Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Jul 19, 2007 11:55 AM

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?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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:

        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...