100-Mile Diet

headerWhen the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically travelled at least 1,500 miles—call it “the SUV diet.” On the first day of spring, 2005, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon (bios) chose to confront this unsettling statistic with a simple experiment. For one year, they would buy or gather their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Since then, James and Alisa have gotten up-close-and-personal with issues ranging from the family-farm crisis to the environmental value of organic pears shipped across the globe. They’ve reconsidered vegetarianism and sunk their hands into community gardening. They’ve eaten a lot of potatoes.

Their 100-Mile Diet struck a deeper chord than anyone could have predicted. Within weeks, reprints of their blog at thetyee.ca had appeared on sites across the internet. Then came the media, from BBC Worldwide to Utne magazine. Dozens of individuals and grassroots groups have since launched their own 100-Mile Diet adventures. The need now is clear: a locus where 100-milers can get the information they need to try their own lifestyle experiments, and to exchange ideas and develop campaigns. That locus will be here at 100MileDiet.org—turning an idea into a movement.

FAQs: An Interview with James and Alisa

Why the ‘100-Mile’ Diet?

It�s an easy way to start thinking local. A 100-mile radius is large enough to reach beyond a big city and small enough to feel truly local. And it rolls off the tongue more easily than the ‘160-Kilometre Diet.’

How difficult is the 100-Mile Diet?

We walked into the diet cold turkey for a full year, and it was hard. For example, we live on the West Coast, so it took us seven months to find a rogue local farmer who actually grows wheat. Meanwhile, we ate an unbelievable number of potatoes. Doing the diet the hard way taught us a lot about the current food system, but it isn’t for everybody. A more realistic approach is to plan a single, totally 100-mile meal with friends or family, and see where you want to go from there.

Was it mostly fun, or mostly frustration?

The 100-Mile Diet is about learning by doing. Getting to know the seasons. Understanding where our food comes from, and at what risk to our health and to the environment. Sorting out how we all ended up eating apples that taste like cardboard and cakes made with petrochemicals. It was a challenge, but a good one–a genuine adventure.

Is this some kind of foodie cult?

Do we think the world would be a better place if more people ate local food more often? Yes. Do we want to pick fights or lose friends about it? No.

Did you feel malnourished?

For one year we ate only the freshest food that had traveled the shortest possible distances and was eaten or preserved at its seasonal peak. Most of it was organic, and everything we ate was prepared from scratch and nothing came out of a box. Does that answer that question?

Were your meals repetitive and boring?

At first, yes. As we found more and more local food sources, though, our meals became more interesting than ever before. Farmers and farmers’ markets introduced us to foods and flavors we’d never tried before. We discovered the seasons, and the micro-seasons, and the micro-micro-seasons. What’s available is always changing.

Was it expensive?

Again, only in the beginning. Most of us pay a big premium for out-of-season foods like cherries in winter or prepared foods like spaghetti sauce, usually with a long list of ingredients we might prefer not to have in our bodies. Eating locally, we bought fresh ingredients in season and direct from the farmer–and we were often buying bulk. We preserved enough food for the winter that we rarely had to buy groceries. Our bet? Most people eating a typical diet could save money by eating locally.

Did it take a lot of time?

We won’t lie–it takes time to find local food sources, to make food from scratch, to do canning for winter, and so on. But it also raises interesting questions about how we’re spending our time. What if we spent more time on self-sufficiency and less time at the office?

What did you miss the most?

Every region has foods that are hard–or impossible–to find. We went without wheat for seven months. We missed pasta. We missed bread. We missed pancakes. Then we found our wheat farmer, and we pigged out.

Are you still on the 100-Mile Diet?

Yes–more or less. We lived a year on the 100-Mile Diet as an experiment. Now we’re committed to eating locally, but certain long-distance favorites have made it back into the larder. Like olives. And chocolate. And beer.

Will local eating save the world?

Check out our lucky 13 Reasons for Eating Locally.

Will I lose weight while I save the world?

The world of weight-loss diets is a weird and not-so-wonderful place. Let’s put it this way: a local diet is likely to involve lots of fresh produce and homemade meals, and not a lot of junk food, processed fats, additives and sugar. You’re also far more likely to know where your food came from, and what’s in it.

Can this be done in New York City/Alaska/the desert?

We recently ate a 100-Mile Meal in New York, and we’d only been there for one day. We’ve also managed totally local eating at 55 degrees north latitude and on the Yucat�n Peninsula of Mexico. There are places where it’s easier and places where it’s harder, but with a little planning, local eating is never impossible. And yes, that’s a direct challenge to scientists in Antarctica and astronauts in the International Space Station.

Did you cheat?

Our tell-all book about a year on the 100-Mile Diet comes out in Spring 2007. Sign up to be alerted when it’s in the bookstores�

Got a question for James and Alisa? Send an email

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One thought on “100-Mile Diet”

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