After enlisting families in a West Coast town to adopt a locavore diet, authors James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith are ready to broadcast the outcome — and hopefully spark similar challenges across North America.
100-Mile Challenge, a new documentary series beginning Sunday evening on the Food Network, follows the couple as they cheer on families in the town of Mission, B.C., who have agreed to eat only foods grown, produced and raised within 100 miles of their homes for 100 days.
The Vancouver-based couple had chronicled their own experience following an ultra-local meal plan in a series in the B.C. web magazine The Tyee and later in their much-lauded 2007 book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (alternately released as Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally).
Smith told CBC cultural affairs show Q that she and MacKinnon decided to extrapolate their experience to a more general population because, "we're just two people. That's not a good test case really if you want to transform a country, to get everyone eating locally."
The couple wanted to "get as many different types of people as possible to try to eat locally and see if they can do it and how they're changed by it," Smith said.
Mission 'a blessed location'
MacKinnon called Mission "a blessed location" because, despite its prime Fraser Valley placement, few residents of the former agricultural town "were eating anything from the farms around them."
"If people were eating local food in Mission, it was by accident," he said.
The six diverse families followed in the series were tested right off the bat, with the couple stripping the participants' kitchens and pantries of all non-local products.
"That meant everything, down to the yeast, down to the ingredients in the vinegar. Absolutely everything," MacKinnon said.
"Some people were left literally with nothing, so the transformation in the way they were eating was total," he said.
"When you go through that kind of revolution in something you do three times a day, it's an enormous hit to your life."
'When you go through that kind of revolution in something you do three times a day, it's an enormous hit to your life.' —James MacKinnon
Smith pointed out that while some participants initially had a bit of an edge because of their cooking skills, a desire to succeed and dedication to the cause were ultimately the most important factors.
"What we learned is that you don't need to be a great cook to begin with; you just need the will to learn," she said. "You can make really good food very simply."
"Commitment was the No. 1 thing," MacKinnon added.
"If a family was committed, even if they didn't seem to be bringing all kinds of local food-oriented skills to the table, they were gonna be able to do it," he said, noting that dedicated families who initially ran into trouble eventually rose to the occasion.
Participants abound in different regions
Since the publication of their book, the couple has heard from people living in different regions across North America who have taken up the local-eating challenge — "from Whitehorse to the desert southwest to the Maritimes," MacKinnon said.
"Some people are going to be ready to do it in the big, big way that these families [in the documentary series] did. And other people might just want to take it more slowly," he said.
"But we do find that, universally, when people start to do it, they just want to keep doing it more and more."
In the future, the couple said they would like to see even more people adopt the diet, whether to reduce their ecological footprint, for improved health or to develop more of an appreciation of farmland — all benefits they have seen in their own lives.
"We would love to see other communities take on the challenge in different landscapes at other times of the year," MacKinnon said.
"There's still [the] Whitehorse in the winter 100-mile challenge," he quipped. "It would be perfect."