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Web Letter

I was disappointed that Christopher Ketcham neglected to mention Alisa Smith's and J.B. MacKinnon's book 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, published in spring 2007 by Randon House Canada, before Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It was put out in the US under the presumably more marketable title Plenty, and will be out in paperback in October under its Canadian title, according to Amazon.com. Smith and MacKinnon are not novelists, affluent landowners or wandering hippies, but two Vancouver, BC, freelance journalists who have shared their struggles and pleasures of finding and eating food produced within a 100-mile radius. Their diet included things they raised in their city garden plot as well as foods scavenged and bartered near a very rustic (no electricity or plumbing) cabin they own in the wilds of BC, accessible only after riding a ferry, two trains, and then a hike through the woods. Theirs is a warm and open account of the highs(eating fresh walnuts and the first strawberries of the season and chanterelles and asparagus) and lows (really missing the carbs from all that wheat we eat until they could find a wheat farmer within 100 miles of Vancouver) of the localvores' commitment to community-supported agriculture.

And for me that is really the main point of the 100-mile diet. It is not a trendy new thing. It is what my grandparents who were dairy farmers in Virginia did every day of their lives. It is making a conscious decision about how you spend your precious food dollars, and I for one would rather give my money to someone who is a steward of the land than to a faceless corporation that cares little about your or my health or the products they produce.

Yes, it is often a budgetary stretch to buy organic every week, and the farmers' market can be more expensive and less convenient than the local supermarket. But when was the last time you actually enjoyed going to the store? I was born in 1950 and probably didn't eat fresh pineapple until I was an adult and I have survived just fine. My grandmother, born in 1896, probably ate it a few times in her life and she lived a very full life until 90. Frozen and preserved food is usually frozen and preserved at the peak of freshness, and if done properly, has as much if not more nutritional value and flavor than the fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets in the dead of winter. But if you want to eat that pale, pasty thing they call a tomato in February, be my guest. I'd rather use the tomatoes I put up the way my grandmother taught me in a soup or stew, and wait for summer to eat the real thing.

Anna C. Noll

Tacoma, WA

Sep 28 2007 - 7:31pm

Web Letter

I'm also a Moab homeowner and, like Ketcham and Olschewski, believe that buying regional food--and other products--is the right thing to do.

Also like Ketcham, I have two homes: the Moab house I lease to a family, and the apartment I rent in England while on a two-year project.

I use public transit or walk 90 percent of the time, conserve energy and pay to offset the emissions from my flights, homes and used car, but I'm still aware that I'm using double the resources necessary for one person--far more than that when you consider that in much of the world, a family of up to eight could live in my modest three-bedroom house, and would be farming the twenty-foot radius around my house, rather than complaining about lawn care and dithering over Colorado-chemical or Oregon-organic sweet corn.

I don't disagree with Ketcham's general points, but find his attack on the town's eating habits a bit hard to take when his bicoastal lifestyle is inherently incompatible with the "100-mile diet"--in the airplane meals if nothing else.

He calls Moab's food sourcing "an absurd, wasteful and polluting operation where the average morsel travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate." The average Ketcham travels nearly 1,900 from city to playground, and has no nutritional value that we're aware of.

I'm not ready to give up traveling and plant community crops, but do agree with Sara Stewart that a mix of solutions can make a dent in our impact and keep us from overtaxing the regions that are capable of feeding us year-round.

Lisa Taylor

Moab, UT

Sep 28 2007 - 4:47pm

Web Letter

As the manager of the restaurant that [supposedly] “serves salted rubber,” Eddie Mc Stiff’s in Moab, Utah, (and Jon Olschewski’s employer), I would like to respond.

Eddie McStiff’s is a locally owned, non-franchised business in a largely tourist-driven community. Of many restaurants in this small town, we are uniquely locally run and locally managed. The local owner’s goal has always been, since our founding in 1991, to support and embrace the growth of our local community.

Additionally, we try emphatically to buy only local meat, sold by Moab’s sole local butcher. We also carry numerous contracts with local farms bringing vegetables into our kitchen. In fact, our demand (approximately 400 customers a night) cannot be met by these farms’ supply.

Perhaps if someone like Jon Olschewski, with the resource of 2.5 acres, hadn’t denied us the "fruits of his labor," we may have been able to stock our kitchen with 100 percent locally grown produce. Our chef asked Olschewski if he could purchase his organic produce for the restaurant. Olschewski, (the man Ketchum quoted as the "beleaguered minority") was unwilling to discuss the potential account by immediately shooting down the proposal and assuming that his organic vegetables required top-dollar price, which we couldn’t afford. It seems he’d rather let his product decay than feed the "100 locals per year" referenced in the article.

Agreeing with Michael Pollan, it is unreasonable (especially for an extremely isolated, rural, desert environment) to turn back to a completely local and regional diet. But as a tourist town, one restaurant feeding over 3,000 customers per week, what are we meant to offer our guests? Our peak tourist weekends unfortunately coincide with unharvestable gardening months. Our response, to our biggest clients, then could only be, “Welcome! Jeepers, hope you like fried green tomatoes.”

Rikki Epperson

Moab, Utah

Sep 28 2007 - 1:04am

Web Letter

The government makes it harder to eat locally by subsidizing agribusinesses, who in turn mechanize everything. This is a safety concern, as E. coli, mad cow disease etc. can shut down a whole food industry-- e.g., beef, spinach. Small farmers, who are more productive per acre than commercial farmers, cannot even pass down their farm to heirs, since the land is more valuable as residential development. I have tried to eat as much as I can from my local farmer's market, but then again, farmers here even admit not everything is local anymore. In relation to this article, in the Midwest there is even more specialization in regards to ethanol, which means even more reliance on foreign foods from faraway places. Finally, add in global warming, which is happening now, and you have to change your crops to ones which can grow in warmer climates, unless of course, you live in an arid or semi-arid region, and then, of course, you are screwed. Just another example of how backwards we are: I still see more and more SUVs everywhere, and more and more people are moving to the driest places, which means more water wasted and more AC used on already overburdened water supply and electricity systems. Wake up, people, your idiocy affects the whole world! Finally, other countries such as China try to emulate our wastefulness, which is nothing to aspire to and is unsustainable!

Jason Smith

Oneonta, NY

Sep 10 2007 - 1:50pm

Web Letter

One of Hamilton's arguments for tariffs to encourage industrial development, and creation of an internal market, was to bring agriculture in close contact with the industrial workers that they would feed.

From an environmental viewpoint, how about the greenhouse gases that are the product of the ships, trains and trucks created by "Free Trade"? Some of the food that is produced in the US is transported overseas for processing and returned to the US for sale. You not only have additional greenhouse gases but increased transportation costs, along with food safety issues. Can we control the quality or the safety of the food or products we receive from overseas?

While this article has value, I would be happy if our food was produced 1,500 miles away within our borders, with our safety standards.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Sep 3 2007 - 3:01pm

Web Letter

I'd like to know how Christopher Ketcham thinks it's possible for some of us to live on food grown only within a hundred miles of us, without resorting to the kind of subsistence eating ubiquitous here even fifty years ago, let alone a hundred. My mother never ate a fresh pineapple until she was an adult, and she was born in 1945.

I live very far south, by Canadian standards, and it still wouldn't be practical. You can grow a lot of nice things in the Southwestern Ontario microclimate, but only for about five months a year. If, for instance, you are OK with having the only fresh produce you eat between January and June be last year's scungy root vegetables and the remains of the winter apples, fine. Frozen and canned vegetables just aren't the same, and require a lot of energy investment to produce and/or store as well. Ditto the greenhouse hydroponic vegetables currently available, which still have to be trucked in from as far away as Leamington (Ontario).

Because of the flukey microclimate, we're an entire climate zone warmer than southern Michigan, much of New England, and most of the Midwest, let alone being vastly warmer than almost the entire rest of Canada.

It'd be difficult to eat locally here without living on canned and dried vegetables half the year; what about all those other people who have it worse than we do? What about the far north, where, unless you want to eat like a traditional Inuit (which is hard when you're inland and there's nothing left to hunt), you must bring in food from far away?

Should we all just move south? I doubt the aquifers would take the strain, frankly... I like the idea of local eating where and when you can, but it's currently not terribly practical for a lot of us to even try to do it all the time, even leaving aside money issues. (Tomatoes harvested by migrant labour in California for cents on the bushel and trucked here are still cheaper than the locally grown equivalents.)

A substantial investment in alternative energy would be better, and still let us eat fresh tomatoes in February and pineapples at all.

Sara Stewart

London, Ontario

Aug 31 2007 - 7:56pm

Web Letter

This article is not the first I've seen on the trendy new 100- mile-diet, nor is it the first to fall prey to the same pitfall as others. It is poetically ironic that the writing on the 100-mile diet appears on The Nation's web site right alongside an article on the rapid inflation of basic food prices in the currently existing food production and consumption economy. The point being that Christopher Ketcham doesn't seem to grasp that a dietary, economic, and social exploration that seems great to novelists, affluent landowners and wandering hippies may not correspond to an easily attainable reality for most people.

We have modern production, transport and consumption systems in place for food that are badly flawed, but, nonetheless, allow the modern middle class to exist distributed across the country. Attempting to unplug from this system may seem great to some but to most people, who are worried about the rising prices in the grody old non-organic, hormone-fed, big corporate agribusiness- produced sections of the grocery store--eggs, chicken fish, beans, produce--making such a radical jump is a non-starter.

Don't get me wrong--I like the sort of thinking behind the 100-mile diet--but perhaps it is more effective to address the current food economy with an eye towards redressing the obesity epidemic and making healthy, fresh food more a regular part of life for the middle and poor classes than it is to suggest the few of us able to experiment with unplugging from Food Production and Consumption, post-1600 AD, make the effort in an attempt to reconnect with a distant human past.

A little less corn syrup first, and more exercise. Then, we can replant the hills and valleys around our cities and towns with localized, unique crops that make every population grouping a self-sustainable island.

Seymour Friendly

Seattle, WA

Aug 31 2007 - 5:03pm

Web Letter

Great article! Would have liked it even more if the author had mentioned that switching to a vegan lifestyle is the most effective thing people can do to fight global warming, according to a number of studies. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's 2006 report, Livestock's Long Shadow, demonstrates that so-called livestock cause more emissions than transportation. It wouldn't have taken much, since the article mentions vegetarians, but unfortunately not vegetarianism. It would have been such a good fit. Still, way to go!

Wolfgang Brauner

Somerville, MA

Aug 23 2007 - 3:25pm

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