Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, written by couple Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, is one of the most interesting and inspiring books I have read in a long time. The basic premises: A British Columbia couple (both freelance journalist) that have noticed a disgusting (my words not theirs) trend in the food market who decide to eat only within a one hundred mile radius of their home for one year. Some other rules apply like: if traveling the individual can bring back food from that area (one of their prized possessions was sea salt from an Oregon coast trip), and if out to a business meeting or on a business trip the individual may eat whatever is offered, but should try to eat locally within that region.
I loved the way this book was written, it is approachable, accessible, and more realistic than many books of this type I have read. It is not jammed with statistics that we have all heard about global warming and pesticides, it is something more than that. The book is separated by chapters that are equivalent to months. The diet began on the first day of spring, March 21st. Alisa and James switch off writing each month, so the first month was James, then April was Alisa, and so on. It was refreshing to see both sides of the story, and to work through their struggles as a couple completing this “difficult” task. They explained the difficulties: living in a small urban apartment, having to eat potatoes every meal through the rough winter months, the rain, the flour shortages, the environmental damages that hindered their food sources, and they explained the excitements: the taste of every fresh local item they found, the experimentation of meals, preservation, their change of hunger, discovering new food, etc.
This book also made me think about my current eating habits. I had thought I was eating locally, and for the most part I do. But I was more focused on eating in Oregon only, and Washington when I had to. But looking at a map, I realized that Washington could be over 300 miles away at parts, and the Tillamook cheese I often bought is over 150 miles away (not too bad, but still…). This book has further inspired me to search for outlets closer to home and to make food preservation a top priority. But it has also taught me the joy in eating potatoes for every meal; finding new ways to prepare things and savoring each vegetable, fruit, grain, spice, as its own glorious flavor.
“…Making jam had taken all afternoon and evening, but the last thing I’d call it was work. It was living. How have we forgotten this fact? The ‘primitive’ peoples knew it. Anthropological studies of the world’s last remaining hunter-gatherers have shown that although they lived in some of the harshest environments on earth, they spent less time working than any typical nine-to-fiver… Marshall Sahlins revolutionized the Hobbesian view of primitive peoples lives- ‘nasty, brutish, and short’- by pointing to studies that showed the average time they spent collecting and preparing food ran from two hours and nine minutes per day to five hours and nine minutes. ‘ The most obvious, immediate conclusion is that the people do not work hard,’ wrote Sahlins. Nor did people appear to dislike such work. The Yir-Yiront of Australia, for example, did not distinguish linguistically between work and play…”
Check out their website and see where your hundred mile radius is.