Book Review: Plenty, or The Hundred Mile Diet

Plenty, or the Hundred Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating as it is titled in Canada, is nothing like Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable or Miracle; Kingsolver is a rich writer living on a farm, Alisa and James are young starving writers living in a small apartment in Vancouver. They start their project, living for a year eating food from within a one hundred mile radius, with a blow-out meal of local fish, Salt Spring Island cheese and blueberries, but the bill comes to $128 and they realize that anyone can do this if you are rich. The challenge is to figure out how to do it if you are young, inexperienced and not Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow 1972.

It is a struggle; no sugar, no olive oil, for much of it no wheat or bread. They work their way through, learning about the diversity of food that has been lost to supermarket monocultures, about the true cost in water and fuel in California lettuce. They did not really know what they were doing, starting the experiment at the beginning of spring, absolutely the worst time of year when nothing is yet growing and all there is to eat is last years remaining turnips.

Along the way, they became an internet phenomenon. They published an article on a local online magazine, the Tyee, and it went viral. (treehugger's first post here) Soon they are internet celebrities, and the concept is being picked up by everyone everywhere, a meme that has really gotten beyond their control, this year, local food is a phenomenon, among people who have never heard of Alisa and James. The book has a serious chance of being anticlimactic after such hype and exposure. It is not; Alisa and James know how to write, and it is informative, personal, charming and inspiring. In one chapter, no, almost on one page, we share the images of tasting pumpkin honey- "I has the sensation that a window had been opened, expanding the world" and the dubious task "and there I sat, separating mouse shit from wheat berries with a credit card."

One does not have to be a cook to worry about where your food comes from; Alisa made perhaps one meal during the course of this book, a chum soup. However, like Michael Pollan's The Onmivore's Dilemma, reading this book will change the way you look at your meal. ::Plenty or ::The 100 Mile Diet

also: Listen to ::TreeHugger Radio :On the first day of spring in 2005, Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon started a culinary revolution. They didn’t know it at the time. All they were trying to do was defy the disappointing statistic that the average food item on a North American plate travels the distance between Boulder, CO and New York City to get to our plates. For one year, they ate within a 100 mile radius of their home. The diet would, perhaps, seem less daunting in a place like Los Angeles or Southern Florida, but that’s not where James & Alisa lived. They embarked on this journey from a humble flat in British Columbia, Canada. Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, is the story of their year of eating close to home. Listen to TreeHugger Radio each Friday on Air America’s EcoTalk, here on, or pick up the podcast on iTunes. (listen/right click to download) ::TreeHugger Radio

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