Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally.
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally
by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon
242 pages, $13.95 paperback
Random House/Crown Publishing
It's day one of a year-long experiment. After many hours of shopping, much preparation and a grocery bill of nearly $130 for a single meal, Alisa Smith turns to her longtime partner J.B. MacKinnon and says, "This might not even be possible." Smith is referring to a pact that she and MacKinnon have made to eat only local foods for an entire year--that is, foods, beverages and ingredients originating within 100 miles of where they live.
Apparently feeling both ambitious and optimistic, Smith and MacKinnon had invited another couple to share their first local-foods dinner. The initial feast was a big hit, and also a big revelation, even for two sophisticated, self-sufficient journalists who, by many people's standards, live a somewhat unconventional life.
Plenty is a month-by-month narrative of their challenging year, which turns out to be a difficult and occasionally exhilarating experiment. Each chapter begins with a recipe appropriate to the month for which the chapter is named. Coincidentally--or not--the first recipe is for a beverage, and the last is for a dessert.
As the year progressed, the couple's celebrity grew, requiring that they always practiced what they were preaching by buying and consuming only local food and drink. When a rare temptation to stray from the pact arose, there's nothing in the book to indicate that they surrendered to it.
One of the more creative attempts in the effort to adhere to the pact involved making cheese. With the year drawing to a close, MacKinnon and a friend followed instructions taken from the internet and made a cheese press cobbled together with "tin cans, old milk crates and bicycle tubes." Because it was their first such attempt, each wax-coated round was stamped with a skull and crossbones. When sampled, however, the briefly-aged cheese wasn't toxic, but it was exceptionally salty.
On the day after the official end of their mission, Smith and MacKinnon traveled 12 hours to collect seawater from which they planned to harvest fleur de sel--salt. The process is miraculous in its simplicity, and it reaped sufficient salt to last through another year of eating locally.
This book isn't just about two people pursuing a common--some might say lofty--goal. It's also about economics, environment, families and friendships, geography, history, traditions, weather, and society's increasing disconnect from the natural world. Whether you simply admire the idea of "living off the land," aspire to try it yourself someday, or have already tried and abandoned it, be sure to include Plenty on your reading list.
Bernadette LaManna is an editor in DEC's Bureau of Publications and Internet.