Simth, A. & MacKinnon, J.B. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. Vintage Canada, Toronto.

Alisa Smith & James MacKinnon

Before breaking the spine of The 100-Mile Diet for the first time, the only expectation that I had brought to this reading was excitement. I cannot recall exactly where I had come to hear about the Alisa and Jame’s food venture in the years before, but I knew that anybody who started eating only local food for a year cold-turkey deserves my respect and admiration. With the terms like global warming, climate change and carbon emissions and facts like  “the food [Americans] eat …typically travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles from farm to plate”  and increases more than a percent a year (p.3) becoming frequent in the vocabulary of the 21st century,  Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon  decided to rebuild their connection with the food they eat by only consuming products from a one hundred mile radius of their home in Vancouver.

The two journalists began their local eating challenge in March 2005; documenting their triumphs and pitfalls along the way on blogs such as this. In the beginning their plates were quite bland and I often sympathized with Alisa’s unsatisfied pallet from meal after meal with potatoes. As the months passed by and the two approached half a year, I was surprised at the growing list of ingredients James and eventually Alisa too, were incorporating into their meals. While reading the accounts of their journey, it became apparent to me the sense of community they developed by exploring their local environment for foods. Meeting their local farmer’s, honey maker’s and market staff, the two experienced a new side of the urban world; sharing memorable adventures and establishing a unique bond with each and every meal.

Unfortunately, with globalization and commercialization we have lost our connection with the food we eat and our sense of community. Few of us are aware of when the peak season for different  flowers, vegetables or fruits are; or the name of the provider for our local resource is. Not all that long ago, humans depended on their knowledge of seasonal foods in order to survive. We planted, cared for and harvested much of our own food and seasonal climatic variations could change the destiny of  our family for the rest of the year. 

MacKinnon and Smith’s book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, reminds readers the importance of the community they live in and the environment they are a part of.  Each chapter is dedicated to a month of the duo’s journey and alternates between the two authors from month to month; illustrating both the individual perspectives of either sex but also the going’s on of their relationship as well.  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the 100-Mile Diet not only because it is local to my home province of British Columbia, but also because Alisa and James are wonderful authors with a good message.  The writing connects to every reader with moments that will make you laugh out loud or sigh with relief . So because I don’t want to ruin this read for anyone considering taking on a year of local treasures with Alisa and James, bon appétit!



              In the heart of the Selkirk and Monashee Mountain Ranges, the moon light is glowing off the snow-capped mountain peaks and fills my bedroom with enough light to make out the titles of every book stacked along the far wall. My childhood alarm clock goes off like the timer of an old kitchen stove, and before I have a chance to completely open my eyes, I am at the front door slipping on a down coat and Sorrel boots with car keys in hand. I open the door and catch my first glimpse of the two feet of fresh snow that has blanketed the ground in the past twelve hours; and the only thought running through my mind is that there should be some happy clientele today. I proceed to clean the snow from my car, shovel a path from the driveway to the street, throw on some clothes, brush my teeth, apply a quick swipe of mascara and I’m off to start another day as a Canadian Mountain Holiday Heli-Ski (CMH) breakfast server.

             People from every corner of the world come to enjoy an unforgettable week riding through powder waist deep on the remote slopes surrounding Revelstoke, British Columbia. Some guest have been waiting their whole life for this moment, while others feel as though the lodge is their second home and the staff their family. For me the lodge is not a luxury experience; it is just a means of sustainability. I arrive at six in the morning and my soul purpose is to ensure heli-ski guest’s and staff start their day off right with an exquisite breakfast spread; complete with homemade hash browns, egg white omelettes, fresh cut fruit salad and Italian espresso. But on this snowy January morning as I finish up the last minute preparations, I realize that the fruit tower on the buffet table is missing bananas. With only five minutes to spare before the first guests arrive, I quickly dash through the old swinging doors of the kitchen, dodge the heated stares of the cooks as I walk directly through their work stations and begin rummaging through the pantry shelves.

             In desperation I begin to pray, “we can’t be out of bananas…please God no …we can’t be out of bananas!” I pick up and move every box that is remotely similar to the Dole banana boxes that come out of the Sysco truck every Monday and Thursday afternoon, when a sinking feeling fills every ounce of my body and it becomes clear to me that there is in fact… no bananas.

             Bananas are my go to fruit; I put them in and on almost everything from pancakes to smoothies, in muffins and on toast. As a child, I remember being an extremely picky eater and only agreeing to eat mainly from two food groups; carbohydrates and fruit. With time I have developed a more adventurous pallet; but even with my growing appeal to new tastes, the banana continues to provide me with the comforts of an old friend. But can old friends be “good friends,” or “ethically appropriate friends?” As a person who believes in the importance of making a conscious effort to reduce my carbon foot print. I try to buy local produce and meats but with no banana varieties growing in my local mountain niche, I struggle to abandon the fruit that has traveled across oceans to fulfill my hunger for sweetness.   

             Bananas make a meal. Bananas make a snack. Bananas are the diet of billions. But hidden within the biology of this signature fruit, lies a little secret. The abnormality of the edible fruits’ triploid genetic makeup makes the banana infertile and therefore unable to reproduce sexually via seeds. Generally this would be a concern in the world of plants because if a plant cannot produce offspring, the whole species will go extinct with the death of that individual organism. Nevertheless, bananas overcome their sexual limitation with specialized roots that produce identical clones of the main shoot called pseudostems. These pseudostems eventually take over as the main shoot once the fruit stalk of the parent plant has expired. Though for all its fecundity and abundance, vulnerability lies beneath the surface of the banana plant’s asexual life cycle, capable of making the familiar fruit a faint memory of the past.

              As clones, the bananas of the world are genetically similar and form large monocultures of identical plants in tropical areas. These areas are extremely susceptible to chemical resistant pests and disease looking for nature’s next smorgasbord. The predecessor to today’s Cavendish banana, the Gros Michael, was discovered in the late 1820’s by a French botanist in Asia. The fruit of the Gros Michael was a huge success in developed countries across the globe, until it was hit with a persistent soil fungus (Panama disease) that wiped out the whole species by the end of the 1950’s. Although the Cavendish that decorates the countertops of most North American households is resistant to the Panama disease, another fungal disease is looming called Black Sigatoka. Black Sigatoka is also a soil borne fungus that is manageable with chemical fungicides. However the rate of fungal resistance to chemicals is so rapid, the disease is becoming harder and harder to control in banana plantations. Many individuals in Western society like me are so accustomed to having bananas available for purchase at every local corner store and supermarket that we do not realize that this fruit is not native to our diets. However our naivety and acquired desire for tropical fruit imposes immense selective pressure onto the Musa species gene pool. Without the ability to increase genetic diversity through sexual reproduction to produce Black Sigatoka and Panama disease resistant bananas, the lifespan of the Cavendish banana in my morning oatmeal may be numbered.

              In order for someone to enjoy a week at the luxurious CMH Revelstoke lodge and paint the mountainside with the zig and zags of their downhill skis several modes of transportation are required; including a car to the airport, a plane to British Columbia, a car to Revelstoke and a helicopter to the pristine glaciers of the secluded mountain range. Unfortunately, with each of these methods of travel, carbon emissions are polluting the atmosphere and progressively increasing the universal vulnerability to global warming. At the same time, the bananas grown for North American consumption are sent every day from Costa Rica, Columbia and Ecuador and are a source of incredible amounts of carbon waste. As I finish piling bananas into the fruit basket of this morning’s breakfast buffet, I cannot help but think whether my job is endangered by global warming or the uncontrollable pests that could end the inclusion of tropical fruit in the mountain high ski resorts of British Columbia.


What did the banana say to the vibrator?

What are you shaking about she’s not going to eat you!


Reference List

Gold SC, Pinese B, Peña JE. 2002. Pests of banana. In: Pena J, Sharp J, Wysoki, M. Tropical fruit pests and pollinators: biology, economic importance, natural enemies and control.Wallingford: CABI Publishing, 2002. p. 13-56. [cited 19 March 2012] Available from:

Paggi M, Spreen T. 2003. Overview of the world. In: Josling T, Taylor, T. Banana wars: the anatomy of a trade dispute. Cambridge: CABI Publishing. P. 17. [cited 21 March 2012] Available from:

Pena J, Sharp J, Wysoki M. 2008. Propagation of fruit plants. In: De LC, Bhattacharjee SK. Handbook of edible fruits. Jaipur: Global Media. P. 88-89. [cited 20 March 2012] Available from:

Pearce F. 2003. Going bananas. New Scientist [Internet]. [cited 28 February 2012]; 177(2378): 26-30. Available from:

Masefield GB, Wallis M, Harrison SG, Nicholson BE. 1969. The Oxford book of food plants.  Oxford: Oxford Univ Press. p.108, 193.


Pollan, M. 2001.  The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Publishing Group, United States.  P.111-179.

If you imagine consciousness as a kind of lens through which we perceive the world, the drastic constricting of its field of vision seems to heighten the vividness of whatever remains in the circle of perception, while everything else (including our awareness of the lens itself) simply falls away (p.164).

Like any other animal, whether it is our domesticated feline friends or the wild goats of Abyssinian herders, humans are naturally curious (p.117)  All of humanity’s greatest inventions have stemmed from our willingness to experiment, tinker and explore with the treasures buried inside the land of discovery we call Earth.  In the words of  Michael Pollan, the roots of our keen sense of interest comes from our natural sense of wonder (p.168).  Take a glass of wine for example, without a willing individual to first try a grape that had surpassed its “best before date,” we would have never uncovered and perfected the wonders of ethanol/alcohol to provide us with the bold bottle of red wine we look forward to sharing over dinner with close family and friends. It is also through this sense of wonder, that humans have learned the darker realities of these treasures. When a substance is over-used the once great discovery becomes a lifetime recovery; no matter if it is food, prescription drugs or alcohol.  In my own life, food has been my substance of abuse. As a little girl, I was incredibly picky, practically refusing anything that wasn’t pasta, meat or cheese. I ate when I wasn’t hungry and developed habits that would continue to challenge me throughout my life. Today my taste buds have matured, I enjoy almost everything (but olives) however, I still need to make a conscious effort to eat in moderation and watch my proportions.

In the chapter “Desire: Intoxication, Plant: Marijuana,” Pollan uses Cannabis sativa x indica (weed) as a launching point to discuss the ways in which humanity has used, abused and cherished intoxicating plants over time and across the world; and furthermore, how the marijuana plant has changed overtime because of its interaction with people. In his argument Pollan describes the desire of human beings to use forms of intoxication as the universal craving to find a new state of consciousness; like the child repeatedly spinning around in circles till their world is shown in shutters and they cannot stand on their own two feet (p.139).

Today, science has proven that THC (the active toxin in marijuana) causes short-term memory loss by mimicking the brains natural cannabinoids believed to “regulate pain management, memory formation, appetite, co-ordination of movement and emotion  (p.155, 159)”. Although forgetting is something we all try to avoid, Pollen was reminded of the importance of mental editing by Raphael Mechoulam, who states that without a filter to sort out all the sensory data we receive throughout the day, a simple  tasks would become overwhelming and impossible to complete (p.160). Similar to meditation or prayer, THC in the human body slows the breakdown of neurotransmitters and thereby causes the individual to lose their sense of time and live in the moment (p.165). As people of the twenty-first century, how often do we actually allow ourselves to get lost in a moment of solitude and clear our minds of the endless to-do list? I know for me, this has been something I am constantly having to remind myself. I  always feel as though I needed to be on top of things; get good grades, be independent, show responsibility and most of all complete what I start (even if I don’t like it). I have seen myself get lost trying to meet the expectations of a busy world, get disappointed if I fall behind and forget the importance of appreciating precious moments.

     Yes yoga, meditation, prayer or just a turning off the radio during your commute to work are more natural forms of heightening your sense of awareness/consciousness. But what science has shown this far, is that THC can be a more direct route to the same mental state. So if that is the case, then maybe it isn’t the actual effect that is taboo but the political, social and cultural stigma’s that have polluted the plant that make it unacceptable for legal consumption? Because after all, 88% of the law enforcement budgets rely on the large profits from marijuana related charges (p.126).

Nabhan, G.P. 1990. Gathering the Desert. University of Arizona Press, 209pp.(p.2-19)


 “Long after dress, manners and speech have become indistinguishable from those of the majority, the old food habits continue as the last vestiges of the previous culture (p.7).” 

 ~Peter Farb & George Armelagos~

As I was taken to the desert through Nabhan’s words, there was the familiar voice of my father chiming in my mind “Em, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  Historically,the diet of Native Americans in the Sonora Desert has been largely dependent upon four plants considered to be the “staff of life.” But as the modern living of the twenty-first century has taken hold of South Western Pacific communities, many have turned to the conveniences of a superstore rather than the fruits of nature and consequently have faced terrible disease due to the lack of their cultural plant nutrients (p. 5-7). Nabhan’s chapters ” Desert Plants as Calories, Cures, and Characters” and “The Creosote Bush is Our Drugstore” explain the importance of folk botany and the significant role it could take in aiding many of the health issues aboriginal populations face around the world.

In addition to dietary benefits, there are many other advantages to using culturally significant plants.  To illustrate a plant that serves as an aid to various medicinal conditions, Nabhan discusses the creosote bush (picture) or what Native Americans call greasewood. According to many anthropological reports the creosote bush is as versatile as penicillin, and used by the Natives as an antimicrobial, fungicide, antioxidant and phenolic acid. Some researcher’s even believe that the NDGA compound found in the leaves, contains antioxidant qualities that may be helpful in treating alcoholism and liver problems but that it could do irreversible damage to the kidneys. Due to these risks the FDA refused to bring the plant to the commercial level. The people of the Sonora Desert however, know the healing potential of the greasewood leaves and continue to utilize it as common remedy to most physical ailments. Just like meals can tell us about the cultural habits of those before us, Nabhan states that the creosote bush will remain in this world long after the people of today, possibly in the tea’s of Desert People.  

Culture is not just about spiritual beliefs, social organization or what type of homes the people live in; plants and how they are used (either in diets or as a medicinal cure) can also tell a lot about a group of people. I feel that many times today there are a lot of doctors and patients who feel antibiotics are the best option for their primary method of treatment before looking into more natural solutions. After reading Nohlan’s two chapters, I am inspired by the possibilities studies in folk botany could reveal. It is my greatest wish that as research in this discipline progresses, the use of traditional plants in the diet and health remedies of the communities they began with, will be rejuvenated and furthermore, that they too will educate others from cultures outside of their own. Afterall, if it has worked for centuries before why wouldn’t it work now?

 Pollan, M. 2001.  The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Publishing Group, United States.  P.3-58.


Throughout this semester there have been moments where I along with my fellow classmates have shared feelings of information overload. Not that being informed is a bad thing, but when the wool is being lifted from our eyes to reveal how (for lack of a better word) messed up our world has become environmentally, economically and politically it leaves one feeling as though “denial is bliss.” I used to read labels, but not at the frequency I find myself doing today. I used to try to pay attention to where my food is coming from to avoid a large carbon foot print, and now I find myself looking for deals on everything organic. I “treat” myself to a fast food meal now and then without a storm of information on processing and preservatives flooding my brain. Now I eat a Dairy Queen blizzard and think, “mmmm…..corn.” Michael Pollan illustrates many parallels between the apple and John Chapman (aka: Jonny Appleseed) in this chapter, Desire: Sweetness, Plant: The Apple (Musa domestica).  Both the apple and Chapman brought new life by returning to nature, were symbols of Christianity and have a tainted past that goes unmentioned in the stories we tell today to maintain societies idealized reality (like me before Biology 3430).

Similar to Michael Pollan’s analysis on the relationship between people and plants found in the chapter on the potato, John Chapman shared a pomocentric outlook in his role with apples; “he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him (p. 5).”  Finding his bed in hollow tree stumps, taking the company of wolves and throwing away his shoes because it caused the demise of an innocent earth worm (p.28), he went about on the waterways of America cultivating orchards in the wilderness where setters were sure to follow, attracted by the symbolic taming of the rustic wild (p.16). 

 John Chapman preferred to live a life away from civilization, spreading seeds of apples brought over in the lunches of European individuals coming to America to settle a land unknown (p.12). Unlike today, the apples planted by Chapman were not made to satisfy our common desire for sweetness and relied upon sexual reproduction to prosper in a territory they were not equipped for. Thus with the help of bumblebee’s and natural selection, Old World apple varieties crossed with wild American crab apples to develop a successful genetic combination suitable for the New World. Just like Chapman had done for thousands of settlers looking for the familiar signs of domestic living.

Time and time again I find example of stories either in the past or present that have been conflated by cultural values to maintain their social acceptability, thereby negating aspects that contribute to the whole picture because it contradicts their beliefs. Pollan describes such an instance with the story of John Chapman and how his story has been sugar-coated to keep within the interests of a larger audience. Bill Jones the amateur historian and aspiring performer at  the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center and Outdoor Theater in Mansfield, Ohio, reenacted tales of Chapman as the ideal Christian role model.  Jones made a concerted effort to highlight stories of John Chapman giving to families struck with hardship, spending his money on lame horses and preaching the Swedenborgian doctrine; all the while, carefully omitting speculation of a child bride and the truth behind Appleseed’s success not as a holy man but the bringer of alcohol to the frontier (p.22-27). Before the twentieth century alcohol from apples didn’t bear any tainted perspectives, but after the Prohibition movement the stories of a drunken America were lost and Johnny Appleseed would only be remembered for his spiritual relationship with nature (everything on Earth is linked to the afterlife) in historical and children stories alike (p.27). Apples on the other hand,  became the biblical symbol of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden without ever any direct referencing in the bible thus proving the power of a common assumption within the minds of human society (p.20).

Unfortunately the future of the apple is as clear as who the real John Chapman was (saint or child fiancé), our cultural values have driven the apple to such a limited genetic diversity with cloning that the fruit it bears require more pesticides than any other food crop to fulfill our universal desire for sweetness(52). Today, the effort of organizations like the Plant Genetic Resource Unit in Geneva, New York bring hope to the future of edible apples we all know and love.

I feel as though this class has set me on a path of discovery and personal awareness. I know that even though the truth can be ugly it also gives me power to make decisions based on what is best for me!

Corn: A Vicious Cycle

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Group Inc., New York. P.16-119.

After a long and hectic week of quizzes, group meetings and presentations, I finally get the chance to open The Omnivores Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I join him on another quest only this time to uncover the truth behind the commodity of what I like to call corn and scientists like to call Zea mays. While spilling some Kraft light ranch peppercorn dressing onto my homemade chef salad, I quietly congratulate myself and think how happy I am that I didn’t get that burger and fries I had been contemplating when the taunting scent of A&W filled my senses on my way to the grocery store earlier this afternoon. It may have taken me twice the time to make than the time it would have to order a teen burger combo but at least it’s healthier!  Well 100 pages later and WOW…I thought GMO potatoes’ were a shock! After what felt like an hour of reading but was actually 4, I finally relaxed my eyebrows and closed my mouth. I didn’t know how I felt about the salad I had just eaten, now that I know the calories I just consumed in the dressing was made of processed soy beans, corn and eggs from corn-fed chickens.

I appreciate Pollan’s very hands-on approach in his efforts to uncover each level of the corn commodity. His thorough investigation reveals a dark image of a capatalist industrial food system completely disconnected from natural form. Stating that the faux food which comes from processed corn actually contains more calories than it had less than a hundred years ago because of a mountain of surplus product. Scarier even still though is that hiding behind the convenience of these processed foods are carcinogens (dimethylpolysiloxene), antioxidants (leavening agents) and THBQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone AKA butane) (p.113). As far as I am concerned, the only appropriate place for is in a zipo not along with our “fresh” foods!

As I read through this section, the ongoing question in my mind is what is allowing this to continue? We are led to believe that the food resources in our country are at a level beyond those found in developing and third world countries, yet here we are with obesity, type II diabetes and heart disease levels that are likely to kill children born before their parents (p.102). Lack of government assistance, low market costs for corn and high costs of living, force farmers to continue producing a surplus of corn to sustain their lifestyle. By doing so,the system is continually being reinforce and foreign byproducts remain on the plates of families and livestock all over the country. It is absolutely outrageous to me that in North America, home of the “American Dream,” we create food products with a dwindling nutritional content for the primary benefit of capital profits to a few corporations. By extension the income to these companies contribute to a struggling economy and thus maintaining these dangerous food systems and those with the power to change it turn a blind eye. Do they ever wonder if their daughter, son, niece, nephew, grandson or granddaughter will become a victim of their ignorance? Or is it that, because  the issue is so immense and in order to change the corporate system in place it would affect thousands of people who rely on the system to sustain their life style (farmers).

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, has opened my eyes to a truly grim reality of yet another way humans have taken advantage of a mutual need for nutritious food. Morally, I struggle with the corn exploitation because if anything, food should be the one thing humans can acquire without having to be master label readers. 

To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Norton and Company, New York. P.85-113,  131-156.

There have been times in my life, where I have wondered how people discovered which plants were safe for consumption and what inspired them to cultivate their own food supplies that eventually led us to the world of supermarkets and commercial foods we live in today? With the exception of three chapters a large portion of this week’s reading is in part two of Jared Diamond’s book titled, “The Rise and Spread of Food Production.” Readers are informed about the how, where and why of farming history with explanations on the political, economic and material advantages food cultivating groups acquired from their successful crop communities. As astounding it is to think that plants can influence people to build permanent lives with complex social networks, it is even more surprising that there were only a handful of places around the world where the first food crops and livestock herds originated from local wild plant and animal species; leaving a large portion of the world with cultivated species which originally came from somewhere else.

Quite remarkably farming communities provided people with a greater supply of calorie rich foods which meant a healthier population overall, capable of yielding lower death rates and higher birth rates. As these communities grew, kingdoms were formed and systems of political hierarchies with social elites and bureaucrats relying on the hard work of their commoners to supply them with food for every meal (89). But what would a kingdom be without their wars?  Strong well fed farming societies also meant they were able to sustain a war conquest more easily than their hunter gatherer counterparts. It was within these farming groups the military value of the Eurasian horses was discovered and thus contributed to the overthrowing of the Inca and Aztec Empires (91). Furthermore, the relationship between agricultural societies and domesticated animals provided individuals with a stronger immunity to disease outbreaks but not in their ability to transmit them. Groups who had not been previously exposed to domesticated germs from livestock stood no chance against diseases (smallpox, measles, flu) carried by those who had and fell tragically ill most often decimating whole populations in one swoop (92).  For me I really enjoyed this section of Diamond’s work with nomadic hunters turned farmer then aristocratic monarch looking to prove their power with military might.

However I soon found myself becoming bored in the sections to follow with the who developed which crop species here with a long-winded explanation on how the calculations were formed to acquire the facts. I have a hard enough time understanding the timelines of Before Christ (BC) and Before Present (BP) to be concerned with whether or not carbon dated numbers are calibrated or not (sorry Lynn). Ya I know that this information on who was the first and where could hold some value for my impending research paper but I am much more fascinated by the social decisions behind why then the where and when.

Diamond suggests that food production was a long and gradual process with some groups choosing to trade with neighboring farmers to supplement their diets while others integrated some aspects of cultivation without completely giving up their nomadic culture. One such group who practice mobile farming is the nomads of the Lake Plains in New Guinea; who to this day will make clearings in the jungle, plant bananas and papayas, leave for a few months to hunt and gather, return and tend to weeds around their gardens, set off again and when they come back they settle in for harvest their crops (106). The advantage for the mobile farmers was that if either their crop were to fail or it was a bad hunting/gathering season there was another resource to supplement their diet.

It is unfathomable to me how difficult it would be to wake up every day in hopes that I did everything right in my garden, would find a good patch of berries or take down a plump wild turkey so I wouldn’t go hungry. It really makes you wonder would people from today have the strength and motivation to sustain themselves in a world ten thousand years ago?

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