Stories Within a Story

Smith, A. and J.B. MacKinnon.  2007.  The 100-mile diet.  pp. 4 – 114. Vintage Canada. Toronto, Ontario.

This section of the book covers the first half of the two authors’ accounts of their journey of eating “local” (local being defined, as obviously suggested by the title of the novel, typically within 100 miles of their Vancouver-based home) for one year.  The novel is divided into chapters ordered by month and at the beginning of each, a recipe and relevant quote gives the reader hints as to the topics that follow. The novel is mostly written in an easy-to-digest first-person tense, and authors chose to alternate with each chapter rather than writing each chapter together (which I found interesting!).  The couple’s every struggle and triumph in their endeavour is chronicled, but this book holds so much more than that. The authors also include mini history and science lessons, personal stories of their pasts and childhoods, and documentation of the people they meet during their journey.

There is so much that I like about this book and I have actually learned a lot from it so far, even just from the first half (squash flowers are edible, whaaat?!). The aspect of this novel that I most enjoy (so far!) is the abundance of back stories incorporated into the main story. While the core subject matter (the abundance/lack of local foods) is important and interesting on its own, the addition of the back stories strengthens the novel’s effect entirely. The little bits of extra information about the authors’ lives and stories from the past caused me to reflect on my own knowledge and feelings about not only food, but the natural history of our province as well. I had two favourite instances of this.

The first backstory that was important to me occurs in the second chapter (Potato Amuse Bouche). In this chapter, Alisa reflects on her late grandmother, her mother, and how they both affected her relationship with food. Alisa also points out that it is not uncommon for women her age to not know how to work a kitchen, which is an entirely true and sad observation. This entire chapter caused internal reflection on myself – I thought about the maternal figures in my life and how they, too, have affected my relationship with food. Reading about Alisa’s family food history, I felt grateful to have had people in my life share with me at a young age the joy of cooking and feeding people! This chapter also made me feel proud to have learned the art of cooking a turkey dinner on my own by the age of 19, because it really does seem as though those skills are being lost on the younger generations.

The second backstory that affected me was in the sixth chapter, Poached Salmon with Wine Cream Sauce.  In this chapter, James discusses “environmental disasters” that have occurred, both in BC and other locations around the world. Although I would have been 15 at the time (definitely old enough to understand what’s on the news), I actually had no knowledge of the devastating CNR lye spill in the Cheakamus River. This chapter struck a chord with me because it shows just how removed we can be from our natural environment if we just don’t care or perhaps some of us simply don’t have the knowledge to fully understand the issues being faced. The third paragraph on page 103 was particularly relatable to me, especially its opening sentence:

“These specific, local losses, small extinctions, and lesser holocausts—we tend to set them aside out of fatigue or, worse, denial. At best we absorb them into a vague sadness over the state of the world.”

This is, sadly, too true. I think that people also brush off or ignore catastrophic environmental events due to simply feeling helpless to something so huge.

The 100-Mile Diet is not just a book about two people trying to local food. It is a story with stories embedded within it. The way that the authors display and organize the information being presented is just so seamless and I am amazed at the amount of thought the book has provoked in me in just 114 pages! Authors that can coax the reader to deeply consider the subject matter of the book but at the same time also get them to think, whether it be internal or external reflection, are very effective in creating a lasting impression. Alisa and James are masters at their craft and I look forward to the rest of this novel!