The 100 mile diet


Photo: Dreamstime

In 2005, a city-living couple from Canada decided to try eating only food grown locally within a 100 mile radius of their home.

Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon can describe their first ‘local’ meal in detail and that’s because it was a truly memorable meal eaten at their summer cottage in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. Family and friends turned up unexpectedly and all the Alisa and James had to feed them with was a three week old lettuce.

But necessity being the mother of invention, they started looking around. James’ brother went out and caught a trout. Their friends went foraging in the forest and found chanterelle, pine and hedgehog mushrooms and dandelion leaves. Then they came across an old, abandoned orchard full of mulled apples, sour cherries and rosehips. Alisa went out to the weed-infested vege bed and under a pile of weeds found potatoes and garlic.
It was all cooked up on a woodstove, and flavoured with a bottle of wine –the only non-local contribution, as it was from Australia.

“It was delicious. It was a dinner that transcended the delicate freshness of the fish, the earthy goodness of the spuds that had sopped up the juices of mushrooms and garlic. The rich flavours were the evening’s shallowest pleasure. One of the night’s final questions, passed around upon faces made golden by candlelight: Was there some way to carry this meal into the rest of our lives?”
James Mackinnon, “The 100-Mile Diet”

Authors Alisa Smith, J.B. MacKinnon  give a talk about their experience- November 23rd, 2007. from terrytalks on Vimeo.

James and Alisa went back to their city apartment in Vancouver and decided that trying to eat local food would be their goal for the next year.
Their adventure turned out to be a significantly harder challenge initially than they thought. It took several months to find growers and local farmers who could help provide a wide range of food.
They also quickly realised they were never going to be achieve their goal 100%. Neither could bear to give up beer, chocolate and coffee, none of which are produced anywhere near Vancouver.

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Here are their tips for getting started on the local food diet:
1. Start small – sourcing a wide range of locally grown food can be a really hard ask with no preparation, especially if you live in a city. James and Alisa recommend trying for one meal or one day a week to start with, and to do it in a group so you can share the food, fun and contacts with each other.
2. There are no rules – while it is a challenge, James and Alisa say the rules are what you make. No coffee, chocolate or beer near you? Then just have them and don’t feel guilty, or try and buy Fair Trade products if you do. And how will you cope going to a restaurant? Or to a friend’s place for dinner? If you are a vegetarian, can you find tofu locally? There will be exceptions, no matter where you live.
3. Surf the internet – organic farms and growers, and farmers’ markets are increasingly turning to the internet to market their wares, so look around. Try to find a farmers’ market near to you, or try the Organic Food Directory (, who hope to have local organic food search option on their website shortly.
4. Find your farmers’ market – there are over 40 farmers’ markets in NZ now, from Kerikeri to Invercargill, or you can do what a whole heap of towns have done, and start your own. Go to to see how.
5. Find local farmers – obviously this is a much easier option for New Zealanders, even those that live in the city. But you can buy raw milk in small amounts from dairy farmers, fresh farm eggs, vegetables and fruit from local growers, if you want to find them, or talk to your neighbours and see who grows what.
6. Start a small garden – or a big one, but small is more achievable for busy people, or those who don’t have a lot of room. In their city apartment, James and Alisa only have a balcony but they grow beans and tomatoes in pots and get good crops. They also advocate community gardens utilising vacant lots – in big cities around the world, many vacant lots have been turned into community gardens by “guerrilla” gardeners. Seed is tossed into weeds and grows, and over time a garden appears for very little effort. Co-operative community gardeners often produce significant amounts of fresh food from untended lots and public gardens.
7. Plan a winter-early spring garden – as GT organic garden columnist Bob Crowder is fond of reminding us, late winter and early spring can be a “hungry gap” for gardeners, so you need to plan vegetable production. Cabbage, spinach, turnips, mustard greens, garlic, kale and winter greens are the answer. If you don’t have a lot of room in your garden, try to swap produce with people who do.
8. Buy in bulk and preserve – it can be hard to find local preserves, and yet it’s so much cheaper to buy in bulk and preserve things yourself. James and Alisa turned their preserving sessions into parties, inviting friends and family over, and they all loved every minute. There are great books out there these days with fabulous, easy recipes.

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In their adventures, James and Alisa discovered some information that they found quite shocking:
– when the average North American sits down to eat, every ingredient in the food they are eating has travelled at least 1500 miles (2400km) to get to that table.
– A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and petrol than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country.
– A British study tracked how much of the money spent at a local food business stayed in the local economy, and how many times it was reinvested. The total value was almost twice the contribution of a dollar spent at a supermarket chain.
– Everything about food and cooking is a metaphor for sex (Editor’s note – we can’t vouch for the last one, but they are experts!)

The 100-Mile Diet – A Year of Local Eating
By Alisa Smith and James B MacKinnon
Published by Harper Collins

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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