I never expected that locavores could stir more debate than herbivores and carnivores until I saw the widespread acclaim for a diary on the trials and joys of the 100-mile diet. Writing for the relatively obscure Vancouver web journal the Tyee (www.thetyee.ca), Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon grounded all the angst about the long-distance feeling in food relationships with their 100-mile diet series, an ode to munching on what grows nearby.
Though neither owns a hair shirt or is obnoxiously judgmental, their effort is in keeping with the vote-with-your-fork-and-pocketbook theme of today's personally responsible politics. Both seem thoughtful and centred but zany, great fun to get to know over dinner. They've created a new genre of travel writing for people who want do their exploring and treasure-hunting close to home. That's quite a flip in the storytelling world. In the olden days, the magical kingdom of never-never land was always far, far away. But in today's global village, the mysteries that are hard to fathom are close by, especially when it comes to food.
Smith and MacKinnon have a knack for turning what I would write up as an analysis of the logistics of a globalized food chain into a human interest story. And they expose what should be a scandal: that it's no longer possible to be an eater of all seasons and of many foods within 100 miles of Vancouver, an area blessed with virtually every element of food abundance.
West Coast food security planners tolerate a system that does not include locally grown grains, but a 100-mile dieter wouldn't do much better finding all-local donuts in Saskatchewan or the Dakotas. So Smith and MacKinnon had to take a pass on the bread, cake and spaghetti food group.
Eating food from all over the map seems so natural today that we need to revisit what's natural and then figure out how doing what comes naturally became so difficult.
The fact is that eating close to home should be as easy as apple pie. Nutrition, taste, variety, nature, cities, economics and culture all naturally favour local food, for daily necessities and basic treats.
But in a masterpiece of "manufactured scarcity," all these forces have been trumped by government policies that force eaters to go the distance just to find local food.
The brainwashing that accompanied this foodways transformation has produced some ludicrous rationalizations. Almost everyone I know tells me with a straight face that we need to import foods from halfway around the world because otherwise we wouldn't have our fruit and veggies during the winter, and we would get tired of eating the same old, same old all year.
Who are they trying to kid? Far and away the most popular veggie in North America often the only one consumed on a daily basis by the grazing gourmets of this continent is the french fry, which can be made from local grease and spuds almost anytime, anywhere in the world.
All the makings of typical North American meals featuring eggs, cereal, bacon, toast, jam, cream, cheese, beer, metamucil about the same standard meat-and- potatoes stick-to-your-ribs fare that was eaten in the days before food imports from the tropics can be produced easily year round across most of the continent.
For the tiny minority who do eat the prescribed diet of five to 10 daily servings of fruits and veggies, the taste and nutrition of imported strawberries, tomatoes and greens in winter can be more than matched by root vegetables, sprouts, dried fruit and so on, not to mention the many foods that can now be grown with simple season extension methods such as plant covers and greenhouses
As for variety, a long-distance food system only uses strains that can withstand heavy travel and still look young and unwrinkled in the supermarket bin.
That's why the last century has been so hard on genetic diversity of domesticated plants and why some 90 per cent of common fruit, grain and vegetable species have become extinct without regard for their unique taste or nutrients, and without respect for qualities that might one day be worth their weight in gold in the event of a plant disease outbreak.
As urban analyst Jane Jacobs shows in her book The Economy Of Cities, cities created agriculture by providing a wide variety of consumers for a wide variety of surplus products. Many are also located on the shores of excellent fisheries, most of which have been despoiled by pollution (there's manufactured scarcity with a vengeance) and many of which could be healed and restored at less cost than the infrastructure of long-distance food.
I'm going to try a 100-mile diet myself, though I'll wait until next summer if no one minds. It's easier to go off coffee in the heat of summer. Until then, my interest isn't as much in finding local food as it is in creating conditions and counter-institutions to stimulate its production.
And given what we know about where fuel costs are going, it's time planners put themselves on what we might call a 10-year diet, because that's about how much time we have before the 100-mile diet becomes a necessity.