The 100-mile diet = consuming only foods made with ingredients that come from within 100 miles of where you live.
I am notorious for self-experimentation. I love, love, LOVE experiments. I love trying new things. New sports. New activities. Different ways of eating. The latter is especially fun for me, as I work with a variety of clients who have all kinds of food allergies, intolerances and limitations. I am quite proud of the fact that I can pretty much feed anyone – whether they are a practicing Muslim, a strict vegan or someone who eats gluten-free.
This particular experiment has been on my mind (and on my bucket list) for a number of years. I first heard about it few years ago, and finally had a chance to read the book that started it all: “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating”. It was written by a couple from Vancouver about eight years ago.
Here’s what I knew: I wanted to try eating this way for 30 days. I wanted to do it in the summer. I wanted to do it while not on the road and/or racing.
It is definitely summer, and my next race is two months away. I just came back from travelling, and won’t be heading out again until end of September. No time like the present.
WHY DO THIS?
Before the critics swarm in, and start pointing out how the 100-mile diet does not take into account other variables included in the food production… Yes, yes, Mr./Mrs. Buzzkill. Eating within the 100-mile radius of where you live, only takes one variable into account – how many miles your food has travelled. There is also cost of energy, cost of labour, and all the other things included in producing food. I know.
I am looking to learn more about where my food comes from.
I want to choose fruit and vegetables that are grown close to me – if not for the absolute impact on the environment, then for taste alone. If you (are in Ontario and) have ever compared Ontario strawberries with California strawberries, you’ll know what I mean.
WHEN WOULD WE START?
We? Yes, we. I am very excited that Italian will be joining be in this venture. Excited and relieved. It would suck to watch him drink coffee every single morning, as I sip on a hot mint or sumac beverage.
Today is day 1. The next few days will include some non-local items as we finish up whatever we have in the fridge. I think we are down to few non-local chicken breasts, some egg whites, milk and cottage cheese, four limes and two avocados.
Various bottles and sauces have been cleaned out of the fridge.
Fridge has been cleaned from top to bottom, and now only includes local foods (+ few perishable items that we will finish in the next couple of days).
And first breakfast is in the books – local eggs, local bacon, local cheese, salad from the garden. #winning
WHAT WILL YOU GIVE UP? Anything that is not produced within 100 miles of our home – about one hour north of Toronto, Ontario. As Italian mentioned, “it will be the small things that would be difficult to replace”.
That means no processed foods of any kind. Nothing out of the box or package.
No fish or seafood. Unless we are lucky to score some locally caught fresh water fish.
No sugar. I think it may be possible to find sugar made from beets, but I am not really motivated enough to look. Honey and maple syrup would do just fine.
No spices (except the herbs in our garden). I think I will miss black pepper the most. Although we are keeping in the salt (see RULE #3 below).
No grains. At least not yet. The closest place that grows and mills grains is almost 200km away. Close, but not close enough.
If you are thinking: “No coffee!”, you are right. Yes. I am scared too. This will be a great test of whether I am actually “addicted” to coffee – if I am, I should experience withdrawal headaches for the next three to four days. Oh, and no tea. It seems that there really is no caffeine grown in Ontario. And if anyone has any ideas for hot beverages, please do tell!
No nuts. And thus, no nut butters. [I am crying on the inside].
No oils. Unless we find a locally produced canola oil or soybean oil, which so far does not seem likely. The bigger the crop, the harder it is to find an actual place of origin. It’s like trying to determine which cow your Big Mac was made out of. Not one cow. Lots of cows.
No alcohol. Except wine from Niagara. Woot!
No protein powder (or other supplements). While I stick to high quality brands, realistically, I have no idea where they are made, manufactured or are coming from. I am really torn on BCAAs, simply because they make a huge difference in my recovery. I felt that giving them up during my Whole30 challenge almost took away from observing the effects of the challenge itself, because I was more sore, and did not recover as well in that month. We’ll see. I am leaving some wiggle room here. Ideally, I will need to be more stringent with getting some high quality protein and carbohydrates in right after the workout.
All things considered, this is probably the most extreme food challenge I have ever undertaken. And that says quite a bit. It’s also a bit sad, that eating locally is turning out to be such a radical extreme departure from our “regular” ways.
WHAT ABOUT MACRONUTRIENTS? I do not track calories or grams of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in my diet. However, for the next month, I foresee a decrease in my protein intake, a decrease in my fat intake, and an increase in my carbohydrate intake. Why? Primarily, because my protein sources are limited to eggs and meat, and there are only so many eggs I can eat. Secondarily, local protein sources are freaking expensive. So, I’d expect that my portion sizes would go down somewhat.
My usual fat sources include olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocado and butter. As well as egg yolks and animal fat, of course. From those, only butter, eggs and meat will remain.
My carbohydrate sources include vegetables, fruit, beans, rice, bread and random sweet snacks like homemade cookies, and protein bars. Tropical fruit like bananas, oranges and grapefruit will disappear. I have a wicked sweet tooth, and while the portion sizes of all those things have decreased considerably in the last few years, I am still frequently hunting for “something sweet with my coffee”. Good thing the coffee is going too. Ha.
Eating within 100 miles from where I live will mean no pasta (unless it’s made at home from local flour), no rice and no random sweet snacks (again, unless they are made at home). Canned legumes like chickpeas and lentils will disappear, although we will be able to eat the beans from the garden. The primary starch will be white potatoes, and butternut squash.
HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST? A lot. I expect the grocery bill to be significantly higher than average this month. The costs will be offset somewhat by some vegetables that we will have in the garden (e.g. onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, basil, dill, etc.), however, local meats and dairy will come with a significantly higher price tag. [We were able to find three dozen local eggs for only $6.75 though, and the price of local chicken breasts was comparable to what they are in the store, so hey! I may be wrong about this].
WILL YOU LOSE WEIGHT? No freaking idea. I may lose weight, I may gain weight. If I continue eating to hunger, I may very well maintain my weight. Any weight loss will probably be attributed to giving up sweet snacks, milk/cream in my coffee, and grains – in other words, overall caloric reduction. Any weight gain will probably be the result of increased carbohydrate intake (potatoes), and compensatory eating when craving certain non-100-mile foods – for example, overeating fruit, when craving a cookie – in other words, overall caloric surplus.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTER? I expect few things to happen.
In the first few days and weeks, after the experiment is over, I expect to overeat many of the “forbidden” foods. I am human, and will probably react to restriction just like any other human would – compensatory eating. I could be optimistic and shit, and tell you how I will aim to stick to meat and veggies, and just re-introduce coffee with local organic cream, but that’s probably not what is going to happen. Instead, I will spend a week with my face in a peanut butter jar, holding a cookie in each hand, and feeling like a failure. That’s ok. This too shall pass. [And the fact that I can anticipate and plan this is pretty freaking incredible. Even though it will still feel awful during].
In the weeks and the months after the experiment, I expect to see more local foods in our fridge. I also expect that my tastebuds will change somewhat and become more sensitive to taste differences between local and non-local produce. This is both good and bad. Being able to tell the difference between local and non-local tomatoes means that tomatoes that come from Mexico are simply not appealing any more. However, they are the only option in Canada in February. So, that may mean eating less tomatoes in February. Or moving somewhere where they have local tomatoes in February. I hear southern Italy is nice.
Coffee will return, olive oil will return, nut butter will return.
I think we may continue to buy local eggs, local dairy and local meat. We already found a flour mill about 180km away – so while it doesn’t “pass” for this challenge, it will still be a great option for anything from buckwheat flour to cornmeal, when the challenge is over.
Here are the basic four rules of the challenge, as outlined in the book, along with my commentary.
RULE #1: THE RESTAURANT RULE
No meals at any restaurant unless the restaurant is either participating in the 100-Mile Challenge or is otherwise deeply committed to sourcing locally raised and produced foods.
Under this rule, I would probably be comfortable eating at a place like Cafe Belong, and sticking to the choices that would realistically come from within 100 miles. That could include Ontario pork and chicken – the waitstaff would know more about how far that meat travelled. Salads consisting of local greens, and wine from Niagara region.
RULE #2: THE TRAVELLER’S RULE
a) When travelling, the 100-mile circle travels with you; that is, you must either bring local food from home or eat foods from within the 100-mile circle of your destination. Try to be a “locavore” wherever you go!
This rule won’t be too much of a problem, as I specifically chose a period of time where I did not plan to travel. It would be more headache than I’d be willing to put up with on the road.
b) It is not acceptable to make trips outside the 100-mile circle in pursuit of distant foods.
So, no casual flights to India in pursuit of tea and cinnamon. Got it.
c) When returning from a trip, it is acceptable to bring home a small amount of food not found within your 100-mile circle. Likewise, if friends come to visit, they are free to bring small gifts of local food from their home areas.
This rule seems seems kinda wishy-washy to me. Are you eating the 100-mile diet or not? What the heck is a small amount? I share the household with an Italian, so two pounds of cheese is… fairly small. Perhaps, it is more understandable in the context of eating within 100 mile radius for significantly long periods. But if you are coming over, please do bring a bottle of wine from Niagara. Or local cheese. I am thinking that as long as the cheese is local, portion size does not matter. Right? RIGHT?
RULE #3: THE 99-PERCENT RULE
a) The foods that 100-mile challengers eat at home should be prepared using only local food products or products acquired under Rule 3(b).
b) Food products that are wholly local except for very small amounts of minor additives are acceptable. This is to encourage 100-milers to support producers who are dedicated to local foods but are not as exacting as participants in a 100-mile challenge. Such products might include wine made with yeast, cheese with added rennet, or salt-cured meat, but would not include wines made with large amounts of added sugar, cheese with added ingredients, or meats cured in non-local marinades or sauces.
I realized the importance of this rule at a local farmer’s market, as we were picking up the meat. Pork chops, chicken breasts and ground beef all passed the 100% test. Bacon passed the 99% test. We opted out of buying sausages (even though they were made of local meat and homemade), as I was not sure what spices and additives were used. In similar vein, that means no farmer’s market mango chutney, or raspberry jam.
c) Before you start, consider and discuss what “local” means to you and to other challenge participants – will you embrace locally value-added items like coffee that is locally roasted, or bakery breads made with non-local grain?
That’s a great point to consider before starting the challenge, and given that we will only be undertaking this for a month, we are open to more rigid interpretation of what “local” means. I’m sorry but no matter where coffee is roasted, it is not local to Ontario. If it’s not something we could conceivably grow in the garden, it’s out. Same goes for non-local grain. Being one hour north of Toronto, we are fairly well located in terms of grains. There may not be any kamut within 100 miles of us, but with a bit of homework, we should be able to locate wheat, barley and corn. Locally grown and milled flours would be the easiest ingredients to find and use, however, with the recent addition of Vitamix to our kitchen (and the dry grain container), we’d be able to mill all those at home.
The one exception that we decided to make is for table salt. I was ready to forego this one, however, Italian’s face took on this unreadable, yet disturbing expression when I mentioned it to him. Given that he does most of the cooking in the house, I figured we could rely on the 1% from the 99% rule and keep the salt. In other news, it turns out that we may not have to go that far for salt. Apparently, the town of Goderich, Ontario is home to one of world’s largest salt mines, and is only few kilometres outside of the 100-mile radius from our home.
RULE #4: “THE RANDY RULE”
a) Under exceptional circumstances, 100-milers may break from the challenge guidelines. Real examples of exceptional circumstances included a conference gala, an uncle’s traditional pancake breakfast, and wines set aside for a 10-year anniversary. The 100-mile challenge is intended to build, not break down, a sense of community.
I can see two scenarios that would be fall under this rule: being invited to eat at friends’ or relatives’ house, or having an important lunch or dinner work meeting. In the friends/relatives scenario, we could try to bring our own dish and/or minimize consuming foods that are not local. For example, avoiding alcohol if the only choice is beer, or bringing our own bottle of wine. Opting for hamburgers over sausages, as hamburger patties would be more likely to be made of ground beef and not much else; skip the bun, and stick to the green salad as a side. We have already been invited to a birthday BBQ next weekend, and so far, I think the best approach would be to eat beforehand, and bring a bottle of wine with us.
In the work scenario, I’d do my best to suggest a restaurant that provides local options, and if that’s not possible, use my judgment in terms of specific choices. For example, for a brunch meeting, I could choose simple poached eggs served over local greens, and drink water (instead of coffee, tea or orange juice).
b) If a 100-miler finds he or she is regularly making exceptions, he or she should take on an additional challenge that helps deepen the experience, build the 100-mile community, or support the community at large.
Fair enough. However, once I am ripe for a particular experience, I am pretty stubborn headed. I do not see myself “regularly making exceptions”. It’s only a month.
Meanwhile, I invite you to follow along and join in to whatever extent that you are interested. A 100-mile meal is a great way to dip your toes in the water, and start asking the questions about where your food is coming from.
P.S. I love that the book refers to the challenge participants as “100-milers”. And this indeed may be the only 100-miler I ever do.
YOUR TURN: Do you specifically seek out certain local foods? Is this a challenge you ever see yourself wanting to take on? Are there any non-local foods that you could “never give up”?