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100 Milers Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon

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By Malcolm Jolley

JB MacKinnon and Alisa Smith take locavorism to the
citizens of Mission BC on TV with the '100 Mile Challenge'

Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon were entertaining friends at their cabin in the woods in the interior of British Columbia when circumstances made them make a meal foraged and fished from the forest around them. From that dinner their bestselling book, The 100 Mile Diet. And now a Food Network Canada series, 'The 100 Mile Challenge'. Somehow Smith and MacKinnon got a good part of the town of Mission BC to eat only things grown within 100 miles their kitchens. I caught up with the original locavore couple recently.

The Interview:

Gremolata: This story of you stuck in your cabin in the woods with no food, and foraging yourselves a meal. Is that really true?

Alisa Smith: Yeah!

JB MacKinnon: Absolutely.

Alisa Smith: And it's actually far more rustic than it comes across as in the book.

Gremolata: And could you have imagined that out of that you would become these icons of local eating?

Alisa Smith: No, we were just two people who like to eat healthy food. We tried this little experiment and people just seemed to get really interested in it.

JB MacKinnon: We were actually two writers, but we didn't realise at first that we would even write about it.

Gremolata: And I guess part of the book is about the two of you discovering all kinds of interesting local producers and foods.

JB MacKinnon: Well, yeah. The 100 Mile Diet turned out to be not only a lot more interesting for us, than we thought it would be, but also much more interesting for other people than we ever imagined.

Gremolata: And are you locavores now? Have you kept it up?

JB MacKinnon: Yup. I'd say we're about 90% local in our diet. Though it can be a little harder on the road.

Alisa Smith: A lot of sticking to the diet is accumulating and making your own canned goods and locally sourced things like wheat in your cupboard, so when you're travelling it can be a challenge. Though, we just came from this great little shop [in Toronto] called Culinarium. It was delightful.

JB MacKinnon: Yeah, we walked out of there with as much stuff as we could. But, actually this is one of the joys living like this: discovering local foods when you are travelling.

Alisa Smith: Being into local food is a bit like having a tour guide. You learn a lot if you seek it out.

JB MacKinnon: That's right. You get a feel for the place, its culture and history. And it the natural landscape. I'm thinking of places we've been like Mexico. You really get a crash course on how people live.

Gremolata: This all sounds great, but I just watched an episode of your television show that makes eating locally look pretty hard!

Alisa Smith: [Laughs.] Well we've been doing it for a number of years now, so it's easier for us. We know how to stock up. So seeing people struggle with those first steps reminded us how hard it can be at first.

JB MacKinnon: It was a big reminder. And harder for the average person.

Gremolata: Right. You were probably eating a lot of local foods when you first went on the diet anyway.

Alisa Smith: Yeah. It probably wouldn't be so hard for you if you tried it, but for the average person on the street... We talked to people who's idea of making dinner was putting a frozen pizza in the microwave. It's pretty hard to adjust from that, if that's where you're starting from. But that's also what's neat about [the show], that completely average people could do it. They changed so much. It was awesome.

Gremolata: In the episode I saw, one guy couldn't do it and dropped out right away. Were there lots more?

JB MacKinnon: It was actually surprising at some points that everyone didn't drop out.

Alisa Smith: Or were expelled!

JB MacKinnon: [Laughs.] Right: or were expelled. Yeah. I mean we were at least three quarter into it before I was comfortable that the thing wasn't going to totally collapse. There was one family that right from the get go I thought just wouldn't make it. I just didn't think they had the skills. And they turned out to be one of the happy surprises.

Gremolata: I guess it's worth saying that the 100 Mile Diet is not just about local eating, but it's also about switching from processed foods. You have to know how to cook.

Alisa Smith: Yeah. That was the big change, really.

JB MacKinnon: When we took away all the non-local food, some people really had nothing left in their cupboards. Nothing. Absolutely every item, every element of their diet, had to be changed. It was a bit of a shocker.

Gremolata: I'm guessing you filmed and wrapped up last summer. Have you heard from any one on the show since? How are they doing?

Alisa Smith: Yup. We wrapped up last September and we've heard from them, had dinner with some of them and we're going to a block party in Mission next Sunday.

JB MacKinnon: I think it's safe to say that, although every family suffered, they all came away transformed by the experience.

Alisa Smith: And everyone just looked healthier by the end. You can see it on the screen.

JB MacKinnon: That's right! There's less of us all.

Gremolata: And what are you going to do next? Will you continue to be advocates for the 100 Mile Diet lifestyle?

Alisa Smith: About two years ago we started the 100 Mile Diet Society, it's our little project. We're working in Vancouver mostly. Right now we're working with the UBC Farm, working with their programs on urban agriculture.

JB MacKinnon: And we continue to do speaking engagements. We're doing a lot of them in the US and other parts of Canada..

Gremolata: Do you see interest in the 100 Mile Diet in "regular towns" like Mission? Some people say local food is really only for, you know, latte drinking, Volvo driving, Gremolata reading people like me.

Alisa Smith: Yeah. It surprised us that people really are interested in the eating locally across the board: rural, urban, small town, different income levels. You might hear about more in the big cities. But it's something any person can do. And you can save money if you garden and do a little canning, so it's not an elite thing at all. Forty years ago, it was oly poor people who grew their won food. Anyone can do it.

JB MacKinnon: One reporter made that assumption and said, 'This is only something that people in New York and San Francisco are interested in.' But the truth is we get more requests to appear in the Mid-West than any other part of North America. That's actually where most industrial food comes from.

Alisa Smith: That's right: it's the corn belt. But they've seen the real damage that it's done to their economy.

JB MacKinnon: You know, one of the down sides of 'reality TV', is that it's real. When we went to Mission we really didn't know if we could get anyone interested. I mean we really didn't know if there was going to be a show. But it worked in the end.

'The 100 Mile Challenge' airs on Food Network Canada, Sundays at 8pm.


It is no surprise that people in rural communities, like the US midwest, are gravitating to this idea but it is a result of more than economics and big agriculture. It is about community. Rural communities have been hard hit by the exodus of farm families and the dramatic lifestyle changes that farmers have faced in the last 30-50 years and the close-knit farming community has fallen apart. Knowing who grows your food and re-establishing those traditions in areas that had practiced the 100 mile diet as part of daily life, is one way for rural and small town residents and regions to reclaim a vital part of their history and to reinvigorate their towns and villages, not to mention, quality of life.
Post Reply By Jennifer in GODERICH on 4/9/2009 1:07:38 PM

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