Are you a locavore?
"Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally," By Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon, Harmony Books, New York, 2007. $24.00. 272 pgs.
If you are having trouble coming up with a really good New Year's resolution, you might want to consider reading a book by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. They young Canadian couple, both journalists, wrote a book about the year they spent eating only food grown or raised within a 100-mile radius of their home in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first edition was published in Canada as "The 100 Mile Diet." The United States edition is called "Plenty."
Their book has given the locavore movement a big push since its publication in spring 2007. It's now about as close to a certified, official movement as it can get. The Oxford American Dictionary just announced that their word of the year for 2007 is "locavore." Their statement reads in part, "The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives."
There is, undoubtedly, a growing focus on eating food grown locally. Prominent chefs and restaurants from coast to coast are putting together menus that are made up of locally grown foods. Many of us have joined our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups to help us not only support local farmers but to increase the variety and quality of food we eat. CSAs are springing up all over the country.
A recent article in The Boston Globe addressed the growth of businesses that produce monitoring devices to detect things in our food that we might not want to ingest. If we know where our food comes from, we might be a little more certain of the quality of our food and, not wishing those businesses harm, we might not need those devices. We can usually attest to the purity of food grown in our own gardens or by a neighbor. In short, there are all sorts of reasons for eating locally.
"Plenty" spells out the complications and the rewards of making the big locavore leap. The authors write alternating chapters about each month of the ordeal. Each chapter begins with a creative recipe from J.B., the cook in the family, for a dish made from their available foods and a poignant quote, e.g., "If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe," written by Carl Sagan, or a piece of graffiti, "Man is born free and everywhere is in chain stores."
There are family stories, mostly food related, from the authors' childhoods, sections on the dynamics of food production and distribution, and other parts describe the strain on their relationship while sticking to a difficult goal. I found the information on food histories and economics of food production and distribution to be fascinating. Their trips to uncover local sources of food items that are now normally only available from agribusiness enterprises thousands of miles away are told as amusing travel logs. They point out that the food most of us eat travels an average of 1,500 miles.
This book is many things. Written in an easy and entertaining style, it's more of a memoir than anything else. It is not preachy. The author's goal is not idealized; their commitment is not without temptation. Their different perspectives add an interesting touch although they are not dissimilar, due no doubt to the years they have been together. It is filled with facts and interesting asides. It is as much about health and eating as it is history and economics. As much about enforced hardship for a greater goal in the midst of plenty as it is about the focus and dedication required to complete a project.
I have compared the Canadian and the American editions and the only difference I could find other than the names was the omission of a quote on the American dust jacket from the popular and somewhat nutty chef-author Anthony Bourdain, author of "Kitchen Confidential." He wrote "I think they're nuts." It's in fact a terrific read whether you have an interest in local eating or not.