Selfish selflessness; or an exercise in ambiguous social conciousness

by ritualofoak

MacKinnon JB, Smith A. 2007.  The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. pg. 1-149.  Vintage Canada, Toronto, Ontario.

The first half of The 100-Mile Diet explains how MacKinnon and Smith came up with the idea to take on the challenge of narrowing their diet to a 100-mile radius, and then follows through to show how they were able to thrive within these self imposed restrictions. The first few chapters emphasize the couples growing distaste with the globalization of food sources among other things. They refer to statistics showing that the way that North Americans eat is unsustainable and decide to attempt to do something about it at least on a personal level. The remaining first half of the book contains the musings of the couple as they continue to discover a rich and vibrant world just outside their proverbial back door, and the anecdotal explanations of how they overcame the unique obstacles such a diet would come with.

There are a few things that stood out to me as I pored over MacKinnon and Smith’s experience. The first is that for every moment that I found myself excited over the clever simplicity of eating locally; I couldn’t help but find myself remembering that these were the experiences of a seemingly very privileged couple. A pairing that had the time to go far out of their way to make the their diet possible. Nearly daily trips to different food sources are a reasonable expectation of the process, but to do so in a normal 9-5 job experience seems difficult if not impossible. Reading the 100-Mile Diet continually left me at a loss on how I actually felt. Excited that it was possible to eat within such a globally small region (if I lower my inflated expectations of what will be available), or distaste over what ultimately feels like another footnote in a generation increasingly known for slacktivism. I can’t and won’t deny that publishing their experience helps prevent a clean slacktivism argument, but just as with any “be the change you want to see in the world” experience it ultimately rings hollow. The inequity within that 100-mile radius speaks louder than the potential good of such an ultimately self-serving goal.

A bit harsh, maybe.

Honestly I think my issue with 100-Mile Diet is the same issue that MacKinnon and Smith had at the beginning of their book. I think I’m exhausted by the perverse way that humans as a global entity interact with the world. So exhausted that at this point, like many others, I find myself apathetic to the state of the global community. Unfortunately I find this leaves me more disgruntled with people that are trying their hardest to affect positive change. I hear a snappy little voice in the back of my head that says,


Ugh. The capitalist devil.

With all that said, my protestations of activism on a personal level ring significantly hollower. This year I too plan on attempting to eat more locally. Finding food in the Kamloops area and cultivating it for myself and others in an attempt to bring myself closer to my home. I may not be taking the extreme route of dedicating to a strict 100-mile radius, but I will be trying my best to narrow down my field of consumption. A little more positivity in the world can’t hurt.

In addition to my moral fisticuffs above there is a repeated phrase in The 100-Mile Diet that I’ve seen before, and have grown to love more with each passing day. The phrase resonates with me in a way that few others have through my life. It is very likely that it is appealing to the biologist in me. The burgeoning naturalist and storyteller.

“Say the names.”

I feel it bouncing off the memory of another phrase. “Plant blindness”. Give the plants their names back. Give them their story back. Point and show and awe and the exuberance of life comes rushing back in. There is discovery in every day life. You just need to know how to look. Without rehashing what has been said already, say the names. To yourself, to anyone willing to listen, and give the plants their place in our hearts back.