In 2007 two Canadian writers, Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon, published a book called The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. The book was about the two writers attempting to live an entire year solely on food that was raised within one hundred miles of their British Columbia home. McKinnon and Smith quickly discovered that if they depended on mainstream outlets to provide local foods, they would starve to death. They were forced to seek out farmers’ markets or buy food directly from the producers. On one hand, their 100 mile diet was limiting because they could no longer purchase cheap, tasteless nitrogen-ripened California tomatoes in February. On the other hand, their diet was liberating as they discovered the joys of eating neighbourhood fare in season, that was bursting with local flavour.
“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are,” French epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote. Similarly you could say “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are.” Step into any chain bookstore (or for that matter any supermarket or department store) and you will not see books by local authors. Instead you will see bookracks bloated with the latest long-haul best-sellers that are picked not for their flavour but for their extended shelf life -the literary equivalent of a nitrogen tomato.
When I first moved to Ontario’s Near North I was under the impression that writers up here are few and far between. Once I took the trouble to ask at the local independent bookstore (http://gulliversbookstore.com) I discovered I was wrong. Writers abound in this area: Barry Grills, Lynn Johnston, Jennifer Rouse Barbeau, Patty Fedeli just to name a few. Lynn Johnston, of course, has an international following but the others also now have a well deserved home on my library shelf.
Now that I think of it, Canada’s two most famous literary exports, Stephen Leacock and Elizabeth Maud Montgomery, started off as unknown local authors writing about their small towns. I think the foundation of their success was their ability to bring their hometowns to life. Local authors give you local flavour.
Being purists, McKinnon and Smith had to forgo spices and cooking oils for their year of eating locally. I confess I’m not that much of a stickler and I might spice up this year’s reading diet with a little Arundhati Roy or Patrick O’Brian when the mood strikes me. Still, the 100- Mile Library has forced me to search for local authors who deserve my support as much my neighbourhood organic farmers and artisan goat cheese mongers.