REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
Imagine going an entire year without chocolate. In fact, without any sugar at all. No flour either, which means no bread, pasta, pancakes, oh and definitely no coffee. Sounds completely terrifying, doesn't it? But Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon did it and lived to tell the tale. For one year, they ate only those foods that were produced within a 100-mile radius of their home in Vancouver, British Columbia. They've chronicled their experience in "Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally."
And they join us now from Vancouver. Welcome to the program.
Ms. ALISA SMITH (Co-Author, "Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally"): Hello.
Mr. JAMES MacKINNON (Co-Author, "Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally"): Thank you.
ROBERTS: What - where did this idea come from, this 100-mile diet?
Mr. MacKINNON: There are really a couple of things. One is that we were constantly encountering this statistic that said that even a simple produce item has typically traveled between about 1,500 miles and 3,000 miles from farm to plate and that concerned us.
But really for us, the roots of it came with a meal in northern British Columbia at a wilderness cabin, where we - we just pulled a meal together right off the landscape. And not only was it this incredibly delicious meal, but it was the first time that any of us could remember really knowing where everything on our plate had come from, and we realized what a gap had opened between people and their food.
ROBERTS: And when you started trying to plan a menu every day and stick within this guideline, what took you by surprise that it wasn't available in your very abundant agricultural region?
Ms. SMITH: Well, things we hadn't thought about were, say, rice and olive oil. Those were big gaps. But then, what actually surprised us was once the six weeks of borscht was over with at the beginning when we started on the first day of spring.
ROBERTS: Oh. Wow.
Ms. SMITH: But then, everything was so fresh and delicious, because we were shopping at the farmer's markets and the vegetables have only been picked, say, 24 hours before. If you go in a supermarket, they could have been picked weeks or even months before.
ROBERTS: Well, we may have exaggerated a little earlier about the no bread or pasta. After eight months, you were able to find a local wheat farmer and get flour. Would you say that bread products were what you missed the most?
Mr. MacKINNON: Yeah absolutely. I think all the other cravings, things like, you know, treats like olives and even chocolate and things like that, all of those we ended up not missing very much as we encountered all of these new local foods. But wheat is just such a staple of life and we really did crave it over the year, but as you say, we did eventually find one, kind of, maverick farmer who had four acres of wheat in production and we went to him on bended knee and...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MACKINNON: ...came away with 75 pounds of really fantastic flour.
Ms. SMITH: So after that I learned how to make bread. Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MACKINNON: Yeah. Bread, pasta, crackers, all of these things that we'd never tried to do by hand before, that was another of the big things of the year - it was just learning how to make all of these foods.
ROBERTS: And make all that food, store all that food in a one-bedroom apartment.
Ms. SMITH: That's right. So we proved that anyone can do this, because we were working in the most limited circumstances. We just had a 3-foot-by-10 community garden plot, because we didn't have a yard. And James' pants were kicked out of the cupboard they were in, so we could put our 100 pounds of potatoes for the winter there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MACKINNON: We had herbs hanging in the closets and squash piled on top of our refrigerator and...
ROBERTS: When you first started writing about this on the Internet, you say that a lot of people wrote in and said, oh, isn't it nice for you up there in Vancouver where you can do this because it's such a plentiful region, but I couldn't possibly do it where I live. Do you think that's true? Do you think you had an advantage over some other geographical areas in this experiment?
Ms. SMITH: We have a longer growing season, but actually most of the colder climate places in North America have wheat and in many cases sugar beets, which turns into sugar, so they could even make doughnuts if they wanted. So I think they have the advantage.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MACKINNON: Almost everywhere we've gone people have said it's very nice to do that on the West Coast, but it would be impossible here. And inevitably, it turns out to have all kinds of local blessings and it's, you know, turns out to be more than possible but in fact, usually, amazingly abundant.
ROBERTS: What did you hope to gain from this experiment on a broader level?
Ms. SMITH: We had originally done it, I think, for environmental reasons, because we're the kind of people who try to bike or walk or take a bus instead of driving. And when we saw all of a sudden that apples have stickers that say New Zealand on them when they could be grown in your neighbor's backyard, it just didn't seem to match up with the rest of our lifestyle. But then, we made these other discoveries that are more about reconnecting with community.
ROBERTS: Do you think in the couple of years since you started this that it's become easier to do that, that there's become more of an awareness of food culture and local, seasonal, simply prepared food?
Mr. MACKINNON: Well, it's certainly changing really, really quickly right now. I mean, people are saying that local is the new organic. And I think that's true and then it will transform the food system in the same way over the next 10 to 15 years that organics have.
ROBERTS: How much of the diet are you still maintaining?
Mr. MACKINNON: We're still eating about 85 to 90 percent local and for us that's become...
Mr. MACKINNON: ...Yeah. That for us has become, kind of, the new normal. It's quite comfortable. It doesn't demand a great deal more of our time. And we've built in a few of the global goodies. It's mostly staples, things like olive oil and rice - as Alisa said earlier - a little bit of chocolate. There's no local beer - that's back in the refrigerator. There's, you know, a few things like that. But we really feel like through the experiment we reversed the balance where most people now are eating mainly from the global supermarket and maybe a little bit of local food. And we've reversed the poles on that, and now almost all of our core diet comes from our local area. And then we have a couple of global treats tossed in.
ROBERTS: Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon are the authors of "Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally," available from Harmony Books. Thank you both.
Mr. MACKINNON: Thank you.
Ms. SMITH: Thank you.
ROBERTS: You can learn more about eating locally and get a tasty recipe for a Potato Amuse Bouche at npr.org/books.
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ROBERTS: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.