The 100 Mile Diet (15 years later), COVID and our Attention for Local Food

Food Action’s 100 Mile Diet Challenge (2010)

Would you call yourself a ‘locavore’? What does ‘local food’ mean to you? Is it food grown and processed in BC, or perhaps in the Okanagan? Maybe ‘local’ means closer to home still, from the North Okanagan. For many, this year especially, local looks like buying meat and vegetables from the farmer down the road, and harvesting from your own garden. 

2020 has brought unprecedented challenges due to a global pandemic that is shining a spotlight on our food system and inspiring people to look at where our food comes from. This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the 100 Mile Diet—a movement inspired by a simple idea, as written about by authors J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, who for one year ate only food produced within a 100 Mile radius of home. 

Why choose local food?

Reasons for eating more local food include:

  • Economic: Buying from local businesses has a ‘multiplier effect’ on the entire local economy
  • Environmental: It reduces greenhouse gas emissions caused by the transportation of food
  • Health: Fresher food is much better for people, can have higher nutrients
  • Taste: It also happens to be far more delicious

100 Day, 100 Mile Diet in the North Okanagan

Inspired by this idea, Mary Stockdale and Andrea Gunner, two founders of the Food Action Society of the North Okanagan (FASNO – now just Food Action) launched a 100 day, 100 Mile diet at the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong in September 2010. To their surprise, 115 people signed up for the challenge, trying to source at least 50% but some going for 100% local food. 

Fortunately for us in the North Okanagan, 100 miles encompasses a geographic area that includes the fertile Okanagan Valley, the hardy west Kootenays, and the beef rangelands around Merritt, Kamloops and Cache Creek. And the need to support local farmers, whose livelihoods are threatened by the globalization of food supplies (“cheap food” travelling thousands of kilometers, across borders), is as important an issue now, as it was 10 years ago.

Supporting local growers is at the centre of growing our local food economy and strengthening our food system as a whole. This of course is a key element of the Land to Table mandate.

Through the North Okanagan 100 mile diet challenge of 10 years ago, participants accessed local food from local shops, farmers’ markets, vegetable box delivery programs (CSAs), farm gates or by growing it themselves. Now, with COVID, being stuck in one’s neighbourhood for months seems to have awakened an instinct in many that growing our own food, and knowing your local farmers is not just a good thing, but perhaps essential. Add a climate emergency into the mix and it seems unlikely that this renewed interest in local food will wane…

In the final months of the 2010 challenge, November and December, access to local produce became much more difficult, and people learned, or re-learned, to preserve food by dehydrating, canning, freezing and root cellaring. Undoubtedly, the uncertainty for what the fall/winter months will bring in 2020 is driving similar behaviour. 

In the case of the 100-Mile Diet, there were all these visible changes even within a year or two — grain farming where there hadn’t been grain farms for decades, all of these new farmers markets, hundreds more community garden plots. There’s still a lot that can be done, but also no doubt that the local food system is stronger now than it was before. – JB MacKinnon

Renewed attention to local food

In the North Okanagan this year, farmers have doubled the sales of CSA boxes, many small-scale local meat producers have sold out of product until the fall, and many more people are growing their own gardens and raising chickens.

While farmers hope that the renewed attention to local food is not just a flash in the pan, we think that there will be no return to ‘normal’ but a more urgent need to fix/relocalize our food system. The 100 mile diet remains an inspiring call to action.