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From the Hardcover edition.
Freelance journalist Smith and MacKinnon (Dead Man in Paradise) recount their yearlong experiment of living on a diet of foods grown within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, B.C. They forgo foods such as oil and salt when they realize these common staples, among many other food sources, travel great distances before reaching one's supermarket. They discuss the challenges and sacrifices they endure as they commit themselves to a philosophy of living on locally grown produce and a way of life radically different from what they had known. While this is an illuminating story, many issues are not addressed, such as the impact of this diet on one's health and one's wallet and whether it would be possible for an ordinary family to engage in such a way of life. Nevertheless, this is an eye-opening account and a good read about the couple's particular experience. Academic studies, historical research, and primary sources enrich their memoir, which includes references to biologist Edward O. Wilson's The Diversity of Lifeand Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. An acknowledgments section is provided; however, a bibliography would have been more useful. Recommended for public libraries.
A week later we were back in our one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver, surrounded by two million other people and staring out the sitting-room window. We have a view of a parking lot and two perpetually overloaded Dumpsters. It was as good a place as any to contemplate the statistic. The number just kept turning up: in the reports that Alisa and I read as journalists; in the inch-long news briefs I’ve come to rely on as an early-warning system for stories that would, in a few months or a few years, work their way into global headlines. According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the food we eat now typically travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles from farm to plate. The distance had increased by up to 25 percent between 1980 and 2001, when the study was published. It was likely continuing to climb.
I didn’t know any more about it than that. It was enough. Like so many other people, Alisa and I had begun to search for ways to live more lightly in an increasingly crowded and raggedy-assed world. There is no shortage of information about this bright blue planet and its merry trip to hell in a hand- basket, and we had learned the necessary habit of shrugging off the latest news bites about “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico or creatures going extinct after 70 million years—70 million years—on Earth. What we could not ignore was the gut feeling, more common and more important than policy makers or even scientists like to admit, that things have gone sideways. That the winter snow is less deep than it was when we were children, the crabs fewer under the rocks by the shore, the birds at dawn too quiet, the forest oddly lonesome. That the weather and seasons have become strangers to us. And that we, the human species, are in one way or another responsible. Not guilty, but responsible.
The gut feeling affects people. I received a letter once, as a journalist, from a young man who had chained himself to a railing in a mall on the biggest shopping day of the year in America, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and set himself on fire to protest rampant consumerism. He survived, barely, and was ordered into mental health care, but all of his opinions were of a kind commonly held by some of the most lucid and admired ecologists and social theorists of our times. A friend of mine, a relationship counselor, told me of a couple whose marriage was being tested by a disagreement over the point at which the world’s reserves of cheap petroleum will surpass maximum production and begin to decline. Concerned for his child’s future in an “end of oil” scenario, the husband, an otherwise typical health-care provider, wanted to go bush, learn how to tan buckskins, teach their boy to hunt and forage. The wife, equally concerned for the child, preferred everyday life in a society where carbonated soda is the leading source of calories in the diet of the average teenager and the New England Journal of Medicine reports that, owing to obesity and physical inactivity, the life spans of today’s children may be shorter than those of their parents. So who’s crazy?
A more typical response is the refusal to purchase an enormous, fuel-inefficient SUV. Alisa and I had made that choice. Yet, as the Leopold Center numbers seemed to suggest, we had no cause to feel holier-than-thou. Each time we sat down to eat, we were consuming products that had traveled the equivalent distance of a drive from Toronto, Ontario, to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, or from New York City to Denver, Colorado. We were living on an SUV diet.
“I think we should try eating local food for a year.”
We were at the breakfast table when these words came out of my mouth. Alisa did not look up at me as though I were insane. We had begun to do these kinds of things, insuring the car in the summer only and getting through the winter by bicycle; or living part of each year in a northern hideaway where the “emergency procedure” was to wave your arms in front of a passing freight train and then sit tight and wait—the following train was the one that would stop.
Besides, I do all the cooking.
Alisa had a pensive look on her face. “It might not even be possible,” she said. A long pause settled between us. “What about sugar?”
She knew immediately, I think, that she had lost the argument. What about sugar? Well, I had learned one or two things about sugar over the previous year, while researching a book set in the Dominican Republic. The journey had taken me through the bateys, the shanties inhabited by mainly ethnic Haitian sugar workers, certainly some of the world’s poorest people. One afternoon I went out with a nun to pick up an elderly cane-cutter; there was a space for him in the old folks’ home that had been set up by the Catholic sisters. We drove past walls of green cane stalks to a clearing with patched-together tin shelters and one-room concrete shacks. The man was leaning against a wall, literally holding himself together with his hands. He had worked so hard and for so long that his hip socket had worn out, and he could not walk without pressing the femur into place. I carried his bag, which contained everything he had to show for a lifetime of labor. It was a schoolchild’s backpack, with a broken zipper. Staring out at the men cutting cane as we departed, he said into the air, “Hungry. I’ve been hungry all these years.”
I had taken on the irritating habit, whenever Alisa came to me with some complaint that I considered overly modern and urban, such as the effects of rainfall on suede or a pinched nerve from talking too long on the phone, of saying that I would make sure to let them know all about it in the bateys.
I arched an eyebrow in Alisa’s direction. The question of sugar was a reminder of why I wanted to try this local-eating experiment in the first place. It isn’t only that our food is traveling great distances to reach us; we, too, have moved a great distance from our food. This most intimate nourishment, this stuff of life—where does it come from? Who produces it? How do they treat their soil, crops, animals? How do their choices—my choices—affect my neighbors and the air, land, and water that surround us? If I knew where my food and drink came from, would I still want to eat it? If even my daily bread has become a mystery, might that total disconnection be somehow linked to the niggling sense that at any moment the apocalyptic frogs might start falling from the sky?
“We’ll use honey,” I said to Alisa.
“Yeah,” she replied doubtfully. “Honey.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted March 4, 2010
Food. The cost of it, the growing of it, the transportation of it, the consuming of it. We seemed to be fixed on the implications of the way we eat on the rest of our social fabric. "Plenty" recounts a year in the life of a couple who decide, quite naively, that they should limit the purchasing and consuming of food only to food grown within 100 miles of their apartment. Written in a memoir style to answer the question, "What are you doing?" the book holds surprises, challenges, disappointments, and sastisfaction. Be prepared to be wonder if you and your family could live the dare.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 29, 2007
I found this to be an absolutely wonderful read -- I will give it to many as a gift. I was pleased that it was not simply a 'how-to' book, but also explored very openly the human side of making difficult dietary and lifestyle changes and how this affects relationships, budgets, socializing and other aspects of life. I enjoyed the dual gender voices -- he writes a chapter, she writes a chapter. While some of the lengths they went to were impractical at best, the basic premise is achievable much of the time if we are willing to examine the impact of our ways and make even small changes. Their ingenuity in finding food and adapting its preparation to meet their goal was entertaining, as their culinary world ultimately broadened when one might expect it to close in on them. Finally, what I came away with most strongly was an appreciation for the authors' reverence and respect for each other, community, the environment and our abundance.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 9, 2007
This story is very good, though at times a little boring. Each chapter alternates between the man and the woman's voice. The man can be overly boring at times with extensive details and history of how the flora and fauna of his local area has changed. The female can be a bit whiney describing how she is not fully satisifed with their relationship. I would have liked to read more about their trips to all places local, the shopkeepers they met, and how they learned to preserve their food. This is definitely not a how to book and I would have liked suggestions on how I can find my own food growers in a 150 mile radius of my home or at least some general websites to get me started.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 21, 2010
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Posted April 23, 2010
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Posted October 16, 2009
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