Book Review: Plenty by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon

I’m going to start this review with a hefty quotation from the book at hand:

“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.”

They launched the experiment for two reasons, both of which are near and dear to my heart:

  1. It’s better for the environment to eat locally.
  2. It’s better for the local economy to eat locally. (It creates community!)

They don’t eat meat or drink coffee, which seemed at the outset to be an advantage, but the question of protein became a big one and made their search more interesting to me. Given few protein sources within range, they end up fudging on their vegetarianism and consuming a lot of fish, shellfish, and even — just once — beef. Their experiment was not without trouble: temptation by mangoes and avocados, the weather eye of the Internet, food spoilage, and general shortages. They have a community garden but no yard and the apartment manager wont let them store or grow anything on their balcony. They make the most of what they can lay their hands on:

“Take a single crop: the radish. We had eaten the baby greens, the radish root itself, boiled the later greens for stock, tossed the flowers in salads, enjoyed the young seedpods as a hot, crunchy snack in early fall. Our inability to feed the world is not an agricultural failure; it is a failure both of imagination and of kindness.”

Both are journalists, and therefore travel a lot, and they maintain their 100-mile rule (for the most part . . .) wherever they are. So we get to learn about 100-mile food not only in the metropolis of Vancouver, BC, but also the ghost town of Doreen, BC; the small Kuper Island; as well as Mahnomen, Minnesota; Malawi (one of the poorest countries in Africa); and Mérida, Mexico.

 They can pay for most of their food with money from their change jar and meet countless farmers. The change jar and the farmers are interrelated because, as they point out:

“Our farmlands are not only our security against hunger, they are also the last redoubt of a gentler capitalism. A dozen is inevitably a baker’s dozen, and the numbers on the scale always seem to be rounded down. We’ve bought fish on the promise to pay late; flowers by karmic donation; honey from an unattended stall.”

You can check up on their latest adventures in local food at:

— Amanda


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