What started as a humble dining-room experiment eventually took the form of an alternative food movement. See why the 100-Mile Diet has both environmentalists and foodies asking for seconds.
It all began one autumn when Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon ran out of food when vacationing in a remote cabin in northern British Columbia, Canada. They were expecting a house full of guests and except for a rotting cabbage in the refrigerator, there was nothing edible around. Left without options, the resourceful hostess rustled up a finger licking feast from what grew on her land, giving birth to an idea and a movement.
Back to home in Vancouver, and inspired by their culinary prowess along with the bounty that existed on the doorstep of their tiny cabin, the duo ruminated on how they could live in a sustainable way by eating food grown locally, specifically within a 100-mile radius of their residence. Finally, in the spring of 2005, they implemented their plan for a year- what was later to be dubbed the 100-Mile Diet.
Within the neighbourhood
According to the Worldwatch Institute, the average Canadian food item has travelled anywhere between 2,500km and 4,000 km. “food miles” indicate the distance that food travels from farm to table and is a strong contributor to climate change. Local eating diminishes the impact on the environment – food does not have to be flown to distant parts of the world, and consequently there is less fuel consumption and pollution. The one – year experiment stretched to a lifelong commitment: the couple ate only what was produced within 100 miles of their Vancouver apartment, giving up on olive oil, rice, Pizza Pops, sugar and even beer. They started to chronicle their experiment in an e-zine, The Tyee, which created media frenzy and led to a book contract. The book, Plenty: Eating locally on the 100-Mile Diet, was published in 2007, creating a stir and winning foodie fans.
The concept of the 100-Mile Diet and Local Eating for Global Change has drawn not just long-haired mantra-spouting activists but ordinary people and entire communities that began to re-think the way they ate. Locally raised and produced food was labelled “The New Organic” by Time magazine. By then, the 100-Mile Diet had spread like wildfire from Vancouver and Canada’s West Coast to North America and soon girdled the globe.
Supermarkets stared to introduce local food sections; Santa Barbara, California launched a drive a drive to have a 100-mile label on products sourced locally. To describe people who source food within the region and launched a website called Locavores.com. on the site, they exchange shopping tips and even outré options like a flour mill powered by a donkey at a farm nearby! Other longer changes have changed have happened – formers’ markets brimming with local and seasonal produce and community-supported farms have begun to thrive and restaurants have sprung up in Vancouver.
A Healthier world
The advantages of local eating are constantly being touted – freshness, better taste and beneficial for the environment and local economies. Gurus of the new fad also proselytize about it being a healthier choice as the focus is on freshness, cutting out processed, high-fat foods out of daily meals. This contributes to weight loss and a decreased risk of diabetes, heart problems and certain types of cancer. 100-Mile converts also cry themselves hoarse about the diet’s flexibility – one can do it for a month, a week, a day or forever. It is flexible – also in that it changes with the produce of the season.
Today, the band of eco-warriors has multiplied as people start tending their own organic vegetable gardens and dine only at restaurants where the menu states the number of “food miles” each dish has notched up in its journey from the farm to the table. Whether this movement has made the culinary world simpler, or complicated it further, is something only time can tell.
Raincity Grill, Vancouver
Raincity Grill, the hottest restaurant in Vancouver, was the first eatery in the health-conscious city to adopt the “buy locally, eat seasonally” concept. When Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon were almost at the end of their year-long experiment, the then chef of the restaurant invited them to try out their 100-Mile Tasting Menu. It turned out to be a flavourful break from their own, often pallid, efforts. A small intimate wood – paneled restaurant with a ringside view of English Bay, Raincity Grill is zealous about “the more local, the better” philosophy. The menu focuses on seafood, game, poultry and organic vegetables from the home province of British Columbia. These are all produced with care by local artisans in communities close to home. All the dishes showcased the region’s seasonal bounty from Vancouver Island’s Manila clams to duck prosciutto and roast pork from nearby Fraser Valley. Even their water is purified in-house.
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