Back To Where It All Began

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

Local Eating: A Foreign Affair Part II

We had first begun to read James and Alisa’s one year of local eating adventure 3 months ago.  We followed along with the begining months of their endeavour.  It was an introduction to not only their story, but ours-or I guess who I can only speak for, mine.  There is a sense of closure going back to where it all began-back to the first story.  In between then and now, there have been many other writers, many other stories, many blog entires.  I have felt a greater appreciation for plants, our food and our world.  Of course, there has also been my own experience of local eating through our 100-mile diet class project pseudonamed “How Close Can You Stay.”  Between then and now, there has been a lot.  With all the new experience and perspective at hand, I turned the page to the rest of the October-March saga of James and Alisa’s 100 mile diet.

The 100 mile diet to me still stands as a very cool concept.  Did James and Alisa succeed it what seemed this highly questionably plausible feat? They did.  From my own experience of researching, foraging and creating just one local meal, I understand better the challenge itself and furthermore can appreciate their success.  A sincere kudos to them. Though I no longer find the feat unimaginable (a claim I had made 3 months prior), I strongly still believe the ultimate challenge that exists for it.  Even reading their story, their adventure was work.  Practically full time work.  It seems unrealistic to manage to complete strict local eating whislt maintaining any other sort of life or career.  However, from what I have learned, ultimately, this is priority.  As Alisa shared on her jam canning experiences, contrarily to my claim, she says “the last thing [she’d] call it was work.  It was living”(p.158).  I completely understand her appeal.  It has been made clear that finding enjoyment in what we do is really important for our happiness and involving ourselves to connect to our own lives is important for the enrichment of our human experiences.  Though as much as it can be romantisized that it was not work, it was.  However, this is not said to at all take away from their success.  I just feel as journalists they were fortunate to accomplish both their feat and their writing collectively, it was a hybrid of work and living.

After having read many other stories in between the split readings of 100 mile diet, it was very easy to contrast their story to the rest.  For instance, their story largely revolves around themselves, and this is something I both disliked and appreciated.  Why I disliked this was because I had really come to appreciate the story of plants.  I liked learning of a plant’s alchemy, nature and evolutionary triumph in our human history.  James and Alisa did not write their story from a plant perspective whatsoever.  However, who said they had to?  This is equivalently what I can appreciate about their story.  It is reality.  The reality of local eating and how it has stretched to such a foreign affair.  It is their personal experience, which even at times delves intimately into their relationship.  It is relatable.  They have so many moments of learning, something of which I can completely relate to even after only attempting a fraction of their 365 day trial.  For instance, Alisa on p.168 shared she’d “been unaware that chestnuts even grew in this part of the world, but these are the simple, wondrous things that [she] kept learning this year.  It is this genuine and naive nature of their writing that is also appealing.  It is the relationship of plants and people, and though I had come to appreciate the marvels of the plants, it is equally important to appreciate the people.  Furthermore, this relatibility is also what is so hopeful of their story.  Local eating is for anyone.  James and Alisa showed me that ultimately, it is a matter of priority and willingness to learn and adapt.

Of course, a large part of James and Alisa’s story was the food itself.  One of the greatest simple pleasures I thoroughly enjoyed throughout their story were the monthly recipes (and a few more if we include the post epilogue), all of which I want to try.  Largely what their story showed were the flavours of Vancouver and its 100 mile radius.  They showed the immense diversity that exists in such a familiar area to us.  Though Kamloops extends beyond this radius- it is a reminder that we are still very geographically fortunate in the Okanagan.  There is a lot to be grown, tasted and experienced within 100 miles of our own homes.  Plus, there are immense benefits to this which James and Alisa highlight including the actual nutritional value and the accompanying flavour of freshness.  Furthermore, you are supporting community, economy and sustainability.  It is not only a cool concept, but may prove itself a vital concept in the state of the world with its rising climate issues.  Local eating is a reduction of overall packaging wastes and mileage that translates to carbon emissions.

Three months after the beginning of their 100 mile diet adventure, I turned the page on the last of it.  Though there is a sense of closure with this, it is really far from the end of my own personal plant learning, appreciation or growth.  A lot has happened in between then and now, but this is all still a beginning.  Though this is likely going to be the last blog for awhile, it has been fun.  In January, prior to all of the stories since, I would not have expected myself to consider many of the things I have considered or done like eating locally this upcoming summer, or possibly giving up meat (Omnivore’s Dilemma) or to have cooked an 100% local meal or to be growing onions at my front door.  All of the stories shared this semester has been a gentle reminder to the fact that we have our own stories and relationship with the world around us.  Furthemore, documenting this as what has been expected of us, has been another gentle reminder of our own voices.  I look forward to other new beginnings and making a space for myself in my own life.

Thank you Lyn for all the assigned readings and blogs, it had been both enlightening and a pleasure.  Thank you for also possibly being the only one to have read them other than maybe my mother.


There are onions at my front door

Pollan, M. 2006. Omnivore’s Dilemma . England: Penguin Books Ltd. p.186-276.

It is March 18th and it feels like spring.   I was able to sit cozily in a sweater, midday on a bench at my university campus and begin to explore part 2 of Micheal Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” following a part one reading a few weeks back that I had thoroughly enjoyed.  I don’t know exactly what spring weather in March means for us environmentally- and I am also not about to try to delve into it.  I mention spring, or the spring like weather, only for its symbolic nature.  New beginnings.  Lately, I have been feeling a desire to change something.  To connect.

Yesterday, I had been sitting in the hot tub with some friends and we were planning for later in the week to go on hike during dusk to catch the sunset.  Naturally, the question came up: when does the sun go down?  Practically impulsively, someone had suggested “google it.”  I had an immediate repulsion.  We were hiking in 4 days.  This meant, as I suggested, that we had 4 days to figure out exactly when the sun goes down on our own.  With our own eyes.  As the sun brightly warmed my face more and more, with every page I turned of Pollan’s story, I was beginning to feel anew this desire for connection.  So what about Pollan’s story inspired this?

What I thoroughly enjoyed from Pollan’s story before, and what I enjoyed again are his bold themes.  Why is our food system the way our food system is?   In pursuit of these answers, Pollan tells his story chronologically through his first hand experiences.  He is not solely researching answers, nor just speaking with various people, he is physically there to live it.  On the farm.  Connected.  It is this perspective that really captures my attention  and likely in part why I feel I want to strive to do the same.  Furthermore, it is this perspective that works in favour of his themes.  In our current food world of smoke and mirrors, what could possibly be more clear than Pollan’s first hound account of the Salatin’s honest farm-or better so, their ecological safe haven.  Not only does his account work to explain why we should probably care a lot more about where our food is coming from, but his use of characters again makes the case for this.  Again, what could possibly be more clear than hearing exactly the knowledge from the farmers themselves.  Queue our introduction to Joel.

Pollan’s story is largely about the people.  Joel, the farmer, is a very likable character in the story.  He is a highly brilliant farmer, with both knowledge and dignity , along with a certain “revolutionary zeal”(p.251).  He is not just a character, but a real person-and who is remarkably inspirational at that.  Joel is like the Ghandi of farming.  He explains in great detail the up keep of his farm, or as I see it-an ecological safe haven as it is a farm based for sustainability relying on the maintenance of its entire ecosystem.  He takes full accountability and responsibility for the environment, for the animals and ultimately for his products.  It is quality.  The pitfall of this type of farming dignity: the consumer price.   This same quality is priced higher when compared to the price in stores for the industrial food commodities, where their focus is quantity.  Joel makes two very intriguing statements about this price comparison.  One being, we pay more for quality in all other consumer domains-why not with our food.  When you really reflect on this, it is actually rather insane.  Our food is the very substances we consume to keep us alive , yet we care so little about its quality.  It is so strange.  The second point Joel makes is that his quality is actually  “the cheapest food you can buy”(p.243).  As he further explains, it is largely unjust to compare quality and quantity-they are 2 separate entities.  What I gathered as most striking through Joel’s insightful farming knowledge was the amount of effort and thought put into every action on his farm.  He demonstrates a complete care for his work, and largely for our world.  This lead me to question that if Joel can put it this immense effort and work every day for his quality and morally ethical products, why can I not care enough to buy it?    Then, almost climatically  Pollan’s harrowing words hit: is our aversion to caring/ buying from farmers a matter of affordability or priority…

I have had some local Kamloops onions sitting in my pantry that I had obtained from school for maybe a month now.  I noticed a few weeks ago, I had still not used any and a couple were beginning to sprout greens.  I had never seen this of our onions purchased before, I figured it was the start of new onions growth and I wondered why our regular onions did not do this.  I left them.  However with Pollan’s thoughts already somewhere in my head, along with a feeling of wanting to connect and spring time’s arrival-I had the perfect storm.  Suddenly, when Pollan questioned the real reason we avert local eating, something changed.  It was decided.  I was going to plant those sprouting Kamloops onions.  My first horticulture endeavour.  I finished the reading and immediately grabbed the onions.  I cut them carefully, unveiling what I had expected: an enclosed fresh bulb within.  Then I searched for a couple of old pots.  I dug up some dirt from my backyard, and mixed in some mulch stored in our shed from last summer.  Combining it all together, I had my very first potted vegetable.  Two of them.  Now, although my feelings of spring may actually fail me, considering the future of possible looming cold weather could jeopardize my onions, today was nonetheless, the beginning of something bigger for me.  I am going to make that effort to connect.  As I set my new potted onions indoors by the window, they received their very first warmth of sunshine, the last of todays.  Not long after, the sun set at 7:25pm.



Scoping in on an outlook

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. New York: The Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.113-179.

As I worked through the beginning of Micheal Pollan’s chapter of marijuana, I attempted to wonder what the world would be like if psychoactive drugs, including marijauna, were all tolerable.  I was not entirely sure what to imagine.  Chaos? Maybe. Disorder? Maybe.  Tranquility?

This was essentially the chronological flow of ideas-to which I think speaks to an important theme of Pollan’s story.  My first impression of a world tolerating drugs was that of negatively skewed society.  This was likely derived from the existing drug taboo in modern society. Then, eventally, I approached my daydreaming with an open mind.  For, I too, have been sitting like Pollan in an Amsterdam cafe/bar, feeling the tranquility that existed.  A quaint atmosphere of conversations, music and laughter.  It was a tranquility that made me question as well whether the war on drugs was fought against the wrong culprit.  In this instance, even alcohol seemed a more fitting target than marijuana.  There have been few times-maybe never, in which I have been out in bars and I have not witnesssed fighting or anger, in close association to alcohol consumption.

One of the strangest occurrences to me while reading Pollan’s story was the irony of the age of discovery.  Now, I did not get this idea from Pollan’s words directly, but his reoccurring theme of taboo had me reflecting on history-a subject in which I pertain a very small degree of knowledge.  However, bare with me here as I venture, like the explorers, into something I know very little about.  The age of discovery must have been a really exciting time, explorers were sailing out into the world.  Driven by wonder.  Fearless of the unknown.  Yet, upon discovery-suddenly and swiftly, this fearlessness was overtaken by the general contempt of native ways-the ways of which involve, largely, the knowledge, appreciation and experience of plants and their alchemy.  This “unknown”, though known-natively, is repressed.  It is the birth of the New World, ultimately in congruence with the birth of taboo.  Therein, we see the transition from the Old World to the New World, to which I wonder to what degree today we are living the repercussions of.  This is not necessarily a fault, but is this why it is hard to imagine a world, for example, where psychoactive drugs are completely tolerable.

Pollan’s chapter all felt to a degree rather philosophical.  It was writing that provoked this type of daydreaming of the world and questioning why things are the way they are.  Of course, later in the chapter, we are reminded of the perils of the effects of drugs…The daydreaming is gathered back to a better sensibility and logic.  My thoughts return to the initial thoughts that a world with completely tolerable psychoactive drugs would be chaotic.  Though, curiosity still lingered about a hybrid world.  One with a hybridization between the native uses of psychoactive drugs, both medicinal and spiritual and the modern tabooed psychoactive drugs, but involving the proper cuplrits.

I think what inspired this type of thinking was Pollan’s writing itself.  I thoroughly admire his story telling, in which his persepctive and themes are deliberately, yet seemlessly integrated into his stories.  Furthermore, his stories are delivered with some of the most eloquent sentences I have seen thus far, in this genre of creative non fiction.  For example, on p.160 Pollan writes “to illustrate the point, let me try to capture here a few drops of this perceptual cataract, preserve one cross section of the routinely forgotten.”  This is an attractive sentence to which my attention is completely absorbed in.  This was a continually accomplished feat by Pollan throughout the entire chapter.  While Pollan awed at plants and their alchemy, I was simlarily absorbed in this same awe for plants whilst in awe of Pollan’s actual writing.

Although Pollan’s writing included many topics and themes like the human psyche, the war on drugs, taboo, tempation, desire-all of which were intriguing to read; one theme which Pollan has eluded to before is the existing egocentrism of humans.  Our perspective is obscured by our own being.  Pollan connects our egocentrism  with psychoactive plants, by wondering if  “such a sacrament may be on occasion worthwhile just the same, if only as a check on our hubris” (p.178).  Herein Pollan’s thoughts, exists a powerful anti-egocentric message and offers an interesting solution.  We are not the centre of this world-so, let us experience how a plant can completely alter our consciousness.  Let us be reminded that we are just another species inhabiting this earth, and a species that is an integral part of an ecosystem.  He further delves into this idea, again noting the potential importance and little accompanying harm of experiencing the alchemy of plants as a means “to bring our abstracted gaze back down to Earth for a time”(p.179).  Interestingly enough, this seems to quite closely parallel the native ways of life-the ceremonial usage of plant alchemy for a means of connection.  As I mentionned before, Pollan’s writing has a philosophical tone with eloquent delivery.  He addresses big ideas and provokes reflection whilst delivering his throughts in a near poetic mannor.  In the following excerpt, the small paragraph has more of an air of an embedded poem within his story. Again, it powerfully speaks to connect humans to nature and integrates a type of reflection-provoking writing:

“Just what happens to this flattering self-portrait if we discover that transcendence itself owes to molecules that flow through our brains and at the same time through the plants in the garden?  If some of the biggest fruits of human culture are in fact rooted deeply in this black earth, with the plants and the fungi?  Is matter, then, still as mute as we’ve come to think?  Does it mean that spirit too is part of nature?” (p.178)

Alas,  I feel again as if there is more introspection to be done…