100 Mile Diet: Ann Arbor Michigan

100 Mile Diet: Ann Arbor Michigan

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I read the book Plenty, by J.B. Mackinnon and Alisa Smith which chronicles their year of eating a diet sourced within 100 miles from their home in Vancouver, BC. The book was a catalyst for the term the 100 mile diet. I found their story inspiring and since then I have been trying to source as much food as possible locally. I have a home garden, go to the farmers markets, joined a CSA, and look for local labels at the grocery store. To find your own 100 mile diet range check out this map site.

I am not a purist by any stretch. The hardest items to give up for me in order to live a 100 mile diet are citrus fruit, chocolate, vanilla, spices, salt, avocado, coastal fish, coconut, certain cheeses, almonds, pine nuts, rice and both olive and peanut oil. Most packaged foods like my cereal and rice milk would be off the 100 mile list as would almost all meals out. I don’t drink coffee, but I imagine that it would be hard to give up for those wanting to live a 100 mile diet too. And would say cigarettes be included? What are the chances of finding 100 mile cigarettes? I do not smoke, but I figure for smokers this would also me an issue.

I suppose I can switch to butter instead of oils, and use vinegars for acidity instead of citrus, but it would not be the same. The 100 miles diet plays into the idea of true regional cuisine and specialties. I love the idea for example of needing to go to the Pacific Northwest to have fresh salmon, the gulf coast for shrimp, or Maine for lobster. 100 mile cuisine offers a challenge to create culinary tradition from what is on hand. It also encourages food producers, farmers, chefs and artisan to produce regional items like wine, beer, cheese and a wide range of food products to create a robust local food economy. If more people switch to a 100 mile diet and demanded locally sourced food, a market would be created to fill the need for local artisan staples.

Of course not every 100 miles are built the same. A 100 miles diet in San Francisco for example is easier than say the desserts of Western Idaho. The authors of Plenty did enjoy a more temperate Pacific Northwest climate for gardening and access to coastal food. For example, when I lived in Portland, Oregon, I was able to grow veggies year round in my community garden plot. This is a luxury I miss now living in Michigan.

Ann Arbor, Michigan where I currently live is a pretty good area for the 100 mile challenge. It has an active agricultural community, a growing number of farmer’s markets, CSA’s, and a good growing season and soil to grow our own food. There are local producers of grains and flours, dairy, meats, some cheeses and even white sugar from beets. Local sugar can be a real challenge. There is even a meat CSA in town that could provide local meat year round. I think meat eaters may have it easier than vegetarian for a 100 mile diet because staples like meat can be frozen throughout the winter.

The real challenge of a 100 mile diet is winter. It is one thing to eat local in the summer or during the fall harvest season. After all, I have a table full of baskets of tomatoes from my garden ready to be canned right now. There are pounds of potatoes that I have not dug up yet in my garden and there is too many pole beans then the family can eat in a weeks. Winter squash is on the way and I am hoping for a broccoli, collard and arugula harvest that I planted late before the cold weather comes through. And the farmers markets are now packed with a huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Fast forward to winter and those resources are dried up.

Could I really eat a 100 mile diet for a year like the authors of Plenty? I am not sure I can do it for a year, but I have tried making a few 100 mile meals. For example, I made a dinner of chicken from my CSA with garden herbs and local butter, collards from the farmers market, and potatoes my garden. The only thing that was not local was salt and pepper although I think I can get local salt with a little more research.

The authors of Plenty started their diet in march which was a challenge. I figure I would start in June when the farmer’s markets were open and I had my early spring garden going strong. I would also do my homework to make sure I had staples on hand or available. The authors had a hard time finding flour for most of their year. Local was not the buzz it is now when they started. More and more 100 mile food items are coming available. The Coop and local grocery stores are now using local as a marketing tool and provide labeling to make it easy to find items. And more and more resources are coming available to help find local foods. Sites like Local Harvest are helping to make eating local more possible.

The big reality of living a 100 mile diet is that for the most part, I would have to cook almost all of my meals from scratch. That would mean using almost no packaged products, condiments or sauces. I would have to make my own ketchup, mustard and brew my own soy sauce if I wanted to have them.

I am not sure what rules I would create if any on my version of a 100 mile diet. If for example I could not find local salt, I would bend the rules to make sure I had it. What about spices, pepper, chocolate, and the rest? I think I could give them up for a year in favor of other flavors. I could use more fresh herbs then I use now and get more into using chiles for spice. I would need to find some kind of vegetable oil for salad dressing, but that would be about it. Of course, it is easy to talk a big local eating game, but living it is an completely different thing. I could go through 100 mile diet withdrawal and grab for a meal of coastal fish with spices from indian and coconut milk sauce, imported rice, a cup of coffee, and a chocolate dessert with vanilla bean.

Please comment on your 100 mile diet. And what foods would be on your hard to give up list?

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