This would make a great reality TV show: As chronicled in online magazine the Tyee, a couple in British Columbia decides that for one year they will only eat food that is grown or raised within a 100-mile radius of where they live—with a few exceptions.

Why? The short answer is "fossil fuels bad." The average American (and probably Canadian) meal, they point out, uses 17 times more petroleum products than an entirely local meal. And:

Let’s translate that into the ecological footprint model devised by Dr. William Rees of UBC which measures how many planets’-worth of resources would be needed if everyone did the same. If you had an average North American lifestyle in every other way, from driving habits to the size of your house, by switching to a local diet you would save almost an entire planet’s worth of resources (though you’d still be gobbling up seven earths).

And how hard could it be to eat within 100 miles? After all, they live in an area rich in fertile farmland and seas. They imagined they would eat seasonally, their table heavy with the best produce, fish, and free-range meat that British Columbia has to offer, even while their neighbors were chomping on cardboard tomatoes flown in from Mexico and California.

  • It turns out it’s both difficult and expensive. Local grains don’t exist, except for a few heritage grains. Yes, there are local free-range cows and chickens, but the animals are raised on non-local feed. In summer, BC’s abundant farmer’s markets serve them well, but many of the supermarkets still sell much shipped produce, except for, say, local organic salad mix at $17.99 a pound. Summer, of course, only lasts so long.

    And here’s the kicker: Vegetarianism doesn’t work well because soy isn’t grown locally. So they’re forced to ask this question: “Does vegetarianism fit into a local, sustainable diet?” And the answer isn’t clear at all. (Part II–"Wanted: A Perfectly Local Chicken"–covers this tricky issue.)

    Their few exceptions—and funny moments, such as an attempt to make strawberry preserves with honey—begin adding up. Their butts also begin to shrink. (Add a diet book to the reality TV show .)

    Their experiment points (again) to this fact: Eating is complicated for thoughtful people who believe that everyday actions such as buying food have a heck of an impact on the world. On the other hand, just the fact that they’re attempting the feat, and that they have an attentive audience, bodes well for efforts to limit our impacts.

    I happened to pick up a July 2005 copy of Gourmet magazine this week, and noticed that writer Bill McKibben was trying a similar experiment in the Vermont/Lake Champlain area. Interestingly, his take was more positive than the BC couple’s. Does that mean that  Vermont is ahead of BC in small-scale food production?