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Planet  |  Food  |  Go Local  |  Community

The End of the Experiment

So what did I learn from a month of hyperlocavore eating?
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When Tricia Beckner asked me to eat only what she can produce on her CSA farm-ette for a month, just to see what happens, I was game. As you’ll see, we’ve widened the circle a little to include food produced 10 miles from my home on Whidbey Island, with exceptions made for 4 essentials: oil, salt (+5 other spices), caffeine, and limes. Read more on my blog about my 10-mile diet.


Rosehip Farm on Whidbey Island, photo by Jay Wilson

Rosehip Farm on Whidbey Island

Photo by Jay Wilson

It’s October, and my 10-mile diet experiment is over.

I decided for my “re-tox” to not have any new rules, just notice what I am choosing. Here’s the list so far: Balsamic vinegar. Almond butter. Toast. Pumpkin seeds. Avocado. Walnuts. Hard cheese. An orange from the fridge and some broth from the freezer. Some tasty potluck dishes prepared by friends (at sundown, they celebrated the completion of my 10-mile month by witnessing me biting into… a homemade but non-local cracker). A see-through soup, accompanied by with plastic-wrapped crackers, at a conference I spoke at yesterday. (Hunger hit. It was… well… food-ish.)

The good and bad news

So what did I eat during the diet? I’ve done the tally, and:

Fifty percent of the calories came from Tricia. I supplemented this from my garden and with some extras from friends. That’s good news and bad news.

Good news: Wow, that’s a lot of food grown by one little industrious Tricia.

The bad news is that without the extra milk, meat, honey, oil, and a little cheese, I’d have definitely been underfed if not undernourished.

Ahh, but the good news is, all the food except for oil, salt, caffeine, and 30 little limes came from within my 10 miles. That is very very hopeful in terms of our ability to feed ourselves.

But the bad news: Everyone who wants to eat this way on Whidbey would need to grow a big kitchen garden with plenty of squash and potatoes, and would need to be part of a meat or egg co-op or form a relationship with a grower who can provide this. Our current CSA production couldn’t feed us all. Yet.

The good new is that, up on the prairie just beyond my 10 miles, people are growing grains and beans—and if there were more local demand for such, I’m sure more land would be put into those crops. We do not need to do without bread or beans!

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The bad news is that, demographically, Whidbey has an aging population—if we don’t find a way to attract and retain young farmers, we will not be able to feed ourselves into our dotage.

And simply news: The overall cost for this diet was 30 percent more than what my smart shopper self normally pays, though none of that is quite so local and much isn’t organic. A lot of that saving, I’ll wager, is the effect of our industrial food system permitting me to purchase food from distant places, produced in conditions I probably wouldn’t approve of if I could see them.

The overall news is that we are actually on our way to at least partial food self sufficiency on the island, and could get closer with some changes—if we eat what we can grow here and not insist on what cannot grow here; if we commit to supporting our producers by buying from them, especially during the transition when they may not have the full hang of it; if we are wise about what we need from 100 miles and 300 miles and 1000 miles—we actually can map our food system against our food needs.

From this day forward...

For me, here’s what I see for my future as a local eater.

Next year, all things conspiring for the good, I can grow a more intentional garden. I’ve been getting about a pound of food a day, often more, from my garden all month. Tomatoes were lousy but beans and squash and lettuce and carrots and kale have been bounteous. Imagine doubling that with some careful stewardship of that plot. Imagine doubling that again if I grow winter squash, beets, potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips for storage. As people have become aware of my experiment this month, they’ve given me food as well: tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, green beans. Hopefully, next year I’ll have enough to return the favor. Call that 5 percent of my food.

Eating 20 percent from Whidbey Island (call it a 50 mile diet) should be a piece of cake (so to speak). I can get my meat and eggs and lots of veggies and milk locally. And that is a big part of my diet.

Another 20 percent from 100 miles would open up a lot more options, take me north to the border with Canada, south to Olympia, east to the foothills of the Cascades, and east into the rich fishing grounds of greater Puget Sound as well as to the Olympic Peninsula, where I hear they now grow grain.

Another 10 percent within 200 miles would give me all the grain and apples I want from Yakima and Wenatchee and Bluebird Grain Farms in the Methow Valley. I’m blessed to live in Washington State.

For the rest I have exotics. Spices, oil, nuts, prepared and packaged foods, coffee, tea, chocolate!!!  I have no idea if these are the right percentages. It’s some rules of thumb, concentric circles with me at the center of my very own food system.

I will be kind to myself and others as we stumble towards an ethical relationship with food.

I know me. I will forget. I will be in a hurry. I will want the convenience of packaged foods. I used to give myself a hard time about my infidelity to my rules, but now, being older, I know that rules are guidelines, not prisons. I could set a lifetime constraint as I have this month as a way to be excruciatingly aware, but I choose “moderation in all things,” balance, and good cheer. If I want something, I won’t forbid it. I’ll just do it eyes wide open. Food and judgment don’t mix—they turn the stomach. I will be kind to myself and others as we stumble towards an ethical relationship with food.


Vicki Robin is blogging for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions, about her experiment with a 10-mile diet on Whidbey Island, Wa. The coauthor of Your Money or Your Life, Vicki teaches classes about frugal, creative, and self-sufficient living (see www.yourmoneyoryourlife.org). 

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