Documents: Special Interest: In The Yard:

The 100-inch diet: Out-localing the Locavores
by John Hershey
by John Hershey

John Hershey is a dad, gardener, writer, and lawyer (in that order). He lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and two young sons.

John's humorous essays on gardening appear in many newspapers and magazines, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor, GreenPrints, and Warm Earth (Australia).

September 12, 2010

Reading the recent books about "locavores" eating food produced within a specified radius for a year has truly inspired me. Not to eat locally - like all gardeners, I've been doing that for years. No, I'm inspired to cash in on the trend by writing my own best-selling book on the topic.

To succeed in this well-plowed literary ground, I'll need a gimmick. No, gimmick is the wrong word. I need a fresh, original approach that will make an important contribution to the dialogue on our national food policy.

Fortunately, I have just the thing. I believe that a 100-mile diet is far too expansive. Think of the fossil fuel required to ship a green bean a hundred miles. Why drive to Sacramento just to buy a turnip? To a truly committed locavore like me, even limiting oneself to food produced within a 100-foot radius seems extravagant. I'm taking local eating to the extreme: This year, I will embark on a revolutionary new 100-inch diet! One hundred inches - or 8 feet, 4 inches - is the approximate radius of my plot in the neighborhood community garden. At least I think it would be, if my plot were round. But let's not get bogged down in euclidean geometry here. We have a lot of food to grow! In early spring, I expect to have lettuce, radishes and other fast-growing veggies in abundance. Through the summer, the garden should produce enough beans, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and garlic for my family of four. And as fall approaches, we'll store potatoes, pumpkins and parsnips in the basement and fill the freezer with tomato sauce to last the winter until the great cycle begins again.

With such careful planning, I think this is a workable idea. Before we begin, however, some caveats are in order. Like most others who have conducted experiments in local eating, I will follow the so-called "Marco Polo exception," meaning I can use spices like those the great explorer brought to Europe from East Asia.

Because my "foodshed" is so much smaller than that of the other locavores who have written about their experiences, I will take advantage of a few other minor exceptions. For example, under the "George Washington Carver exception," I will permit myself to buy and eat peanut butter. And bread to put it on, obviously.

Keeping livestock on my tiny urban plot would be borderline impractical and frowned upon by the local authorities, so I will eat cheese and honey under the "Aristaeus exception," named for the versatile Greek god associated with both cheese-making and beekeeping. And if I'm going to eat cheese, there's really no point in eschewing milk, yogurt and ice cream.

In honor of Odette Philippe, who brought grapefruit to the United States from Barbados in 1823, I will periodically indulge in citrus, as well as pineapple, guava and other tropical fruits.

Theoretically, I could grow hops and barley in my garden and put them through the complicated fermentation process. But we both know that's not going to happen. Accordingly, the "Ninkasi exception," named for the Sumerian goddess of brewing, will allow for the moderate consumption of beer. The same logic applies to grapes and wine, hence the analogous "Dionysus exception."

Tea is probably covered by Marco Polo, but I know myself too well to think I can live without coffee, which will henceforth fall under the "Pope Clement VIII exception" in gratitude for his decision in 1600 to declare coffee a Christian beverage.

Finally, my family heritage mandates that I observe the "Milton Hershey exception" by continuing to enjoy chocolate.

I realize my exceptions are piling up. You probably think I'm more like Homer Simpson than Barbara Kingsolver. I'm just being realistic. I admire people like her who make a real commitment to eating only local, seasonal food. But when it's an uncompromising short-term exercise in "immersion journalism," sustainable living can seem difficult and impractical. Most of us can't devote our lives to the project, even for a month or a year.

But we can make a nice difference with a few simple and enjoyable lifestyle tweaks like gardening, supporting local farmers' markets and using a bicycle for transportation. Gardeners - especially urban community gardeners - have been quietly ahead of the curve on this issue, demonstrating that it's possible to produce a significant amount of healthy food, have fun doing it, and still have a family and a job and a life.

So here's my real experiment in sustainability: I'm going to grow a lot of my food and ride my bike to work for the next 25 years, and if that works out OK, I'll keep doing it.

As long as I can occasionally invoke the "Ruth Wakefield exception." Remember her? She invented the chocolate chip cookie.

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row