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The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating [Hardcover]

Alisa Smith , J.B. Mackinnon
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 12 2007
The remarkable, amusing and inspiring adventures of a Canadian couple who make a year-long attempt to eat foods grown and produced within a 100-mile radius of their apartment.

When Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon learned that the average ingredient in a North American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate, they decided to launch a simple experiment to reconnect with the people and places that produced what they ate. For one year, they would only consume food that came from within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver apartment. The 100-Mile Diet was born.

The couple’s discoveries sometimes shook their resolve. It would be a year without sugar, Cheerios, olive oil, rice, Pizza Pops, beer, and much, much more. Yet local eating has turned out to be a life lesson in pleasures that are always close at hand. They met the revolutionary farmers and modern-day hunter-gatherers who are changing the way we think about food. They got personal with issues ranging from global economics to biodiversity. They called on the wisdom of grandmothers, and immersed themselves in the seasons. They discovered a host of new flavours, from gooseberry wine to sunchokes to turnip sandwiches, foods that they never would have guessed were on their doorstep.

The 100-Mile Diet struck a deeper chord than anyone could have predicted, attracting media and grassroots interest that spanned the globe. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating tells the full story, from the insights to the kitchen disasters, as the authors transform from megamart shoppers to self-sufficient urban pioneers. The 100-Mile Diet is a pathway home for anybody, anywhere.

Call me naive, but I never knew that flour would be struck from our 100-Mile Diet. Wheat products are just so ubiquitous, “the staff of life,” that I had hazily imagined the stuff must be grown everywhere. But of course: I had never seen a field of wheat anywhere close to Vancouver, and my mental images of late-afternoon light falling on golden fields of grain were all from my childhood on the Canadian prairies. What I was able to find was Anita’s Organic Grain & Flour Mill, about 60 miles up the Fraser River valley. I called, and learned that Anita’s nearest grain suppliers were at least 800 miles away by road. She sounded sorry for me. Would it be a year until I tasted a pie?
—From The 100-Mile Diet

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It's not surprising that authors/partners Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon's attempt to eat locally for one year--that is, consume only foodstuffs cultivated and harvested within 100 miles of their Vancouver pad--became a sensation first on the web and then in book form. As the green movement catches fire worldwide, heaps of people are discovering with alarm (as the authors did) that most meals consumed by North Americans travel a planet-busting average of 1,500 miles from farm to plate.

While no one denies that New Zealand lamb served with Peruvian asparagus, California lettuce and German Riesling is mighty fine and ridiculously affordable at present, it's also a fact that the cost detailed on the supermarket receipt does not reflect the true cost (environmentally, politically, socially, spiritually) of hauling that bounty across the globe.

Indeed, Smith and MacKinnon's local (and thus, seasonal) eating experiment reveals all sorts of truths that are disturbing, debatable, fiercely readable and enormously important for the welfare of our environment. Readers are bound to see themselves in the authors' shoes throughout 100-Mile Diet, never more so than at the start of the trial when Smith and MacKinnon hit the local grocery store looking for chow that meets their criteria.

"There was nothing there for us. Nothing. It would be a year without ice cream. A year without salad dressing. A year without all-purpose flour, soup mix, olives, olive oil, Miracle Whip. Without ketchup, Cheerios, Peek Freans Fruits Cremes, peanut butter, Rip-L-Chips, Philadelphia cream cheese, Tabasco sauce, Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder, creamed corn, Minute Main orange juice, no-name cola, Eggos, bulk pine nuts, Orville Redenbacher's popcorn, chipotle peppers, High Liner Multigrain Tilapia Fillets…"

"A single supermarket today may carry 45,000 different items; 17,000 new food products are introduced each year in the United States. Yet here we were in the modern horn of plenty, and almost nothing came from the people or the landscape that surrounds us. How had our food system come to this?"

Underpinning the drama of the authors' quest to discover whether eating locally is even possible is their own 14-year romantic relationship, which teeters on the edge of collapse throughout the year. The 100-Mile Diet is a revelation and required reading for anyone who eats. Cheap grub will never look so cheap again.--Kim Hughes


“Nothing you eat will look the same! This inspiring and enlightening book will give you plenty to chew on.”
—Deborah Madison, author of Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets

The 100-Mile Diet is inspiring in its honest striving to discover what has been all but lost.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Engaging, thoughtful essays packed with natural, historical and personal detail.”
The New York Times

“A highly readable, sometimes funny, and very personal book–with just the right nutrient content of hard fact to balance the spice of memoir.”
Times Colonist (Victoria)

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
100 Mile Diet is a candid portrayal of an ambitious couple who, during a twelve month period, strive to "do the right thing" ecologically by making every effort to consume food and beverages whose origins lie within 100 miles of where they are living at a point in time. Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon truly get back to the land, as they forage in the woods in British Columbia for mushrooms and other edible flora, cart their raw materials back to their humble, television-free log cabin, and prepare, cook and eat their meals.

This high level of vertical integration, in which the couple all but abandon the outputs of big agribusiness, results in food procurement and preparation becoming, at the very minimum, a part-time job. In other words, the current state of affairs in North America make such a lifestyle virtually unsustainable; at the end of the year of eating locally, the authors relish the prospect of eating food that is either heavily processed or comes from far away.

The authors make a valiant effort to locally source key foodstuffs such as fish and flour. They discover that it is often frustratingly difficult to meet such needs locally. The authors' year-long local eating experiment includes many stressful periods, as the couple debate food gathering and preparation options; for them, it is not a matter of just pulling a Swanson dinner out of the freezer and slapping it in the microwave.

North America has dumbed down its diet to an unnecessarily narrow variety of choices, thanks largely to industrial agriculture. Much of our mainstream `normal' diet consists of corn, tomatoes, wheat, apples and potatoes.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How shall we live? May 30 2007
Is it possible to eat locally, and what would it be like? To answer that question, the authors embarked on an experiment: a year of local eating.

But why eat locally? The authors start with the obvious carbon-footprint reason - the 1,500 or more miles that a typical meal travels to our plates, a number only made possible by cheap oil. Other more subtle reasons quickly emerge, and much of the interest of the book comes from exploring these reasons.

The book is the product of two specific people, living and writing in a specific place. It is a personal narrative, and needed to be written in the first person. This is done by simply alternating perspective - first chapter MacKinnon, second chapter Smith, etc. It works, and is far preferable to the third person they resort to for the short epilogue, or a fused first person where "I" becomes meaningless. (Yes, I've seen it done.) The format is straightforward: a month-by-month diary. Food is shared with friends; family crises, work assignments and relationship troubles come when they will. All are woven into the story, all somehow adding to the themes of the book. Also added to the recipe is a significant amount of research and interview: scientists, farmers, fishers and natives are given a voice.

The specific place is Vancouver, on Canada's Pacific coast. European civilization came late to this region, and not all the changes to it's ecology have yet been forgotten. As a resident of the same city, my familiarity with the area certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the book. (But no, in case you're wondering, I don't know the authors.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
I followed the original serial of articles in the Tyee (an online newspaper) and felt that the premise behind the 100 mile diet is in itself inherently flawed.

Notwithstanding that you can in fact eat everything you need from what Nabhan dubbed your local foodshed, it ignores the reality that the vast majority of people don't have the time and effort available to them to make this plan work. Further, if the entire population of Greater Vancouver made this switch, it cannot be sustained. And that is its fundamental failing.

While the authors are very engaging and their story is very well told, a far better book, in my opinion, is "Coming Home to Eat" by Gary Paul Nabhan. He too writes about his eating experiences over the course of a year, but has a much more realistic view.

For one thing, Nabhan, who lives in Arizona, uses a 400 mile radius for his foodshed, which for Vancouverites would allow the cattle from the interior, the wines from the Okanagan, and a much broader array of fresh produce - the weekly Farmer's Markets in Vancouver provide a huge bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that for the most part simply do not grow in Vancouver.

For another, Nabhan further allows 1 out of 5 things to come from outside the radius; Nabhan rightly recognizes that not everything can (or even should) be supplied locally. Even the ancient Greeks traded olive oil for wheat across the Mediterranean basin.

I respect the authors' point of view, and strongly endorse the concept of seasonal, local, and fresh. However, no matter how engaging their story is, it's unfortunately not a workable idea. Nabhan's is.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiration without guilt!
Great book realistically detailing the ups and downs of living the 100-mile diet. Its encouraged me to eat local where I can, but does not make me feel guilty for NOT eating local... Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2010 by BR
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended
Great read for anyone interested in local eating or wondering what it's all about. Authors trace their own journey over a year of 100% local eating and give lots of information... Read more
Published on Sept. 14 2009 by Kristine Brisson
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich Delicious Life
In the 100-Mile Diet, a Vancouverite couple endeavour to source their diet within a hundred miles of their apartment for one year. Read more
Published on Sept. 8 2009 by MI
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Food For Thought
I loved this book! Well written, funny, thought provoking - and all without being holier than thou. I have recommended it to many, and now find myself checking all food sources -... Read more
Published on April 4 2008 by S. Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars Very inspiring, and very well written
This very personal account is a very inspiring and motivational book. While reading this, I couldn't stop telling people about the ideas, the stories and the passion of what i was... Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2008 by Trenzy
5.0 out of 5 stars Ohhh I can't wait!
I have only read exerpts and reviews, but from these I can say -- without a doubt -- that these two authors have crafted a seriously engaging, entertaining, and fascinating... Read more
Published on April 25 2007 by Local food lover
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