Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reading Plenty for the Eat Local Book Discussion, Failing Miserably, and Then Experiencing the Real Thing in Little Rock

I'm leading a discussion of Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet, by Alissa Smith and J.B. (James) MacKinnon at the Urban Ecology Center on Tuesday, September 14th, at 7 PM, at the Urban Ecology Center. This is part of the annual Eat Local Challenge, sponsored by Eat Local Milwaukee, Slow Food Southeast Wisconsin, the Urban Ecology Center, and I guess, effectively, Boswell Book Company.

Am I the right person to lead this discussion, he who can barely make it into the kitchen since starting Boswell? Hey, why not--I've got as much to learn as anyone. But here's the confession, I suggested Plenty based on great word of mouth, but I hadn't read it myself. My readers were trustworthy--connected to the Slow Food movement and everything, but I was a little nervous, particularly as I positioned it as Bill Bryson funny.

Well, I read the book, and it's like Bryson in that it takes a serious subject, mixes it in with a story, and does lighten it with some humor, a little gentler and more earnest, admittedly. James is very, very earnest. Alisa and James make it a challenge to eat local for a year in Vancouver. There are some caveats about travel, whatever's in the house, and so forth, but they even stick to the no coffee, no salt rule, after they run out of whatever they had in the house. See, they had wine, and that makes every other ingredient lessen in importance.

I got one detail wrong. I knew they had trouble getting grain, having assumed that it wouldn't grow in their climate. But in fact, wheat goes great there; it was just that farmers weren't growing it. I learned that farmers markets actually weren't legal until recently, with legislation in the 1970's making it ok to sell to consumers. Since then, they keep growing.

On our recent trip to Little Rock, we saw this for ourselves at the Little Rock River Market. Yes, there were lots of artisans and crafts, and yes, it was hard to tell exactly who was selling local produce, as a number of vendors had very professional looking boxes. But I'm sure it wouldn't take me much time to learn who was local and who was simply contracting produce from elsewhere.

I love how you see lots of produce you don't see in grocery stores. And I particularly enjoyed how many peaches were available, something we don't ever see in Wisconsin.

Join us for the Eat Local book discussion on September 14th at the UEC. And I've got at least one more Little Rock post in me, so hope you aren't bored.

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