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Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2008
Most importantly, this book is not preachy or righteous. They make that clear in the first chapter, and I found it to be a relief. It's also written in a very relaxed style and the alternating authors in each chapter provide a deeper context.
The authors provide a lot of insight into what we consume and how we consume it. Although the book doesn't strive to be life changing, I have to say it is habit changing. Even if you don't choose to eat locally, you won't be able to resist looking more carefully at where your food is from.
The recipes at the beginning of each chapter are a nice plus!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 11, 2008
In Plenty, authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon tell their story of living for a year eating only foods produced within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver. This book is also published as Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally; and The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating.

I think they are all the same. Regardless, I read the "Plenty: Eating Locally On The 100 Mile Diet" version.

So two vegetarian writer/journalists get the bug to eat locally. Gone is olive oil from Italy, sea salt from Hawaii, wine from Australia, or grapes from Chile. Unfortunately, living in the Vancouver, British Columbia area, this also means that wheat is in short supply, salmon is abundant, and most fruits and vegetables are very seasonal.

Here are some tidbits, and comments:

- "We were living on a SUV diet" (p. 5 in Plenty). The 100 mile diet was born.

- "We had a single ironclad rule: that every ingredient in every product we bought had to come from within 100 miles" (p. 10). They did have a "social life amendment" which allowed them to break these rules in social situations.

- As they looked in the grocery stores, they noted "Yet here we were in the modern horn of plenty, and almost nothing came from the people or the landscape that surrounded us. How had our food system come to this" (p. 13).

- "There is a term for the experience of tugging your little red wagon through a strawberry field, and that term is 'traceability'. It's a measure of how close or distant one is from one's food" (p. 54).

- "We never will accept the idea that animals can be treated like machines that produce meat, milk, and eggs" (p. 70). Unfortunately, there are both well cared for machines, and poorly cared for machines. Smith and MacKinnon consume plenty of eggs and dairy products, shellfish, fish, birds, and, eventually, small quantities of beef.

- "If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe" (p. 107). I just liked this quote from Carl Sagan!

- "That even Hebda was unaware that [California] condors were reported in the Fraser Valley into the twentieth century illustrates a ket fact about our past. We forget. The effect has been described as a double disappearance. We lose a species, or the abundance of a species, and then forget what it is we have lost" (p. 143). This is also called the "shifting baseline syndrome."

- When they learned they had to freeze their corn immediately, Smith wrote "It sounded, at best, like a Mormon's idea of a good-time Saturday night..." (p. 151). I thought this was a bit rude.

- Smith wrote, "I'm thirty-three years old, always broke, and merely 'existing' in what, without having been sealed by formal wedding vows, had become a traditional marriage. ...My only drama was in my daydreams" (p. 164). Throughout this book, I was continuously reminded that Smith and MacKinnon seemed to have no other life than to look for, prepare, store, and eat food. Their drama seemed to revolve around food, with a few references to being challenged by a bear and some family-related adventures. Few people can devote the time necessary for this type of experiment.

- "The mark of an empire, it seems, is to eat its length and breadth" (p. 198). Interesting idea.

- The differences between locally grown and imported (less fresh) foods? "'There will be nutritional differences, but they'll be marginal,' said [New York University professor Marion] Nestle. 'I mean, that's not really the issue. It feels like it's the issue - obviously fresher foods that are grown on better soils are going to have more nutrients. But people are not nutrient-deprived. We're just not nutrient-deprived'" (p. 229). This is a key point of the book. If it is not nutrients or food quality we are after, then the theme is that a local diet affects... what? Carbon in the atmosphere and its impact on global and local climate change? Self-sufficiency in case of disaster? Open space? Variety? One-upmanship? Supporting local businesses? Bragging rights? What? For example, the authors write "When at last we were together again, it was in Merida, the cultural capitol of the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. Minnesota, Malawi, Mexico" (p. 244). The energy consumed and CO2 released from this travel... how can you say no to winter grapes from Chile?

Remember "We're just not nutrient-deprived"? We are deprived of knowledge of where food comes from. We are deprived of the color of local farmers' markets. Many, many people are deprived of their health from ill-advised food choices (locally produced foods can also be part of a poor diet plan).

So... interesting book. Not THE book. Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants") will probably give you a better idea of your position in the global and local food chain.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2008
I read Plenty the year it was first published. The copy I bought this time is for a member of my family. This book was so great, I read it to my husband aloud in the car on a trip we took. It is chock full of information we all should know about the food we eat and at the same time, never boring. It is one of the most reader-friendly books I've read in my entire life and it actually "sucked me in". Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon have become my new "favorite authors". I wish they'd write another!
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on December 6, 2010
With the growing awareness of the environmental costs that food can incur, eating locally has become a popular trend.
"Plenty" by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon is the story of a family determined to eat locally. They vowed for that a year, they would not eat anything that traveled more than 100 miles to get to their plate. The book is many stories of this year. They went through challenges and victories but "Plenty" tells their story of the 100-mile diet.

Smith and Mackinnon live close to a fish shop, they also had easy access to cheeses, eggs, and butter. This food they had no problem with, but throughout the book they would think of things that they wanted that would be very difficult to get. Wheat was one ingredient that was difficult for them to get, and without wheat they had a hard time making bread. The book is full of ways that they got around their deficiencies. For example when they wanted to make bread without any wheat, they found a way to make bread from turnips.

This book did a great job of addressing both the importance of eating locally and how extremely difficult it can be. Some things that our culture has come to enjoy on a daily basis, just cannot be produced locally. For example, it is very difficult to grow coffee beans anywhere but the correct climate. Every time they were close to failing, they found a way to get around eating something produced far away. I also liked how the book was set up. Each month of the year was a separate chapter and at the beginning of each chapter there was a recipe of something that they made during their yearlong 100-mile diet.
By the end Smith and Mackinnon had done what they set out to do. They proved that even in this day and age of globalization and a flat food system, living off the land around us is still possible.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2011
I liked the book, particularly the parts James wrote. Alisa comes across as a bit of a pratt with long self pitying and bitter soliloquies that were a turn off. I am very interested in sustainable farming and love the ideas of the couple trying to live within their local means but what was disconcerting and made NO SENSE were all the stats that referred to Harvard studies and what "Americans eat" and "American obesity" then have the writer (who lives in Canada or BC) continue the stats with "we" and describe ideas and manners and stats that are Canadian. We may all be in North America, but only those who reside within the borders of the US with their government, nationalistic fervor, social system and hormone filled meats and genetically engineereed veggies are known world wide as AMERICANS.

Canadians are known as Canadians and Mexicans as Mexicans, Guatemalans as --you got it. There are no United Statesians. By appropriating/combining portions of our identity for some stats and then singling us and our habits out for others, all within the same paragraph ... it is confusing when there is no delineation. I have to confess, that when Alisa was writing, I found myself thinking MORE about the encroachment of globalization and loss of national identity due to economic combinations than about food and the loss of local produce.

I appreciate her angst, but felt not only sorry for James but also that some of what she wrote was a drag. it was not a diary after all, it was supposed to dwell on the task at hand, not on whether she wanted to sneak around or end her marriage or was having a crisis--unless that is what local diets do to a person's mind. All in all an insightful read and pretty enjoyable. Just be sure, MS Smith-- to separate out Canadians from Americans (those of us from the states) NAFTA not withstanding, we are not a one world order yet and we value our differences as much as we value our cuisines. Combining them may seem okay in your book and to your mind, but once I realized you identified yourself on both sides of the border as "an American" I felt I was reading the work of an imposter and found it hard to grant credibility to any stats I read.

As for discussing the environmental dumpings in the US with those in Canada--we don't have the same EPA laws or fines or even groups, they are not apples to apples in comparison. Do most Canadians consider themselves to be "Americans" I can assure you that most US Americans would be very surprised to know this and would look askance at the history and usage of who was called what--Canadians still revere a monarchy--America does not. Canada is social, America is not. Canada has certain social laws and customs we do not concerning food, healthcare, etc. It IS a totally different world, no matter how many times you may cross the border for cheese.

Finally, the failure to understand the American obesity dynamic is underlined by the books citation that our problems are due primarily to fast food. WRONG. The problems in the US are due to a sedentary lifestyle replacing an active life and the various food additives, hormones and genetic alterations of almost all food we eat. Such things increase yields but little to no data is available on the long term effect to our health. Obesity and growth hormones should go hand in hand (we are exponentially taller as well as larger--in one generation just like our chickens now mature in 3 weeks instead of 6 months and are twice as large.

As for the angst about love questions--totally irrelevant and appears contrived. It is as if a book with scientific data was sent back for a rewrite and the editor asked for some sexual tension. Wrong crowd. Julia and Julia this is not.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2010
I applaud this project, but I feel that this book could have been summarized as an essay. Often the authors try too hard to create a work of literarure. The book contains a lot of prosaic descriptions of landscapes, of the author's feelings (often towards each other), family problems etc. Of course, there could be room for such things in this book, however I feel that there's too much of this, and often the long prose feels irrelevant to the project of the 100 mile diet. I mean, we all go through a variety of emotions during a year, whether we eat locally or not.

One peeve I had is that the authors claim to be vegetarians "with the usual caveats" that they eat quite a variety of meats throughout the year. Huh? There are no caveats in vegetarianism. You either are one or you are not -- and the authors are not. I find it curious that they constantly seem to worry about "protein" (which drives a lot of their meat and fish consumption) but without apparently ever researching the facts on how much protein one needs and how to obtain these from plant foods. Or if they did, I would be curious what they found out. This is the sort of information that would have been useful to read about -- instead of the family problems of his brother, or long descriptions of how much she is obsessed with real estate.
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on November 4, 2010
This is actually a great read - part travel diary, part food blog, part history of agriculture - lovely anecdotal recipes all 100% mouth watering. You'll be jealous you don't live in Victoria!
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on May 12, 2013
This was a fun and quick story to read. Their story leaves some questions unanswered but overall, it was enjoyable.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2011
For the most part, I enjoyed reading "Plenty," and the notion that people in "developed nations" are strangely disonnected from the origins of their food resonates with me.

Maybe it's because I read this book on the heels of reading Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel," but the account by Smith & Mackinnon seems oversimplified. If tomorrow everyone on the planet decided to eat only food from within a 100 mile radius, how many of the world's approximately 7 billion people would starve to death? Another way to struggle with the larger question: if we all became closer to the land and ate more locally, what would happen to the specialization of craft and profession in our world? If we all lived closer to subsistence, what would happen to the development of medicine, clothing, shelter, and construction necessary to ensure clean drinking water and healthful sanitation?

Don't get me wrong, my mother was raised on a farm in the Sacramento valley in California. (We always called it "the ranch.") My parents always had a huge vegetable garden and many fruit and nut trees in their tract home lots in the Santa Clara valley. My family of seven ate home-grown produce all summer long, my mom canned peaches and pears, and my dad dried apricots. But it wasn't idyllic or romantic, exactly. It was nice. It was food. It was work.

For my part, I just want to find a way to be sanely, sustainably easier on the planet. I am not a vegetarian. I am trying to work my way that direction by eating lower on the food chain and having "meatless Mondays." I want to eat fruits and vegetables grown locally. My husband takes the bus to work. I drive my son with autism to and from his specialized school every weekday. I think my son and I should try riding the bus at least one day a week and work our way up from there. I don't consider us big consumers of packaged foods, but I like my Triscuits and my son loves Wheat Thins, and I don't see myself making my own crackers any time soon.

Here's the other thing (and now I am just grinding a personal ax, so feel free to skip it), there is a decidedly unsustainable, unromantic side to "going back to a simpler time." My maternal grandmother was somewhere in middle of 17 children, 14 of whom lived to adulthood. Her family worked the soil and managed to feed themselves, but it was a far cry from "plenty" and a gaping distance from what we consider acceptable child-rearing today. I can tell you one thing for sure, my maternal great-grandmother was not riding her bike all over the Sacramento valley judging meat-eaters and finding transcendent honey experiences with a dozen children at home. Around the world, women who have minimal education and no control over their reproduction largely live in poverty. In less developed nations, people continue to emigrate from rural places to urban settings in search of an improved livlihood. Honestly, it is hard for me to imagine what rural life must be like in say Nigeria if moving to Lagos is an improvement.

Enough ranting. "Plenty" was an interesting and thought-provoking read. I think the authors tried not to be narcissistic, but they sometimes missed that mark. It's funny and refreshing in places so long as you don't take it too seriously as a "how to" guide.
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on February 25, 2015
I enjoyed it!
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