Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The ‘locavore’ and the 100 mile diet

I had come across a project known as the Fife Diet about two years ago, but skipped reading the article any further as I associated the word ‘diet' with the body conscious calorie counting kind.

It was only recently after reading that the Fife Diet had gained national recognition in the Observer Food Monthly for best ethical award that I decided to look into it further. The Fife Diet is based in the East of Scotland. The idea behind the Fife Diet is to live off local produce from within the area as much as possible, and to help reduce the food miles and carbon footprint of the average daily meal. The Fife Diet project was begun by Mike Small, who was inspired by green activists James B MacKinnon and Alisa Smith in Vancouver, Canada where they attempted to source food within a 100 mile radius, hence the ‘100 mile diet’. This diet has seen the emergence of a new term ‘locavore’ a person who eats locally sourced food.

The Fife Diet project now in its third year has been a resounding success boasting over 600 people now following the diet.
Although in the West of Scotland we have some organic farms and vegetable box schemes, I think we still has a little way to go in relation to local produce. Fife is at an advantage in that you can get flour milled in Kirkaldy, organic vegetables available throughout the year, reputable breweries, sparkling non-alcoholic drinks from Bouvrage and some of the best diaries. Even if the West of Scotland was to be on equal par to the East of Scotland in relation to regional produce, I as an individual would still not be able to commit to a ‘locavore’ diet and eat food only from the area for a number of reasons, but I will share only two.

Firstly, I am a vegetarian, and occasionally have to rely on vegetarian and vegan substitutes like soy, tofu, nuts, pulses and specialist ingredients like agar agar. Mikes wife Karen used to follow a vegetarian diet, but gave this up in order to remain true to the Fife diet, as her vegetarian diet could not be supported by produce grown in Fife, namely soy. However, I will not be giving up my vegetarian diet.

My second reason: as a South Asian British woman my diet has always consisted of spices, grains and pulses. Such food is an essential part of my ethnic and cultural identity. These ingredients, namely chilli, coriander, cumin spices, chickpea powder, rice and lentils are near impossible to source in the U.K, forget about locally. I would find it really difficult, in fact impossible to give up these tastes, textures and flavours. I suspect my Scot-Italian friends would find it so with olive oil and Scot-Greeks with olives and feta cheese; or if the situation was reversed, imagine a Scot living in South Africa without oats in his/her diet. Some things are just part of your cultural heritage.
So although, I admire and support the principles of the 100 mile diet, it is not a realistic possibility for these two reasons that make me who I am. But this does not mean I have rejected the idea, far from it. The 100 Mile Diet and Fife Diet have both made me reflect on the absurdity of importing food that can be grown locally such as strawberries (from Spain), green beans (from Kenya) or herbs like coriander (from Israel).
Such grassroots projects are valuable as they remind us of where our food comes from and what food is really about - to survive. They also allow us to inspect our own attitudes towards food. From buying food because it is in vogue (swirly creamy dyed cupcakes), or those endorsed as a power foods (such as the pomegranate, goji berry and blueberry), to drooling over food porn in glossy magazines and cookbooks, (which I must admit I have been guilty of a number of times), rather than looking at food as a necessity to survive. Such environmental initiatives including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have made me reflect on these unhealthy attitudes, as well as the packaging and cost of convenience food.
In the next 5 to 6 months, I think I will be following about 60%, maybe even 70% of the 100 mile diet, for example much of what I will feast upon will come from my allotment plot, I am far from being self-sufficient, but the plot will provide enough to feed a very small family, but even this has its limits. To some extent I am able to preserve some of the produce I grow in jars: as jams, sauces or pickles. I am also learning how to store onions, shallots and potatoes in sacks, but because I live in a small flat means I have little space for storage, especially in the kitchen which is 7 foot by 4 foot, which also means I do not have space for a small deep freezer where I could perhaps freeze some of my excess organic produce: rhubarb, berries, green beans and broad beans and so on that would last through the hungry gap. Instead when the hungry gap approaches, I heavily rely on my store cupboard ingredients (some of which are listed above).

I wish I could support this initiative wholeheartedly, but the regime also does not sit comfortably with my real life circumstances, and just because its local does not necessarily mean its competitive, for example that slab of Scottish churned butter from the ‘farmers market’ will cost around £2.50, but at the supermarket £1.09p. Nevertheless, I have adopted many of the principles of think global, eat local and seasonal. I buy Scottish local milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, crème fraiche and even bottled water (when necessary). Then I buy British, asparagus from England and shiitake mushrooms from Ireland. For goodness sake my salt sometimes comes from Maldon in Essex or Anglesey, North Wales. But my spices, grains and pulses still and will continue to come from overseas countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

To end, I do not think we can confine our eating habits to just local produce, we still need to import bananas, oranges, black pepper, coffee and tea (part of the British identity), not just from developing countries, but also developed countries that boast the best wines and cheeses in the world. We must also remember that Scotland as a nation heavily relies on exporting its whisky to the world, if everybody in the world just consumed what grew or was made on their door steps we would all miss out on the tastes, flavours, textures and smells of other countries rich cultural diversity.

These are just my personal thoughts on it. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. Let me know.

8 comments:

  1. I love this post. You've really started to look at the issues of eating locally.

    i've been doing the same recently having spotted an initiative in Australia called LiveLocal - again inspired by the 100 mile diet. Its really made me think about what I eat and where I buy. Like you (and for different reasons) there's things I'm not going to be able to give up but it has made me think about things like buying coffee from a local roasters, exploring local farm shops, foraging and growing more of my own.

    Hilariously the 100 mile radius for me included a slice of Northern France (and I don't live on the south coast). I decided to source as much as possible locally and where its not grown locally then support a truly local supplier.

    It does really make you think about food and where it comes from and how bland the UK diet must have been before global trade. But global trade has been going on so long we think of some things as British because they are ingrained in our psyche.

    I'd recommend everyone to try to eat more locally but in a way that makes sense for them. Keep at it.

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  2. Lovely irises - I am really envious of those ones.

    I have to say my views on local produce mirror yours. I love to buy locally, and to support local food growers and sellers as much as possible.

    I certainly admire the spirit of the East Fifians. However, as well as the things you can't grow in this country, there are things you can more economically grow elsewhere. There is also a moral question over a rich nation excluding developing countries from its markets.

    Moderation is the way for me. Only a hundred years ago, most of the things we take for granted were luxury items for the rich few. I like to celebrate the diversity available to us now, while buying and growing what I can locally.

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  3. Hi - thanks for the thoughtful comments. I think its worth clarifying that we dont eat 100% Fife only food. Though we did try to do this as much as possible in the initial year long experiment.

    We also agree that international solidarity is essential thats why you'll see links to Fair Trade and other overseas links from our site. This is essential. Im personally not convinced that floating your countries main crop on the commodity market of world trade will 'trade your way out of poverty'. I see no evidence that is happening. reapwhatyougrow wrote: "There is also a oral question over a rich nation excluding developing countries from its markets". Equally there is a moral question of developed countries refusing to change or limit their behaviour in the face of climate change which is affecting developing countries far worse than us now.

    I drink Malawian or Zapatista coffee as I couldnt possibly grow or source coffee here. By relocalising and supporting fair trade we can get the balance right and help fight climate change.
    Mike, Fife Diet

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  4. Wonderful post! I buy as much locally produced food as possible, which for us is quite a bit as we are close to large agricultural area. Still, I buy food that comes from other places and I don't really feel super guilty about it. I'm a vegetarian, I drive a hybrid car, I recycle...I do try hard to be kind to the environment, and eating local food is just one of many things I strive for.

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  5. Really thoughtful post, Mango, and great to hear form Mike Fife! Like you, there are things that I would really struggle to give up, like chickpeas, olive oil - oh, and the pineapple I bought last week. Fairtrade is a must for me. I think we need a new term like 'intelligent eating' (as in 'intelligent emotions') as well as considering all the issues Michael Pollen raises in his 'In defense of food'.

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  6. goodshoeday,
    reapwhatyougrow,
    michele,
    fran,

    Thank you to you all for sharing your thoughts on 'ethical eating'. I am glad that this entry 'struck a chord' with you all.


    Mike,

    Thank you so much for clarifying about the Fife Diet, and sharing your views about International solidarity through Fair Trade and about developing countries trading their commodity and in relation to climate change. These are very much appreciated and have given me much, much more to think about. I continue to be provoked positively and inspired.

    PS I have never had Zapatista coffee, (I buy Fairtrade CafeDirect) I must check this one out.

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  7. I would love to eat more local produce. If only veggies loved me (would grow in our garden) as much as I love them. When we can we go to the markets where the veggies and fruit sold are lovely and fresh, it feels so much better to cook with them than the supermarket variety.

    Rose

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  8. Thanks for your thoughts Rose.

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