Think Globally, Eat Locally
Dec 11, 2007 08:05PM
Two years ago, two journalists from Vancouver set out on an eating adventure that would change their lives and launch a movement. Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon spent an entire year consuming only foods that were grown and harvested within 100 miles of their home. They created a blog to chronicle their efforts, and that blog became the book
Plenty: One Man, and One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, soon to be released in paperback as The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating.
The book details the couple’s adventures in finding locally produced vegetables, fish, meat and honey while describing the agricultural and cultural history of British Columbia. Smith and MacKinnon also write about the ecological and gastronomic benefits of eating locally, amid stories of frustrations, revelations and insights gleaned in their self-imposed 100-mile marketplace. Not surprisingly, the pair developed a greater sense of community with their neighbors and local food producers, and greater respect for the land and waters that were feeding them.
Today the couple shares their story as public speakers. Their talks continue to inspire thousands to transform their food buying habits and support local farmers and food suppliers. Apartment dwellers at the onset of this grand experiment, Smith and MacKinnon now own a home where they grow a healthy portion of their produce. So we asked:
Q. What were your expectations at the start of your year-long local eating experiment?
A. We saw it as an environmental experiment. And we did prove without a doubt that eating locally cuts down on the use of fossil fuels. But our main focus quickly became the special relationships formed along the way. By the end of the year we were thinking, “Do we continue to eat locally or revert to the global supermarket?” In the end, our decision to continue a predominantly local diet hinged on our relationships with the farmers, fishermen, nut growers, apiculturalists [beekeepers] and others who provided our food. Another significant and unexpected influence was a fresh sense of place that stemmed from the deep and meaningful connections we forged with the land that lay within 100 miles of our home.
Q. Few folks will go to such extremes. Is there a compromise?
A. There’s no need to jump in whole hog. Start small, enjoy the experience, learn what foods are available and get comfortable with a local menu. The first step is simply to determine natural 100-mile boundaries and explore the place in which you live. Next you might decide that all potatoes or all corn will come only from within a 100-mile radius. Find some local farms. Pick strawberries or blueberries and have fun making jam with family and friends. The adventure gets better if a group participates. Take, for instance, the Powell River experiment in British Columbia, which formed after our book came out. In just five weeks, 500 citizens among 13,000 had changed the entire community’s perspective on how it could sustain itself. Residents discovered ways to reshape their community by choosing to spend their food dollars differently. Now local farmers are planting new and different varieties of food because they know they will have bigger demand. As an added bonus, fewer kids have to leave town to look for work now.
Q. What are some of the most significant lessons?
A. We learned that we have an insane food system totally based on cheap oil, and that foods grown locally are more delicious. Hands down, the quality of local food is higher than what is grown in the industrial food system. We discovered that living through the seasons in pursuit of food is a reality check. That year we had the coldest, wettest spring, so the asparagus crop failed. Then there was a train accident with a chemical spill that killed all the fish for 90 miles. The salmon we had planned to can for winter was gone. We felt these things deeply. And we’re sad that most people are liberated from feeling the consequences of such impacts on the environment.
Our empathy for farmers has grown as we realize what they go through to supply our food. Most important, we’ve learned that eating locally helps people to develop a sense of themselves as ecological beings sustained by the landscape we live in. We are a part of the natural world that is still absolutely essential to keeping us alive. Unfortunately, most people forget this.
Q. How does shopping locally for food give people a sense of place?
A. People can become a crucial part of the story of a family’s food. So that when individuals sit down to a local meal, they’re not just thinking about what’s on their plate. For example, now when we eat we recall all the different places and people that helped put that food on our plate. We’re envisioning the potato farmer we visited. We talk about our trip to his farm.
On a recent book tour we stopped at a farmers’ market in Boulder, Colorado, to buy a variety of beans we’d never eaten before. The grower told us how the beans first came to Colorado with Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears. We brought some home and planted them in our garden. Every-thing that lands on our plate now has a story attached to it, and those stories enrich our lives as well as our diet.
We guarantee that eating local food will make anyone fall more in love with the place where they live. They’ll develop an appreciation for the history, the people that contribute to the landscape, what the landscape can provide and how earlier native peoples ate. It deepens the whole experience. Without trying, they’ll also gain a sense of connectedness with the community around them. Then, when decisions must be made about residential or commercial development that involves buying up local farmland, citizens will be invested in the outcome.
Q. What can the average person do to help our country move away from an industrialized food system to local alternatives?
A. The best way to change the system is to demand that it change. To start, we suggest shopping at farmers’ markets and asking the big grocery chains to stock local foods. Be alert to hints of the return of any limiting legislation, such as that which once made it illegal for farmers to sell direct to the consumer. Tainted food scares have originated with the industrial food system, not local food sources. Our government is cracking down. And so far it’s the smaller farmers and farm gate vendors most apt to suffer.
Learn more about The 100-Mile Diet at 100MileDiet.org or read Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s fascinating blog entries at TheTyee.Ca. Plenty is available in hard cover through Harmony Books. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating is available in paperback by Vintage Canada.
Source: by Linda Sechrist Additional Information: Date: 2007/10/28 02:05:00 GMT-7