Our Review of Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet

Living on a homestead, we’re very devoted to eating locally as much as possible. We share this interest with more and more people around the developed world who are rediscovering the concept of eating locally.

Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet, by Alisa Smith and J. B. McKinnon (paid link) (check your local bookstore) is one of several recently published, excellent books on eating locally. Smith and McKinnon alternated chapters, writing in first person. In keeping with their format, Michelle and I combined our thoughts on their book:

Mark: McKinnon and Smith’s experience is probably easier for most Americans to relate to than some similar books. This young couple spent their year eating locally within a 100-mile radius of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They managed their diet while living in an urban apartment, and did it with style. They also own a remote cabin near the Skeena River, and spent some weeks there. In fact, a “thrown together” meal at that cabin inspired their year-long experiment. However, they weren’t able to rely on that property as a food source beyond some foraging.

Plenty’s setting in a region near ours helped me relate to their experience better, as did their reliance on purchasing food. Their living situation severely limited their ability to grow their own food, so most of it had to come from elsewhere. We garden and forage, so I was more interested in learning how they dealt with the economy of eating locally. Unfortunately, their initial method was to throw money at it! If you spend enough, you can get your food from wherever you choose. Not long into their year, they took steps to find cheaper, more creative ways to acquire regional foods.

Michelle: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I had the same fascination for Alisa and J. B.’s story as I did for watching shows like Colonial House and Frontier House (paid links). I also avidly read American pioneer stories as a kid . . . everything from Little House on the Prairie (paid link) to books about the Whitman Massacre and the Donner Party.

The attraction is reading about or watching real people’s lives in a “simpler” setting. I also saw similarities in the relationship issues that came up in times of stress or deprivation, even when the situations were entered into voluntarily.

We’re “homesteading” voluntarily. Figuring out how to make it work economically, educationally, and in an environmentally sound way is a full time job. Our reading becomes more than just entertainment. Plenty was wonderful because it was both informative and fun.

Mark: Besides being an engaging read, we learned some important lessons from the book. Based on their recommendation, we found a used copy of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook, 1944 edition, for the homestead. They found this older edition useful for its advice on dealing with food in an era when woodstove cooking was still common, and before refrigerators. So do we!

Even better, though, were McKinnon’s recipes. He’s the cook, and while he has a flair for restaurant-quality presentation, what he presents is pretty good. Particularly, we like his 18-hour sourdough bread recipe. We’ve used our own strain of sourdough almost 19 years now, but until we found this recipe, we rarely made sourdough bread. Now it’s quite common on our table, and it’s delicious!

Michelle: We try to eat as locally as possible. The problem with doing so here in Southeast Alaska is that one cannot get enough locally grown foods to survive. Most of the nearest true farms are in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley about 600 miles to the northwest.

People around here have goats and chickens, so we could obtain meat, milk and eggs locally. We also have a chicken coop; sometime in the future we’ll try raising chickens.

I grow cool season crops. This year’s garden produced about 100% more than last year’s, but that still isn’t enough to last until next growing season.

We also have a large supply of beans, rice and grains in our storage shed. These weren’t grown locally, but I can create meals from these staples so we rely less on processed foods from the local stores. Some of the grain reserve is wheat. Not wheat flour, but wheat berries—sealed gallons of it in the shed. We have a grain mill to turn that into flour. Here’s where Plenty meets Frontier House.

While grinding flour the other day I thought about Alisa and J. B. finding a local grain grower to grind their flour. I love that we have the ability to grind our own, but it does take time—time to muse about our version of plenty. We have plenty of provisions and plenty of time to process them ourselves into healthy meals.

Mark: Plenty is a short read. Its he said/she said structure is engaging, and its message—that it is possible to learn to eat, and eat well, while being conscious of locally produced and available foods—is one we would all do well to take to heart.

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