of the week. I highly doubt the “idea” of boredom was invented by our hunter-gatherer forefathers (Sorry, yes the “idea” thing is sticking with me). What Alisa discovers is that even something so time consuming as jamming is not work “It was living.” So what do I think the old age gathers did with that left over 166 hours; they lived. They probably prepared food and socialized with family and friends while doing so, and took their time eating to appreciate it. I think somewhere in October this life acknowledging preparation is equalized in time to the amount of time it would take to drive to a grocery store and fill a cart and drive home. I remember when I read this thinking sadly to myself about the family I used to nanny for. The mother I worked for would make me order all the groceries online, going to the grocery store was a waste of time if you could easily order with the click of a button. That family was very rich. It was in the Chelsea area of London, England and both parents were busy in some way or another (still don’t know what they did) and money was not a problem. “a “poor” person was someone who never troubled to catch his own salmon, but was instead content to eat food produced by others..we are nearly all poor.”
When it came to the writing styles of the two authors, I began to relate to Alisa a little more than James, mostly because she reminded me of myself. When James says to her “you don’t have anything but inner workings!” I could clearly hear my boyfriends voice saying those words to me while rolling his eyes, but trying to remain serious in an I’ll pretend to care sort of way. The entire following paragraph, “Did he really want to know?…” sums up my thoughts almost daily; being in love is hard. Alisa easily strays from her facts and story of 100-mile diet to incorporate real feelings. This made the diet that much more real to me and I would like to thank her for that. This was not just some dietitian or hippy dippy type saying “eat like me,” or “just eat natural, it’s easy!” This was a real person who wasn’t overly thrilled having to spend hours on end preparing corn for freezing because it means being stuck in a room with someone with whom you’ve exhausted all areas of conversation. The struggle is real sometimes, I totally get it.
The winter brought some unavoidable signs of depression, a feeling that I’m not at all stranger to. In December, Alisa notices that James isn’t really himself and admits “my mood had proved contagious.” Moods do rub off on those around you. There may have been depressing, darker moments in the second half of the 100-mile diet, but I do not think any of them have to do with food. Food has this way of bringing people closer together. The ever so likable Ruben comes over for New Years: “a night making food with friends will always be a more worthwhile experience than say, watching a blockbuster movie.” Oh how true this is. When I think about the people in my life who I am close to, and the ones who bring good memories, the people I think of usually come to mind with memories of food or at least sharing a good meal. Last winter my boyfriend and I went to his friends cabin for the weekend. His friend had a new girlfriend so the goal was to bond over the weekend, but going to a remote location with no immediate exit with people you have never met before can make a quite cabin in the woods that much more silent.The cabin definitely was remote, we had to snowshoe in for about an hour and then once there electricity and water had to be used wisely. It was winter, so outdoor activity was limited. The first night we watched Little Rascals, a classic coat hanger-to-the-mouth kind of movie, and it broke some of the immediate tension. The next day however was a different story. Fire wood got collected, mouse-traps were set, water was boiled, coffee brewed (many times) and small talk was made. I can’t remember who had the idea to make dinner as a group, but we ended separating the dinner prep that night into small projects that each couple could work on together and then combine with the other couples’ later. I have never got to know two people in such a short time. Once you get prepping, conversation starts to spill and who knows where it will take you. Food brought us together, not the eating part, although that was great too, but the preparing and the enjoying working together. Since that weekend, we probably only see that couple once or twice a year, but I feel closer to them somehow than any of our other friends we see every day.
Ok, so I lied when I said that money is never mentioned again. At the end of January, James say that they “could pull the grocery budget out of the bowl that held our spare change.” Which I think is how it should be. James and Alisa began to settle in to a life that could be sustained by a community and self provisioning. By using sentences like “we were holing up,” I think James may be slightly aware of the fact that this means closing off a lot of the world. As people, we have worked so hard to become cultural explorers and globe trotters of the world. Merging our food and our cultures and being able to share that from country to country seems to be something great we’ve accomplished, and it is, but it is so easy to look past what impacts that might have on community. “WHY BOTHER” was what James said at a dinner with some food critics who couldn’t find a local wine that fit with a certain food. Why bother finding local if we can access one easily from somewhere else. The best part of the 100-mile diet, to me, is the new “idea” that what we grow now isn’t the extent of possibilities. Sharing with somewhere else is great, but we can get seeds from elsewhere and grow them local. Strengthening at community level is so important. Obviously not everything can be grown everywhere, but as we read in this book, what can be grown in one field is much more diverse than we think.
Do I think James and Alisa went back to eating the way they did before the 100-mile diet? Absolutely not. Some habitats are unavoidable for sure, but the new habits they created during this experiment are no doubt going to be addictive. I can not wait to try all of the recipes in the book (thanks for those James and Alisa by the way), although I think I’ll skip separating wheat berries from chaff anytime soon. I really hope this book is read by many and enjoyed just as much by all as it was by me.
Month to month was inspiration planted in the soil of 100 inspirational miles:)