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Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally

By Lisa Shames in Food on Aug 14, 2007 5:00PM

rsz_plentyFOX.jpgIt all first started when she started seeing apples from New Zealand in her local supermarket. “It didn’t make sense. We live in an apple-growing region,” said Alisa Smith (pictured above), half of the writing team of “Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally” at a lecture/book signing Monday night at Fox & Obel. Add to that a spur-of-the-moment meal they had to whip up for friends at their wilderness cabin in British Columbia with only the food they could forage, and the light bulb started flashing for Smith and her partner James MacKinnon. “It was the most delicious meal and was the first time we knew everything about the food on our plate,” she recalled.

Not too long after, the couple decided they had enough of food that had traveled 1,500 miles and started their year-long quest to eat only products found within 100 miles of their Vancouver apartment. Little did they know that they would become a prominent voice in a pre-existing grassroots movement.

Two years later, Smith and MacKinnon still eat 85 to 90 percent local but do allow for some “global trade treats” in their diet, including olive oil, rice and chocolate. And they’re happy to report that the momentum hasn’t died down but has in fact has increased. The numerous hits on their web site and the 10,000 people that have signed up worldwide to do their own 100-mile diet help prove it. Here are some of the things they learned along the way:

  • The first six weeks they ate a “whole lot of borscht” and “felt like freaks,” but once the produce started arriving at their local farmer’s market things got much better.
  • What started out as a way to have less of a negative impact on the environment turned into reconnecting with their community, the seasons and flavor. “We were eating food that was bred not to be shipped but to taste better,” said Smith. “It became about the pleasure of eating not just environmental issues.”
  • Rather than missing out on things, they found themselves trying more new foods than ever before.
  • While they didn’t have any special skills to prepare them for their journey, their backgrounds as investigative journalists came in handy. “We became food detectives,” said Smith, when it came to trying to track down local products. “But that shouldn’t be what we have to be.”

Chicagoist is getting in on the local-eating action, too, by signing up for the Green City Market sponsored “Localvore” Challenge Week, Sept. 10-16, and posting along the way.