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Thoughts on Plenty/100 Mile Diet

I just finished reading Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon's book _Plenty_, about eating only foods grown and produced within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, BC. I found it pretty fascinating, but I'm not sure that I could give up on some items, like coffee, chocolate, olives/olive oil, and I'm desparately afraid that (like the authors) I wouldn't be able to find wheat within 100 miles of my house!

Is anyone on the board trying to do this?

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  1. Not me!

    It would be very hard for me to do that here in Northern Minnesota. I'm sure it'd be much easier in a more mild area like Vancouver.

    Personally I need my chickpeas, spices, etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tvdxer

      Agreed, tvdxer. I'm in Michigan and we could do it now, but in January?? I envision a Russian/German type diet with lots of cabbage and root vegetables!

      I do agree that we should buy and eat local whenever possible (I'm heading to our farmers' market in about half an hour), but I don't see any point to giving up citrus and spices which cannot be grown in a northern climate.

    2. haven't read the book...but they must make exceptions for certain items!

      Humans have been transporting foodstuffs for millennia - especially spices & exotics like coffee, chocolate & tea. To avoid doing so is to reject human progress along with human excess. There is a better balance to be made.

      1. I just finished reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. It's basically the same premise, only she was located in Appalachia. There's been some discussion of it here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/42187...

        While I have so much respect for people who do this (I've lived with and worked for some before, albeit for short periods at a time!) I know in my heart that I don't have the resolve to do it myself. Lifestyle changes - be it weight loss or recycling! - must be sustainable, otherwise they're just demoralizing and short-lived. So what I have taken away from this and other books (Fast Food Nation, Omnivore's Dilemma, & co) is that many small changes will also make a difference. I try to recycle as much as possible, I only buy responsibly produced meat, I try to support small, local growers and producers and I avoid buying imported, out of season produce (one statistic which sticks with me from the Kingsolver book is that to transport one calorie of edible food from the West Coast to the East Coast of America requires 87 calories of energy in the form of fuels).

        Look, I'm lucky that I live in a country (South Africa) with different climates and soils allow an unbelievable variety of food to be grown, a large percentage of which is grown within one or two hours from my home, so my decisions are not such a hardship as they might be to someone in British Columbia (it's the dead of winter here and up until two weeks ago, there were still plums available!). But today at the shops I said NO to Kenyan-grown asparagus, and NO to Spanish-grown nectarines. But since coffee doesn't grow here, nor cocoa beans, I'm still happy to support responsibly grown imported products. I think it's a compromise I'm willing to live with.

        1. One of the things I find really interesting is that many people's first reaction (myself included--I do live in the Pacific Northwest, but on the dry side of the mountains) is "oh, that's nice, but I couldn't do that where *I* live". When I started looking though, I was surprised at how much was available in my "foodshed". I wouldn't necessarily stick to exactly 100 miles, since we drive further than that fairly regularly to visit family, but it did get me thinking about finding more of my food locally, even stuff I'd never though twice about (like flour). I'm also thinking about making the time and space to preserve some produce (I really wish we had a decent freezer....) I think a strong point of the book (and the accompanying blog/website) is that while the authors stuck to their goal, they never made it sound like anyone else should do exactly what they did--they just showed that it can be done. Maybe 100 miles isn't going to work for you but 250 might (there is a section of the book about someone from Minnesota who eats locally, btw, and I think her circle was closer to 250 mi..) Maybe you eat one local meal a week, or decide to buy something that's a little more expensive but grown closer to home. Maybe you decide there are five "imports" you're going to keep on the menu--coffee is pretty much sacred in our house so I don't think that's going anywhere :) Small changes, as Gooseberry said, can make a difference too.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mizinformation

            Well said, mizinformation. The sticky issue for me is, how do you prioritize local, seasonal and organic?

            For example, tomatoes are grown year round in tunnels 50 minutes from where I live - so much for seasonal. But I prefer in winter to buy tinned tomatoes produced in Italy - so much for local!
            Or; flour is grown within two hours of my home, but it is produced by a massive corporation which supposedly uses GM seed. I buy flour which is organic but noncertified, grown by a small producer who stone-grinds it on site. This is about five hours drive away from me.

            So for me, saying '100 miles' wouldn't lead to the most ethical -or seasonal - or organic choices. Which of course means every purchase, with its own set of circumstances, requires a bit of mental reasoning.

            1. re: mizinformation

              I usually think the exact opposite: wow, I'm lucky to live in a climate zone that allows me to eat like a king, even if I follow the locavore's hard-core 100 mile zone. I'd have to give up coffee, chocolate, and tea, as well as many spices, but that's it. Gary Nabhan (sp) did a thoughtful treatment of this concept in print quite a while back, and now everyone who writes popular nonfiction seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. Seems like the me-too gimmicky book proposal premise of the last two years, if you ask me.

            2. Nettie, I just realized you're probably in the PNW too--Azure Standard may be a source of local wheat flour (among other things.) They're in Dufur which is about 100 miles from Portland. Also, I thought I read somewhere that at least some of Bob's Red Mill wheat flours are Oregon-grown (like maybe the organic ones?) but I can't find the info again so I may be confused--I'm sure they could tell you at the BRM shop though.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mizinformation

                Yes, I'm in Portland. Thanks for the local flour source links. I do get a lot of stuff from Bob's Red Mill, but I'm positive that not all of it is sourced locally--I'll have to ask next time I visit their store. Have you tried the Azure Standard flours? Those look interesting.

                I'm not positive that this diet is something that I'd like to do--right now I'm sourcing way too much food from Italy, plus I couldn't give up coffee! I've tried to justify to myself that while it does take a lot of resources to ship foods, maybe it's MOST wasteful to be shipping perishables. (However, I can't justify to myself getting food from Italy that I could be getting from California.) Since I belong to a CSA, I'm getting all of my vegetables locally and in season, and in Portland we're lucky to have New Seasons where I can do pretty well at getting local fruit. Maybe the next step is getting local meat and seafood...

              2. I noticed just this weekend that my local natural grocery had put up a big map with the location of all their major produce suppliers and how many miles away from the store they are. Most of them are under 100 miles, but then, I live in the Bay Area.

                Where I live I could actually grow most of my produce -- one year during WWII my teenaged father and his widowed mother grew over a ton of produce in their Victory garden in an urban backyard the same size as mine and only a few blocks away. In my more ambitious years I've grown not only the ubiquitous zucchini and other squash, but also corn, green beans and peppers -- and I'm a lousy gardener. My housemate grew tomatoes (I don't like them), chard, spinach, lettuce and strawberries. I have a lemon tree, a lime tree and a Meyer lemon bush, a Calamondin (sort of like a cross between a tangerine and a kumquat) and a dwarf tangerine I've been nursing along (the dog dug it up three times when I first planted it) in containers on the patio. I have an apple tree, which if I thinned the fruit properly would probably produce decent apples. What's more, I'm only using about 200 square feet of my yard for these purposes (the lemon and lime are on either side of the front steps -- there are very few ornamentals as pretty as a citrus tree, with pretty, glossy leaves and bright colored fruit year-round), so it's not like I have a farm back there -- just good soil and an optimal climate. Unfortunately, what makes me a lousy gardener is that I don't really enjoy it so I'll let it go for weeks, so right now all I'm growing is my tree crops and a small herb garden (sage, mint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, lemon thyme and marjoram -- with my history of sporadic gardening, perennials are the safest bet!). I bet more of us could grow a good portion of our food if we really wanted to.

                Of course the contradictory thing is that the water I use is probably from more than 100 miles away -- where your water comes from is probably in many ways as important as where your food comes from, but that may be another topic!

                4 Replies
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Home gardeners use much less water than commercial farmers, especially if we mulch, water in the evening, add compost to the soil... I've seen big tomato farms with the sprinklers on almost all day to keep the seedlings alive. So don't feel guilty about watering your veggies.

                  I try to grow my own produce as much as I can and to buy local when I can't, but I think giving up spices and other things is not only silly but could hurt other economies. I know some people on this board don't agree, however, and I really don't want to start that arguement again!

                  1. re: Glencora

                    As someone already pointed out, people have been importing spices from around the world for centuries. The relatively miniscule volume of spices transported and the fact that they don't need to be refrigerated means the amount of resources used is only a tiny drop in the bucket.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Still, fossil fuel is used in transport...

                      However, I agree. Grow or shop locally for your staples, but purchasing regional specialties helps develop a market for artisanal products.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Interesting point about water sources. Here in western Oregon, I have it a little harder because I can't get local citrus. However, we have an excess of local water! Most of our water comes from snow in the cascade mountains within 100 miles of here.

                  3. I have been trying to source as much food as possible locally. I have only made a few truly 100 mile meals. Like chicken from a local farm, with potatoes from my garden and broccoli from the farmers market. I used local butter, and herbs from my garden. Besides the salt and pepper, everything was local, within 50 miles. Can I do this for every meal? I cooked for my family of four and we all would have to be onboard. I could slip in a 100 mile meal in, but they would rebel, and sneak chocolate, so...

                    I am not a purist by any stretch. The hardest items to give up would be:

                    citrus fruit,
                    sea salt,
                    coastal fish,
                    certain cheeses,
                    pine nuts,
                    olive oil
                    peanut oil.

                    Most packaged foods like my cereal and rice milk would be off the 100 mile list as would almost all meals out. And I would have to make all of my sauces, condiments, and vinegars, like soy sauce, ketchup and mustard? The biggest challenge is that I would pretty much have to cook all of my meals.

                    I live in michigan like Coney. About november the farmers markets, and my garden dries up. The plenty people started in March. I think I would start in May when I have my gardening coming in and the farmers market starts up. I would also make sure I stocked up for the winter. I guess I would make a lot of wheat bread, cornbread, winter squash and potatoes through winter.