Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"Because it rolls off the tongue more easily than the '160-Kilometre Diet'."

I'm going to have to stop these public threats to go up to the berkeley sing, as i can't seem to ever make good on them. But for a good reason this time. Yesterday was like a happy shiny celebration of local food. We had our field trip to the Shumei farm, where they practice natural agriculture according to their spiritual beliefs of respect and communion with nature. Managed by a sweet Japanese family with painfully cute tiny children who ran around the farm after us. Beside the 30 acres they have beautiful redwoods and an indian burial site on the land. We were invited to step inside the fenced off strawberry patch and pluck one sun-warmed gem each. It wasn't really the most educational trip ever, but it really warms this cold cynical heart just to know that there are people out there like that. Then afterward we visited the New Leaf in Felton, which is a particularly awesome branch of that natural foods store. Kathy sang the praises of the giant canellini beans and natto miso you can find only there, and we had a lovely lunch outdoors, followed by a jaunt across the local covered bridge. (where am i, new england??)

Then in the evening I was back at my bookstore for a wonderful event - the authors of Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. They're this ridiculously cute young Canadian couple who pronounce produce "prahduce". Their story is this:
When 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 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.

An example of bloggers sparking a real movement - "back to the land" for modern, urban, internet savvy types. Or whoever. People from all over the world have been really inspired by them - thousands have pledged to do 100-mile diets of their own! It's such an interesting and simple concept, and taps into so many pressing issues - bucking the industrial food system, supporting small farmers, sure. But it also became about connecting with local history/ecology, reexamining priorities of cost, convenience, leisure, health, etc etc!

Some of the things that really resonated with me:

Alisa discussed the original idea, when they were just regular people trying to live relatively green, and realized their food was far from it. She said "we know the oil is going to run out sometime. I'd rather have the last hurrah to fly myself around the world, instead of my brussel sprouts!"

James talked about a "double disappearance" of crops. Not only were certain foods they'd taken for granted impossible to find (wheat, cooking oil) because they'd been banished by the globally subdivided agricultural/food chain, but even the memory of those crops being native to their area had been mostly wiped out.

Of course eating locally is environmentally responsible in that you reduce fossil fuel use etc. It makes us all feel good to choose the organic local produce from the farmers market and all. But when you actually DEPEND on your local ecology, you suddenly become invested in conservation in a much more intense way. They recounted the story of a toxic spill in the river. It made the news for a few days, and then people shrugged and still found plenty of fish in the supermarket. But J and A were devastated - despite living in the pacific northwest, they had just lost any hope of salmon for the whole year!

In conclusion, run out and buy/borrow the book. Also at their website you can do all kinds of things - see people sharing their stories from all over, find local resources like CSA programs, find your own 100 miles, read a short faq/interview which reiterates a lot of the questions i heard yesterday - like "was it expensive? repetetive? why 100 miles? can i do this here? etc"

My current culinary endeavors sort of preclude any serious 100-miling by yours truly (um, salt and pepper anyone?), but living in the middle of this bountiful land it's crazy NOT to eat heavily local. Sadly, even here most people don't - for all the amazing farmer's markets and natural food stores that label local products, there are still plenty of Safeways selling that bounty back to us, 2x1 in a shiny box, enriched with the sweet sweet taste of those 1500 miles of petroleum.

Which reminds me something else i heard this week. From an ecuadorian friend who just moved to Montreal (and here eating locally connects with globalization, immigration, free trade...):
It is hard to find anything fresh here, almost everything is precooked in some sort of strange frozen meals. I haven't bought any so far but just saying that getting fresh vegables to prepare my own food is a hard task. I have to go to different stores and be shocked dumb by prices and bad quality. A fig costs one dollar. In Ecuador I bought 40 figs in 1.5 dollars!...
It makes realize that no matter how terrible is the economic crisis in the future, Ecuador will never have people dying of hunger or eating rats or something like that. We have a very high productivity all throughout the year and are self sufficient in food.

But she can't say enough good things about free books and internet! Oooh yeah, public libraries make everything better.


  1. During my year in eugene I was surprised to discover that oregon has its fair share of covered bridges: http://www.covered-bridges.org

  2. Yeah, Ohio rest stops seem to feature an awful lot of postcards of covered bridges too. I'm beginning to suspect this is a nationwide phenomenon.

    Also, it never ceases to amaze me what people are inspired to comment upon. I mean, all that great stuff about food, local empowerment, cute canadians. and... covered bridges? Really? (Her??)

  3. I was inspired to comment on the local food stuff, I'm just slow and distractable.

    I've heard about a couple of other books about people doing a similar thing as the couple who came to your bookstore. If only I had more time to read books, but you can't have everything. (I guess these other books got wider press coverage because they're already famous names -- at least I'd heard of them.)

    Barbara Kingsolver (along with Camille Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp) has written a book called _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life_: "This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

    And Rosie Boycott (who you'll have heard of if you know much about second wave feminism, or journalism in the UK) has a book out called: Our Farm: A Year in the Life of a Smallholding (I don't think it's out in the US though). She and her husband moved from the city to a farm and aimed to become self sufficient in 18 months...

  4. yeah, i'd seen the barbara kingsolver book but not the other one! err, i'm clearly lacking in my knowledge of 2nd wave feminism and british journalism. that's a pretty kickass name though...

    Thanks for the links :)

  5. This is awesome!I was just teaching 5th grade Manhattanite students today about local food and its connection to the environment, and they thought oranges grew here and that peaches could grow in New York by springtime. They are so distant from knowing about food. We're working with a group called hazon that I'm really into - it's www.hazon.org. I went to their food conference with my dad this year. I haven't read this book, but I know 100 miles doesn't work for NYC. There are too many of us. The 5th graders wisely noted that, and we're having a speaker from Blue Hill come speak next week. I wish we got to take a field trip there for dinner! http://www.bluehillnyc.com/