Local Eating: a Foreign Affair

MacKinnon, J.B., Smith, Alisa. 2007. The 100 Mile Diet: a year of local eating.  Vintage Canada Edition, Toronto, Ontario.

A young Vancouver couple inspired by one fully authentic gathered-from-the-land meal during a stay in their isolated Northern BC cottage quest to complete one year of eating solely from products produced within an 100 mile radius of their Vancouver apartment.  The two writers, James and Alisa, collaboratively each share their insight through first person in a genuine month by month chronicle of their adventure.

Is it even possible?  A question that is almost immediately instinctive to not only both the writers but also to the readers.  This reflection is what instantly captured my interest in their journey.  Strictly local eating is a concept which at a precedent time in history not so long ago was a complete necessity to life, and now is something which forces one to question its actual plausibility.  This itself is a main theme highlighted by the authors: traceability.  How far have we unknowingly distanced ourselves from the food industry in such a short period of time?

I appreciated the writers use of humour in small remarks which cleverly draw attention to the experiments level of ridiculousness in todays’ society.  Finishing off one of the many recipes remarking “serve in the center of a large plate alone and a little heartbreaking” (pg.20).  Alisa expresses towards one of their main staples in April, borscht as belonging to “…nineteeth-century Russian steppes, flavoured by bone-chilling wind, a steel sky, and oppression”(p.24).  Lastly in one of my favourite remarks, James explains during their hope for wheat, “And there I sat, separating mouse shit from wheat berries with a credit card” (p.63).  The ultimate challenge of local eating is not only comedic in its revelation, but beholds a greater serious undertone.  There is a complete visual contrast of the two opposing “societies” they are attempting to co exist; the wheat berries are symbolic of agriculture and the credit card is a symbol of consumerism.

The concept of the book, which had immediately captured my interest is equally something I dislike about the book.  The reality is, it is sad.  It is very sad that we have disconnected ourselves from our food that we do not know if eating local for 1 year is possible.  It’s somewhat shameful to think I am not completely sure what is even capable of growing locally, nor do I know the extent to during what season any particular plant thrives.  It is even more sad to think that society does not really care.  Often this theme is echoed in the book reversely as now, the authors do care.  In one instance, “the rain mattered-there were beautiful red berries at stake”(p.63).  Furthermore, the authors delve into the dominant shift towards consumerism.  This shift favouring the mass production of food is ultimately damaging nature directly, through habitat fragmentation, and indirectly, through the fuels burned for distribution.   First it explores the gradual depletion of nature, claiming it is “a shadow” (p.143) of its previous generation, yet the essence of “what keeps us alive” (p.146).  Despite nature’s importance, the authors note “the notion that everything can be valued in terms of money rather than the fundamental natural processes” (p.144).  In this sad reality, it is optimistically appealed that this is just an idea, not an irreversible process.

In a paradoxical truth, local eating has stretched to a completely foreign affair.  This is somewhat slightly comedic and largely sad, but furthermore, what makes James and Alisa’s chronicle endearing and inspirational.  Through the April to October journey, with months still to continue, we are reminded that it is always still possible to bridge the distance back towards our agricultural roots.

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