Eating Locally and Biodiversity

 

Smith A, MacKinnon J.B. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet. Vintage Canada, Toronto, Ontario.

The first half of this particular book (The 100-Mile Diet) discusses the challenging endeavour undertaken by the two authors, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon; to try to eat as locally as possible for one year. Throughout the first half of this book, the two authors experience a dramatic shift in their appreciation for food, realizing that many of the foods we take for granted are actually extremely hard to acquire locally, and that most of the food found in local supermarkets is not actually grown or processed remotely close to where it is consumed. As the story proceeds through the cold months of winter, the two protagonists realize that if one was to eat locally for a year, they would have to completely change their diet to that of “their grandparents”; a diet which consists of whichever foods are readily available at that time of year, or that appear in a particular season or climate. No more could they look for thai curry paste in the supermarket or purchase exotic fruits such as durians in the store.

The authors also bring to light a number of issues with the current agriculture and food systems. A theme that seemed to resonate throughout the first half of this book is one of separation. Humanity has become less and less associated with it’s connection to the foods we eat. No longer do we grow the foods we eat ourselves. Now, we have these foods shipped hundreds of kilometres from some massive monocrop fields. This separation both removes our ability to actually grow and produce foods ourselves and removes our ability to even know where each product comes from. Normally, when one (such as myself) goes to the grocery store, that individual pays little heed to the location from which the food they are purchasing is coming from. The “traceability” of their food products goes only as far as the grocery store from which they purchased the food for the most part. This inherent lack of knowing (where the food came from, how it was collected/grown) makes for an ignorant populace which no longer understands the prerequisites required to grow the foods that we are so dependent on. The story discussed the two authors acquisition of honey, something so simple that we take for granted each day when we add it to our morning tea or put it on our toast. In the conversation with the beekeeper, the writers reveal an entire world that is completely unknown to the general populace. Bees need certain conditions in order to produce honey. The winds have to be calm enough to allow the bees to fly to the flowers. The temperature has to be within a range that allows the flowers to produce nectar. Even more interesting is the specifics of the honey flavour. Depending on the flowers the bees are pollinating and collecting from their honey will be flavoured differently. None of these things are normally considered when we take a spoonful of honey and gladly stick it in our mouths. To consider the ramifications of the lowly honeybee is to consider the ramifications of the inherent community in which the honeybee lives.

Without even a simple understanding of the process of honey production and collection, we cannot truly understand the importance of how our food is produced, or how the environment provides an important role in supporting the whole endeavour.That same issue of traceability the authors brought to light earlier resonates here as well. Our separation from the process of creating and collecting food causes people to also lose the ability to see the significance of the environment around us. How each of the trees and the birds and the leaves all help in the process of survival and life. If we lose the diversity in our environment, so to do we lose the ability to see that diversity in what we consume each day. It will likely be that through the maintenance of that environmental diversity that we will eventually be able to survive the coming years and save the natural world that we hold so dear to our hearts.

 

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