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Local Economy

End of Road for 100-Mile Diet?

In search of a happy ending for our local eating sojourn.

Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon 25 Apr

J.B. MacKinnon is an independent magazine journalist and writer. He is the author of Dead Man in Paradise (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005), which won Canada’s highest award for literary nonfiction. He is also coauthor of The 100-Mile Diet (Random House, 2007, with Alisa Smith), a bestseller that is widely credited as a catalyst of the local foods movment, and I Live Here (Pantheon, 2008, written with Mia Kirshner, Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons), a unique “paper documentary” about displaced people.

J.B.'s Connection to BC: Born is Sheffield, England, but raised in Kamloops, B.C., J.B. loves this province. (He has been down nearly every highway and a lot of the dirt roads, too.)

Reporting Beat: Environment, food.

Website: J.B. MacKinnon

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We couldn't let the spirit of the 100-Mile Diet die. We've heard from too many of you and we've been blown away and immensely grateful. Around the world, people have launched their own 100-mile experiments, local eating has been called "the next organics," and human-scale economics is poised to take on agribusiness. So this is what it's like to be around for the birth of a movement…

We plan to be a part of it. Starting today, the adventure continues at

It's over. After 365 days on the 100-Mile Diet, it's hard to adjust to the idea. It became who we were. In the weeks leading up to the first day of spring, our finish line, people always wanted to know what I would eat when I was "free." "Doritos?" one friend asked, seeming to hope my sins would go that deep.

Nope. I've never liked Doritos. There was nothing that I really craved; life got a lot easier after we found wheat. Though some basic items such as olive and canola oils will be welcome, as well as some spices. Yet, I had this nagging feeling that an extreme meal was in order. The day before our experiment ended, I was walking down the street and thought, in a flash of inspiration: Digby scallops from Nova Scotia, with mangos from the Caribbean to make a chutney. There would be some food miles in that sucker. When I got home, I told James about my idea. "Have we ever bought Digby scallops?" he asked, scornfully. No, I admitted. It did seem a little ludicrous put like that. Back to the drawing board.

Chilean sea bass?

As if. But first we had a 100-Mile feast to plan.

You might think that it would de difficult at the tail end of the season now that we have come full circle to the famine times we began with last March. But much of our famine was "manmade," because we had not prepared ahead. Then we got a cube freezer and got industrious over the summer-and then frugal. After two lean winter months of rationing our foodstuffs and eating thin broths, we realized; what are we holding back for? Throughout March, James made fantastic meals ranging from oyster pies to salmon crepes. Though we ran out of blueberries, and the final squash went moldy, there were still some treats in reserve. We cracked open the strawberry juice for the first time a few weeks ago. It was delicious. This coming summer, I'll make more of it.

Feast of experiences

Our final feast had to serve four additional people: Keri and Ron, who shared our first 100-mile meal of salmon steaks and, of course, potatoes; and Ruben and Olive, who had participated keenly in many 100-Mile projects, from berry picking to cheese-making. The menu: James' homemade pasta with tomatoes (the final quart jar) and walnut-basil pesto, along with fresh winter greens from Chilliwack. I contributed homemade crackers with a selection of local cheeses and, the pièce de résistance, a blackberry pie with whipped cream. (Yes, I will again give thanks for finding wheat, the foundation of this particular meal.) Can this be called hardship or want? So the feast was eaten, the wine and cider drunk, the friends went home, the dishes were washed.

I thought back on the adventures of the last few months in particular and realized how much I would miss the sense of purpose the 100-Mile Diet provides. It took me to Minnesota in search of a gang of seven folk who began their own one-year local eating challenge in September 2005 ( They are deep into wild-food foraging, and three of them teach a course in it at the White Earth Tribal and Community College. I brushed the snow off Labrador tea plants in the forest, and made myself a brew of it. And met a Frenchman named, yes, Pierre, who was their red wine vinegar guru.

Not long afterwards, in the most jarring contrast possible, James and I went to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico for a wedding, and then went hunting for the heart of local Mayan cuisine. While eating traditional botanas, or snacks, in a cantina, a mute magician and a mariachi invited us into their world for an afternoon. (This adventure will be chronicled in enRoute magazine in July.)

It's been a mad, mad, mad year. No surprise that I woke up feeling a little lost the day after it ended.

Now what?

"Do you want to go to Solly's for bagels?" James asked. We hadn't been to this favoured breakfast haunt for, you guessed it, one year.

"Nah," I said listlessly.

He asked me what I wanted to eat. "Potatoes and fried egg, I guess." Exactly what we'd had the morning before.

I think I've been genetically altered by eating only local foods for so long. I don't much want anything else. For lunch, James made up the leftover pasta with a cream sauce this time. When I was halfway through, he said conspiratorially, "I put black pepper in it." What a wild man. He'd found it in the back of the cupboard.

We did not have the scorned Digby scallops with mango sauce at home, but instead went out to dinner at Vij's to celebrate. We made sure to order the jackfruit appetizer. "I bet that's from really far away," I said, giddy that we were doing something impure.

While we've been on a binge of restaurant meals (Japanese the following night, our local Indian place the next), we still have not yet been grocery shopping. Going into a supermarket and buying whatever we want seems like a form of excess, a sin. James went away for the weekend, and though I hate to cook, I couldn't bring myself to return to my former habit of buying ready-made meals. I asked him how to bake up the chunk of salmon that was thawing on the counter. "It's about four inches thick, so put it in at 450 degrees and turn it four times-every ten minutes. Forty minutes total. Wrap it in foil. Put in whatever you want, maybe some lemon?" he said, slyly naming a formerly forbidden fruit.

But I shook my head. After he left, I baked it in a pan with butter and a lemony-tasting local white wine, along with potatoes from the cupboard and Brussels sprouts from the freezer. In other words, another 100-Mile meal.

This morning, I made buttermilk pancakes and had them with honey and apple preserves. Sure would have liked some maple syrup though. Someday soon, I will go inside a supermarket and buy something from far away. But not today.

Find out more about the 100-Mile Diet movement at Alisa's and James' new web site, here. Read the entire 100-Mile Diet series on The Tyee here. And look for more 100-Mile Diet related stories on The Tyee in the future, too!  [Tyee]

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