Smith, A., & Mackinnon, J. B. 2007. The 100-mile diet: A year of local eating. Toronto: Vintage Canada.
The 100 Mile Diet describes Alisa Smith and J. B. Mackinnon’s struggles and successes with eating locally, or within a hundred mile radius of their tiny apartment in downtown Vancouver, over the course of a year. However, this book doesn’t simply “describe” what it is the couple ate (which at some points was endless amounts of potatoes and root vegetables), but it takes the reader on what feels like a first-hand trip to locating, gathering, purchasing, and preparing the food, as well as meeting with farmers, bee-keepers and produce sellers, and navigating changing seasons, and their own differences of opinion. The first half of the book in particular (up until “October”) leads us to the East Side farmer’s market, the fish market, the thick forest of the isolated northern town of Doreen, BC., and farms scattered over the authors’ region of the West Coast, including UBC, Westham Island, BC., Salt Spring Island, BC., and Bellingham, WA. Intertwined with these food-finding adventures are thought-provoking statistics, and historical narratives on the state of our land and food supply in times past.
A narrative that I found particularly interesting was that of the outrageous abundance of Salt Spring Island in 1893, when “even the years’ apple harvest, considered “almost a total failure” could have provided seven apples a day to every islander” (p. 97). Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the total volume of mammals, birds and fish that once roamed and swam in every corner of the Pacific Northwest, as is remembered in narratives of voyagers and explorers of the 1700s and 1800s; “such exuberance of life” (p. 142). I appreciate both of these examples because they really give me a sense of the impermanence of the world as we know it now; creatures and plants that we see in abundance today may someday become unknown to generations of the future. And with this there is also a sense of loss in knowing that we too have missed so much abundance of previous eras, so much so that we have already begun to forget the kinds of seeds that can be sown in our BC soil, or, for example, that seeing an eagle or a stream overflowing with wild salmon was once commonplace. This notion also means that it is possible that one day the state of our Earth may be better than it is today, if only we can remember what is important. As J.B. Mackinnon puts it: “a bean reinforces an original truth: that human beings are sustained by the natural world… the garden is a constant reminder that our depleted global environment is linked to the gap we have constructed between our food and ourselves” (p. 146).