Cooking locally is very different. Instead of cracking open a cookbook and seeing that list of ingredients and going out and buying all of those things, you’re doing the opposite. You’re going out and seeing what’s available, what’s in season right now, bringing it home and then saying, “How can I turn that into good food?” So it’s a really creative way to cook. –J.B. MacKinnon
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon ate only what grew within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver apartment for an entire year. Most of the food we buy from local grocery markets has traveled anywhere between 250 to 1,000 miles to get to us. That is what Smith and MacKinnon call “The Statistic.” The couple realized that, while they were earnestly biking and walking all over town, they were actually eating an “SUV-diet”. They write about their adventure in Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. Most of us would not use “raucous” to describe anything related to agriculture, but this experiment rocked Smith and MacKinnon’s comfortable urban lifestyle.
The experiment had austere beginnings. The couple leaned heavily on a World War II-era Good Housekeeping cookbook, relying on old-school methods of canning and preserving to get them through the first lean months. After several weeks of beets and potatoes, the local growing season peaked and the couple was delighting in abundance. Sad little recipes for Potato Amuse-Bouche gave way to Gooseberry Oysters, Maple-Walnut Crepes, and homemade Sourdough Bread.
What could have been an ascetic tale of sacrifice becomes an accessible and humorous story of possibility and pleasure. Smith writes, “Making jam had taken all afternoon and evening but the last thing I’d call it was work. It was living.” Smith and MacKinnon were two urban professionals who had a steep learning curve. They were eager students and I was completely engaged by their pursuit. The book successfully avoids a self-righteously didactic tone. Smith and MacKinnon, taking turns for each chapter, write honestly about the mistakes and about the relationship tensions that accompany such a radical lifestyle change.
On their adventure, the two converse with farmers, scientists, nutritionists, and paleontologists. Ultimately, Plenty is about the pleasure of getting to know more of your community — the farmers and fisherman, foragers and beekeepers who are responsible for your food. It’s about the pleasure of anchoring yourself in a place and making it yours. So yes, there are those who argue about the merits of eating locally versus efficient food transportation, but this book makes a most appealing argument for the pleasure of savoring where you live.
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon spoke about their book during the “Eating Green” panel at the Miami Book Fair International in November. I had the great privilege to interview them afterward. Listen or podcast to find out more about their eating experiment.
Find out more about Smith, McKinnon, and the 100-mile-diet at 100milediet.org