100 Mile-Diet Authors to visit Kitchener

Who hasn’t heard of the 100-mile diet, the eating regime that encourages consuming a diet of foods grown within a 100-mile (or 160 km) radius of where one lives?

This “diet” has recently been made popular by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon who lived the 100-mile diet for a year in Vancouver, then documented their experience in a book appropriately titled The 100-Mile Diet (Random House, 2007). There is also a blog, www.100milediet.org, which provides inspiration and recipes for eating locally.

Smith and MacKinnon will be visiting Kitchener on September 17 to talk about their book and their experience buying and eating locally. (More details follow.)

Eating close to the land – choosing to eat local foods as they come into season – is hardly a new way of thinking about shopping, cooking and eating food. In fact, this is the philosophy by which much of the world has eaten for a long time. In the global village we live in, where cultures readily mix and assimilate, travel is relatively easy (although it used to be a little cheaper!), and transport systems have made it possible to bring in foods from far-away places, it has become possible, in fact the norm, for at least some of the world’s population to eat a stunning variety of foods from around the globe. Although this broadens the options at meal time, it also means many of us have become quite removed from those who produce our food and the source of food in its original state. Sadly, if questioned as to where a particular food comes from (e.g. milk, beef), some of us would respond with a quizzical stare and uncertainty. “Uh…the store?” (It’s true. I’ve seen it happen.)

While Smith and MacKinnon can and should take much credit for popularizing the notion of eating locally, we shouldn’t overlook the many food/land/agriculture/environment-conscious individuals who have purchased, cooked and eaten in this manner long before it became fashionable. This short list is a sampling of some of those people:

  • California-based Alice Waters and Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy are chefs who have promoted local dining in their restaurants for many years.
  • Food writers Anita Stewart and Elizabeth Baird are among the many cookbook authors and magazine writers who, for years, have promoted the joys of eating the rich bounty of foods produced close to home.
  • In 1995, my friend and fellow home economist Pat Hughes published Savour the Seasons, a cookbook written with her colleague Eleanor Cameron. It contained menus and recipes that reflected foods available seasonally. There are a host of similar cookbooks on bookstore shelves these days.
  • There are many consumers who consistently shop at their local farmers’ market or purchase locally grown foods at their neighbourhood grocery store, grow vegetables in their garden (freezing or canning the surplus), and consciously attempt to eat according to the seasons.

I’m all for eating locally grown and produced foods as much as possible. I will admit, however, that I couldn’t live only on foods grown within 100 miles of Kitchener. There would be too many favourite foods I’d miss eating – bananas, mangoes, chocolate, oranges and olives, to name a few. But there are important benefits to buying Ontario-grown or produced foods as often as possible and enjoying foods as they come into season.

Here are a few reasons to eat locally. (You’ll find 13 reasons to eat locally at www.100milediet.org.)

  1. It helps support the local economy and our Ontario farmers.
  2. The food you consume will not have travelled a long distance and therefore should be fresh and flavourful.
  3. The fewer miles food has to travel, the lower the fuel costs and the less strain there is on the environment.

I’m fortunate that Kitchener-Waterloo is a small enough community that within minutes I can be beyond city borders and into the country where farm land is plentiful. It is easy to enjoy what rural and urban lifestyles have to offer, including the smell of manure that has wafted into our neighbourhood several times in the past few weeks. I try to consider the aroma a reminder that my agricultural cousins are busy doing their job to ensure we all have food on our tables.

I truly hope the “eat local” movement is not a passing trend. In an article written by Julia Aitken in the Toronto Star on June 18, 2008, manager Alison Fryer of The Cookbook Store in Toronto included the 100-mile diet as one of the top 10 worst trends she has witnessed in her 25 years selling cookbooks. Just one person’s opinion, of course!

If you live in Waterloo Region and would like to meet Smith and MacKinnon, they will be in our area on September 17 for One Book One Community events. You will find them at Your Kitchener Market from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. where they will be signing copies of The 100-Mile Diet. There will be a 100-Mile Mini Market at the market that day as well. Copies of the The 100-Mile Diet will be for sale along with produce grown within 100 miles of the market. Exhibits will showcase the benefits of eating locally produced food.

Smith and MacKinnon will be reading from their book at 7 p.m. on September 17 at the Kitchener Public Library.

You’re invited to a barbecue

I first wrote about Canadian gastronomer Anita Stewart and her idea for a giant national barbecue in July, 2003. These are a few paragraphs about the Canadian culinary caper she dreamed up as described in my July 30th, 2003 Creative Cooking column in The Record, Waterloo Region’s newspaper.


It’s being billed as the World’s Longest Barbecue and you’re invited.

This Saturday, as the clock strikes 6 p.m. from time zone to time zone
across our country, Canadians are encouraged to sit down to enjoy a beef
barbecue in honour of our beef farmers and in support of their industry,
which has suffered dramatically after a single incidence of mad cow disease
was found in Alberta this spring.

Saturday’s national event is the brainchild of Elora cookbook author and
culinary maven Anita Stewart. Her dream is to “link Canada from coast to
coast to coast in one massive, delicious outdoor celebration of support for
Canadian agriculture.”

Fast forward five years and Anita is still passionate about celebrating our national and local cuisine and showing support for those who produce the food we are fortunate to be able to eat and enjoy.

Tomorrow, August 2, at 6 p.m. (your local time), you’re invited to celebrate the 2008 version of the World’s Longest Barbecue – Canada Day 2. There is still time to plan a barbecue, invite friends and family, then visit Anita’s website to post your menu plans. Your menu doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming to prepare. Just visit a local market or grocery store to see what’s fresh and produced close to home and you’ll be able to put together a delicious meal. If you want to find out what others will be grilling up that day, you can read menu ideas from fellow Canadians on her site.

My menu this year? Although we won’t be able to celebrate the WLB exactly on August 2, when we do fire up the barbecue in honour of this event, we’ll be serving some pretty standard summertime fare including devilled eggs, beef burgers with all the fixin’s, grilled portobellos (for my vegetarian friends), barbecued spare ribs, creamy potato salad, broccoli salad, corn on the cob with herbed butter, and bumbleberry crisp made with apples, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb, and served with homemade vanilla ice cream.

The latest book from Canadian culinary activitist Anita Stewart

The latest book from Canadian culinary activist Anita Stewart

Anita is also a prolific author. You’ll find a list of her cookbooks/books about Canadian foodways on her site. Her latest offering is Anita Stewart’s Canada: the food, the recipes, the stories (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd, 2008). Not only a great read, it will provide inspiration for your WLB menu and other Canadiana-style meals this weekend and beyond.

You can read about Anita’s recent book tour on her blog.

No strawberries yet, but lots of other produce

In my last post I griped about finding moldy Ontario strawberries in my grocery store earlier this week. The following day I attended an event on the grounds of Queen’s Park (the site of the Ontario legislative building) where agricultural commodity groups had gathered together for a few hours to participate in a Pick Ontario Freshness event designed to promote Ontario foods. The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Leona Dombrowksy and Canadian culinary activist Anita Stewart attended and spoke about the importance of supporting Ontario farmers and buying Ontario foods whenever possible. Minister Dombrowsky also announced government funding for Ontario farmers’ markets to the tune of $4 million over the next four years.

All good news, but the even better news was that across from my display where I was promoting Ontario eggs was a table laden with small baskets of strawberries. I could sense these were no ordinary strawberries. As I headed across the grass and over to the table to inspect the strawberries for mold and fruit flies, I just knew I wouldn’t find a blemish. Close up, the berries did indeed look perfect – plump, red, beautifully formed, and much larger than the ones I’d seen in the grocery store. After giving them a thorough scrutiny, I seized the opportunity to ask the woman standing behind the table about the sad strawberries I had encountered at the grocery store the night before. I presented my theory that our recent wet weather had caused the berries’ distressed state. No, came the answer, the berries had probably just sat too long in the store. I was advised to buy berries at a farmer’s market where they would likely be only a day old, if even that.

Great advice, for sure. I realize that the produce at a farmers’ market usually arrives without having passed through the hands of a middleman, and this allows it to get to me faster than the fruit in most grocery stores will, but, when you aren’t able to get to the market or to a farmstand, you’d like to think you can count on getting quality produce from your grocery store. (And probably, more often than not, you can.)

I was invited to come back to the display for a free basket of berries when the event officially opened, but unfortunately I got too busy at my display feeding the throngs of Queen’s Park staffers and the consumers who happened along. By the time I looked up from my egg slicer and pickled eggs to gaze wistfully over at the strawberry table a few hours later, not a berry remained.

Not to worry, however. I may not have found strawberries that day, but I didn’t go home empty-handed. Longo’s, a grocery chain with stores in and around the Toronto area, had a display beside me and when they packed up to leave, they kindly handed me a overflowing box of blemish-free mushrooms, zucchini, apples, lettuce, sweet peppers, beets, and bunches of dill and parsley.

Some of that produce has already gone into a vegetable-laden salad and an omelette. This weekend I’ll go to work on the beets, pickling half of them and using the rest to make beet relish.

Beet Relish
(Makes 3-1/2 cups/875 mL)

5 medium beets
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 sweet red peppers, finely chopped
1 cup (250 mL) white vinegar
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) pickling salt
2/3 cup (150 mL) grated fresh horseradish

Cook beets in boiling water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain beets, remove skins and chop finely. There should be about 2 cups (500 mL). Mix beets with onions and peppers.

Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and horseradish in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add vegetables. Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle relish into hot jars to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of rim. Process for 15 minutes for half-pint (250 mL) jars and 20 minutes for pint (500 mL) jars in a boiling-water canner.

Remove jars from canner to a surface covered with newspapers or layers of paper towel. Cool for 24 hours. Check jar seals (sealed lids will turn downward.) Label jars with contents and date and store in a cool, dark place.

* Since the processing time is longer than 10 minutes, the jars don’t need to be sterilized, but they should be hot. Heat them by placing them in water in the boiling-water canner and bringing the water to a boil.
* A 14 oz (398 mL) can of beets can be used in place of fresh beets.
* Commercially prepared horseradish can be used instead of fresh, but use twice as much.

Recipe Source: Put a Lid on It! Small-Batch Preserving for Every Season by Ellie Topp & Margaret Howard, Macmillan Canada, 1997