Sunday, 3 May 2009

The 100 Mile Diet: Local Eating for Global Change

I recently finished the book the '100 Mile Diet: A year of local eating' and I highly recommend it- it will change the way you think about what you eat. The book has spurred a phenomenon (I actually blogged about the movement this time last year!), enticing many to move towards a local-based diet and even inspiring a TV show- The Canadian Food Network hosts the 100 Mile Challenge in which the Canadian authors of the book, partners Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, challenge 6 families from Mission, British Columbia, to follow a 100-Mile Diet for 100 Days.

Not long ago, I blogged about another book that had a similar effect on me: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. (As I mentioned in that blog, if you don't have the time to read the book but have a free hour, check out Pollan's great lecture in which he covers the main point of his book by clicking Here). Equally inspiring but written in a completely different format, the authors of The 100 Mile Diet take turns writing the chapters of their memoir, sharing their experience of eating only foods within a 100 mile radius of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Alisa and James bring us through their very personal journey over their year: their daunting realization of what they wouldn't be able to eat (sugar, coffee, chocolate, chips, peanut butter, orange juice, Cola, canned soup, oreos, Ben & Jerry's, beer, Cheerios, all-purpose flour...), dealing with the monotony of eating a lot of potatoes during their first winter and their relationship troubles to discovering the joys of making a great meal from scratch using ingredients of known origin, learning how different and wonderful fresh food tastes, developing relationships with local growers (and with their food) and finally becoming completely self-sufficient on local foods... All while making their readers feel that they if they could do it, so can we.

Why should we aim to eat locally? The authors explain that we're so separated from our food and value it so little, even ignoring the huge impact eating factory-produced foods and foods shipped from across the country (or the world) has on our environment and our health:

A few facts from the book:

  • The food we eat typically travels 1500-3000 miles before landing on our plate.
  • A regional diet consumes 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country.
  • The United States has lost 2/3 of its farms since 1920.
  • Soft drinks, sweets and alcoholic beverages account for 25% of all calories consumed in America. Meanwhile, Americans eat half as many servings of vegetables recommended- 50% of the vegetables eaten include just 3: iceberg lettuce, potatoes and canned tomatoes.

The group Food & Water Watch just posted a great Virtual Grocer that allows you to find out where the food you buy comes from. Try it! It's so interesting.
For example, did you know that if you buy a kiwi in the States, there's a 4 in 5 chance it's imported- most likely from Chile or New Zealand. Asparagus? 57% of the asparagus sold in the States comes from Peru.

What can you do to eat more locally?

Start small- aim to try making one local meal a week, for example.
Find the farmer's market nearest to you and make it part of your weekly food shopping.
Consider joining a CSA- Community Supported Agriculture- allowing you to support a specific local farm by paying a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season and then receiving that farm's food products (whatever is in season) year-round. If you're in the States, Local Harvest is a great resource to find a local CSA; In Canada, click Here.
Buy local produce in bulk and learn how to preserve it. Click Here for more info on preservation.
Try planting a small vegetable garden!


Chow and Chatter said...

what a cool idea, thanks for sharing luckily a lot of produce grows in NC so its not so bad, but yeah would miss coffee!

Gina said...

Thanks for your comment, and I completely agree with you about the food labels. Sometimes even I have a hard time understanding them, so how do they really help the lay public?
I didn't realize it but your blog wasn't on my blog roll, I haven't been keeping up with your blog and I missed your post about dietary fat! I read it and appreciated the interesting fats. This is a debate for which I am very passionate. Have you read the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories"? It's a must read if you are interested in the fat vs. CHO debate.

Erica said...

Thanks for this post! Food & Water Watch also has a button now that let's you embed the Global Grocer tool on your own site or Facebook page... check it out!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks Rebecca! Chocolate would be toughest for me...!

Erica, I've posted the link to the Global Grocer on my sidebar... thanks!

Gina- I haven't read Good Calories, Bad Calories yet- it's on my list! I really liked Dr. Willett's book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy- have you read it? He presents his "new healthy eating pyramid" in which whole grains and plant oils together make up the bottom (and largest)layer rather than 'all grains' as in the current pyramid. The tip (use sparingly) of Willett's pyramid is white rice, white bread, white pasta, potatoes, soda, sweets, red meat and butter rather than 'all fats & oils and sweets' in the current pyramid.
Makes sense...!

Jme said...

Here is an interesting article from Marion Nestle also advocating eating locally with a bit of a different take!