J.B. MacKinnon coined a phrase and started a movement, with the book The 100 Mile Diet. By highlighting the benefits of sourcing food close to home, MacKinnon shone a spotlight on the way we eat, impacting consumer decisions and the food industry, from the small-scale local farm to global agribusiness. In this guest post McKinnon explains how an appreciation for the food he eats makes it possible to be a ‘localvore’ on a budget.
It is healthy to own up to one’s flaws, so let me say here that I am a cheap bastard. Despite my frugality, though, I shop at the farmers’ market, which I will concede is not the best place for pinching pennies. As my brother said after my book, The 100-Mile Diet, helped spark a surge in local eating, “Thanks for making onions cost $6 a pound.”
I suppose I have to say here that I am not a rich man. If you had the illusion that Canadian writers toboggan year-round down mountains of their own money, then I am sorry to disappoint—my yearly income is less than the Canadian average. Yet I eat a predominantly local, organic diet of the tastiest, freshest food I can buy. How do I afford it?
The answer can get complicated. I might reply philosophically: When we count costs, do we include environmental and social costs, or only dollars? Or I can respond in political terms: If we want good, ethical, sustainable food to become more affordable, then we need to support that kind of food production rather than subsidizing industrial agriculture and factory farms.
But there’s a more practical answer to how I can afford to be a locavore: I treat food as though it was precious. You know, the way that humans treated food through 99.9 percent of our history as a species. When I pay a little more for what I eat, I know that I’m also supporting family farms, more ethical treatment of animals, better care for the soil, and a bunch of other things that I value. I don’t want to waste one dime of what I buy.
For the most part, that means eating the way my grandparents ate. I use every edible part of what I bring home—radish leaves are great in a stir fry. I keep an eye on perishable food in the fridge, and make sure it gets onto the week’s menu early. Things like carrot tops, leek greens, and parsley stems go into my soup stock, along with that splash of three-day-old wine and even some kinds of cheese rind (the soup stock rule is that nothing should go into the pot that you wouldn’t be willing to eat—no rotten food or dry outer skins from onions, for example). I have a 1940s recipe for sour milk pancakes. Roast chicken leftovers turn into chicken soup. I’ve even cooked with flat beer on those very rare occasions that beer is left unfinished in my home.
Maybe avoiding food waste sounds like a time-consuming chore or exercise in environmental guilt. But look at the description above: I’m not adding time in the kitchen, I’m just using it in a different way. As for eco-guilt, that’s not how I experience it. I’m just not interested in playing along with disposable consumer culture. Treating food with respect fills my day with small acts of meaning, and it satisfies the cheap bastard within.
Does all of this add up to anything? According to Metro Vancouver, the typical household could save $700 a year by avoiding food waste. I put that money right back into the best food I can find, but you can do whatever you like with the extra cash. It’s enough to buy 130 Big Macs. It’s airfare to Hong Kong. Or maybe you’d like to buy some books by Canadian writers.
J.B. MacKinnon is the coauthor, with Alisa Smith, of The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. His most recent book is The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be.
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