Dickinson College Farm
the dirt '08

Bringing the Movement Home: The 100-Mile Diet, Local Eating for Global Change

Maggie Stonecash '08

As for-profit globalization plows onward, our local economies, environments, health and food production continue to be left behind in disarray. In the face of the constantly emerging global economy, the green movement is attempting to bring the food revolution back to our backyards. One of the many tactics for promoting local foods in hopes of shrinking the distance between the consumer and producer is the 100 Mile Diet. This simple experiment in local eating was born in 2005 from two Canadian residents, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon. For one year, they would attempt to live off drink and food from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver . Their simple experiment might not have been so simple but sure was successful. Now hundreds of individuals and grassroots groups are attempting this diet in hopes of reducing their carbon footprint and supporting local farmers and producers.

The 100 Mile Diet is a drastic reduction from the typical 1,500 Mile Diet. Most North Americans participate in this SUV diet when they sit down to eat. Each ingredient has typically traveled 1,500 miles from farm to plate. The misconception is that this is the only way possible. A regional diet consumes 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country. In addition, money spent at a local food business stays in the local economy and has almost twice the value and contribution in the local economy as the dollar spent at the supermarket chain. Due to the way our food production system has been set up, there is an effort that must be made by the consumer to eat locally but the 100-mile diet is possible and becoming more and more feasible. Yet, we have to use our dollars and mouths to rework the infrastructure to re-develop and utilize the resources that are closest to us. The more consumer support there is, the more possible a local food diet will become for our whole nation.

When the first experimenters were interviewed about their cold turkey 100mile diet they admitted that it was hard and time consuming at first. Due to their location on the West coast it took them seven months to find a rogue local farmer who grows wheat. Those seven months they ate a lot of potatoes! They admitted that this full commitment is the hard way and is not for everyone. A more realistic approach is to start with a totally 100-mile meal and move from there. Once you begin to find local sources, your opportunities will only continue to expand from there. As Alisa and James expressed the 100-Mile Diet is about learning by doing. It is a learning experiment in a new way of living. Local eating is an adventure in getting to know the seasons, the environment around you, the resources and people around you, the foods you eat and how to prepare and cook them, and in self-sufficiency.

The two largest obstacles you hear about are expense and feasibility based on location. The campaigners for the 100-mile diet claim that it was only expensive in the beginning. Most of us pay a big premium for out -of-season foods like cherries in winter or prepared foods like spaghetti sauce, usually with a long list of ingredients we would refer not ingest. Eating locally, they bought fresh ingredients in season and direct from the farmer. They bought mostly in bulk and preserved food for the winter so they rarely had to buy groceries. They indeed bet that most people eating a typical diet could save money by eating locally.

They claim that local eating is never impossible, as they have eaten 100-mile meals in New York City , the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and at 55 degrees north latitude. Yes, there are places where it is easier and places where it is harder, but with some planning and patience it is possible. And just think if more than individual groups of people were attempting this diet. If this grassroots movement continues to grow and spreads to the large organizations, businesses, schools, and restaurants real change in the infrastructure of our global food systems could happen on a larger scale. You have the ability to change your diet and the world.

Check out www.100milediet,org to find your own 100-mile food shed and to help you get started tracking farmers and markets in your radius. The website has turned into a locus for information and resources for 100 miler individuals and grassroots groups involved in this movement. In addition, the trailblazers, James and Alisa have published a book about their year on the 100-mile diet. Other great online resources include localharvest.org, foodroutes.org, newfarm.org, and specifically in PA; buylocalpa.org.

If you are still not convinced of why it is so important to eat locally you can check out their 13 lucky reasons on the website that will be sure to tip you over the line.