Ethics of a Haphazard Diet

Smith, Alisa and MacKinnon James B.  2007.  The 100 Mile Diet.  pg. 1-147.  Vintage Canada, Toronto, Ontario.


There are many ways to contribute in some fashion to a cleaner, more environmentally concious lifestyle.  Though many of these choices are made on a whim, they often gradually deplete shortly after making the decision.  In the 100 Mile Diet, Alisa and John set out to eat only locally sourced foods for a year.  Their definition of local is anything that was grown or produced within 100 miles of their home.  The book discusses their struggles and moving realizations they make on this journey together.

When they first propose this idea and begin to pursue it, it begins like most New Years Resolutions: inspired motivation that is shortly followed by doubtful realization.  Initially, James expresses noticeable enthusiasm, but the writers have made it very clear the enthusiasm is quickly dampened by the moment on page 12, where they both find nothing at their supermarket that fits the criteria of their diet.  “All of it, gone.  There was nothing there for us.  Nothing.  All of that plenty, vanished in an instant of cockeyed imagination.  It would be a year without ice cream.”  Alisa and James at this point have clearly realized the limitations they have put on themselves, which is further exacerbated by their realization that wheat will be hard to come by when living in the Pacific Northwest.  Most of Canada’s wheat is supplied by the prairie provinces, after all.

The story that the two of them tell is captivating at times.  Though the untimely death of Alisa’s grandmother was tragic, it was told in such a way that was emotionally important to the story. Alisa shares a variety of memories of her grandmother, mostly her devotion to keeping her family happy.  Throughout the book, the authors discuss the stories that is attached to food and cuisine.  In Alisa’s case, her grandmother never liked cooking but she did it frequently to support her family.  On page 34, Alisa states “Since the revelation that she never liked to cook, I had learned that, during her decades as a housewife, she had produced an unvarying weekly schedule of meals.”  Alisa then continues to describe the unfortunate shape her grandmother was in.  She discusses her chronic pain, and how she eventually loses the most important faculty of our existence: her mind.  Alisa likely included this as a major event in their 100 mile diet to demonstrate that while the story of food is important to some, it is also simply a responsibility for others.  Alisa had to watch her grandmother slowly wither away, which is very distressful in itself, but Alisa had to burden this hardship during this limitation she had put on herself and she had planned to finish it.

The authors also discuss a topic that speaks to me fairly deeply; how far can ethics go, rationally?  I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons.  I believe that because more water and land is needed to produce meat (by a substantial margin) than crops, and the incredibly unfair conditions livestock are exposed to in the meat industry, vegetarianism is just one simple step I can take to at least attempt to have an impact on how we treat this world, but I am often conflicted with how far do I extend these ethics?  When is a reasonable stopping point?  Does one exist?  I am completely lost on the answer to any of these.  The authors address this potentially obsessive outlook on pg. 74: “Would we eat vegetables grown in manure from local cows that ate nonlocal feed?  Would we have to ask even the vegetable farmers where their fertilizer came from?”.  These questions are very realistic and understandable when you undergo an ethical decision that leads to a commitment.  Alisa and James are now obligated to maintain a basis of continuous ethics.  That is, they need to make their best effort that is possible to avoid supporting/encouraging the exact thing they are protesting against.  In this scenario, is eating food that is grown or produced using any form of external, imported material or tool permitted?  The initial response is of course not, as it requires something external, something distant, which is exactly what they are avoiding.  However, when strict ethical boundaries are established, these dilemmas will often come to mind, and make you reconsider if what you are doing is genuine in the first place.  As a vegetarian, gardener, and aspiring botany researcher, using bone meal as fertilizer has always been an issue for me.

More than anything else though, Alisa and James discuss how their journey for local food lets them learn about their local culture, and the lives of those that are responsible for producing this food.  They discuss their first Farmer’s Market in May and how wonderful it is.  They describe an encounter with a beekeeper, and then eventually move to Northern BC to live in the bush for awhile.  Of interest here is the writer’s change in tone towards the project as their horizons broaden.  On page 126, they describe leaving their little ramshackle hut in the North; “We were going home far richer than we’d come.  We had a box of Shenandoah Strawberry apples for cold storage, boxes of crabapples and plums for preserves…”.  Alisa and John have clearly had a change of heart as the month of August ends.  In the beginning, many of their experiences discuss what they didn’t have, but as they progress, they take special note of the rich food available to them.  Whether that change is purely a result of seasonal harvests, or a change of heart is, of course, indeterminable.





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